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Trauma and the Brain

TRAUMA is anything that overwhelms our ability to cope, where our resources are exceeded. 1in 7 of us will experience a significant trauma by the age of 18. Some will experience a single traumatic event and for others it may be a series of events or occurring over prolonged periods of time.

 

All types of abuse are classified as trauma, as are domestic violence and abuse (including if you are a witness to this in your home), bullying, assaults, accidents/injury, life threatening experiences either to yourself or to someone you love or if you are witness to a threat of life. Sudden and traumatic loss and bereavement. Situations of war, terror, attack and captivity are all traumas. Unbearable stress can also be traumatic, it is believed that tension, stress and trauma are interconnected. In the book, Trauma is Really Strange (Haines, S. 2016), it explains the following useful information about trauma:

3 Things to know that can help us understand and overcome trauma:

  1. There is trauma, terrible things happen to human beings.

  2. We can overcome trauma, humans are hard wired to survive, otherwise we would not be here. As a species we evolved ways of surviving attack, loss, abuse etc... 

  3. Healing trauma is about meeting the body, by paying attention to feelings in the body we can learn to self-regulate strong emotions and teach our brains that the past threat is no longer present. It is over and we are now safe. (Haines, S. 2016. Trauma is Really Strange)

Sadly, we know that humans can be capable of great cruelty. However, we are also capable of great compassion.

THE HIPPOCAMPUS
THE THINKING BRAIN (NEW BRAIN)
THE MAMMALIAN BRAIN
THE REPTILIAN BRAIN

This is the part of the brain that deals with logic, rationale, problem solving, memory for events and facts and verbal expression.

Non-verbal, emotional, relational experience, feeling and gut memories and traumatic memories. This is also the part of the brain where shame lives. Shame is an evolutionary response designed to protect the survival of a group or species... it emerged about 150 million years ago. Shame is our fear of loss of connection. Shame stops us from being vulnerable with our fellow humans for fear of rejection and abandonment.

Should put information received from the amygdala into context ie; this red hat - in the here & now - activates a past traumatic memory 

(happened 10 years ago), it is not happening now. But when the amygdala sounds the alarm system stress hormones are released which suppress the hippocampus. This stops it from being able to discern the past from the present. The New Brain literally goes offline (like losing the wifi connection) and we can't think straight. The amygdala hijacks the hippocampus and the reptilian brain takes over.

AMYGDALA

Rage. Fear. Heart rate, breathing, instinctual, survival. Fight, flight, freeze, flop, appease, threat response.

Takes in information from the environment through the senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste) and automatically sounds the alarm system if it senses threat of danger - activating the fight, flight, freeze, flop, appease reflex.

In overcoming trauma we experience a grieving process. In shame-based trauma, it is the shame that holds the glue, the power that the trauma holds over us. The key to healing shame-based trauma is compassion.