Trauma is extreme stress which can overwhelm a person’s coping mechanisms and body responses. A traumatic event for one person may have a completely different effect on another person based on the brain’s ability to process the event. I know a woman who was perpetrated upon by her father throughout her child hood who, without therapy, had forgiven him and who appeared to no lasting effects from the trauma. I knew another woman who would sob uncontrollably and could hardly talk about the trauma of being observed getting dressed by a brother on a single occasion.
Acts of war, terrorism, torture, rape are well known and extreme trauma experiences, but you might be surprised to know that the physiological effects can be the same in people who face less dramatic situations. Here is an example. You might awaken at night to noises. Before the neocortex of the brain, that part where language and abstract thought take place, can register that it is your husband rattling at the door because he forgot his keys, your amygdala, a sensitive area that resides in the older limbic portion of the brain has implemented its “fight, flight or freeze” mechanism. Cortisol has washed over your brain. That is why your heart is pounding and your breathing is heavy and your muscles are tense.
Once the new information registers, your amygdala calms down but another area of the brain, the hippocampus, also a part of the older limbic brain, has processed and stored the memory of the initial response deep in the tissue of your brain. This is called a “flashbulb memory”. The “caveman” purpose was that the memory could help avoid future threats. Animals have a mechanism to “shake off” the physical response to fear. However humans often accumulate these flashbulb memories to the extent that they become blinded to what is real and what is imagined.
The trauma actually creates pathways in our brain which can bring a similar “fight, flight or freeze” response even when exposed to neutral stimuli such as a smell or being in a closed space. This is often the reason for panic reactions. It is normal for a person who has been in a car crash to be fearful of getting behind the wheel again, but there are other triggers you may never be aware of. .
Furthermore, trauma will often manifest as symptoms in the body. Dr Scaer, who wrote The Body Bears the Burden and The Trauma Spectrum. discovered that people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, diseases that are very difficult to control, often responded well to trauma treatment methods even when the individual has no recollection of trauma.
The fragmented and unintegrated bits of information stored in the hippocampus are not so available to the brain’s language area, which is why traditional talk therapy alone may not restore healing in trauma survivors. EMDR is a well researched and well known method of treating trauma. I am trained in EMDR but cannot provide this service telephonically. See the link at the end of this article to learn more about EMDR.
Brain training is an elegant method of treating trauma. Brain training is explained in the following websites:
Here are three excellent books that give you information about how the brain processes trauma and how you can working directly with the brain can help you resolve and the errors in processing that cause a variety of emotional and physical symptoms:
The Trauma Spectrum
The Body Bears the Burden
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