Justin Linksz & How the Brain is Affected by Trauma
The brain is an incredibly complex organ with billions of neural connections and the ability to store every sight, smell, sound, emotion, and pain encountered throughout life. When someone experiences a traumatic event or series of events in the form of rape, sexual molestation, violent attack, natural disaster, severe illness, etc., the emotions and other stimuli from the event are stored within the various regions of the brain. In most cases, the anxiety, mood swings, disruptive dreams and other negative effects pass after a few weeks.
However, some people that experience traumatic events develop symptoms from latent stimuli. If these are not appropriately dealt with, either through personal settlement or outside assistance, latent memories, emotions, and reactions to the initial event can resurface along the brain’s trauma-related neuropathways, adversely affecting relationships, work or school performance, and health, disrupting the life of the victim. Trauma treatments, therefore, are based on a knowledge of how the brain functions so that recovery can be realized at a root level.
How Does the Human Brain Work?
There are three parts that make up the human brain. The brain stem, which is known as the reptilian portion of the brain, is the foundation of the organ that controls automatic bodily functions and base survival instincts. The limbic region is the midsection of the brain that houses sensory relays and acts as the emotion processor, known as the mammalian. The cortex is the most evolved section of the brain (neommalian) which is the outer layer that carries out functions such as inhibitory actions, memory, learning, cognitive processing and making decisions.
Under normal circumstances, we go through life operating within the functions of our neommalian cortex brain, relying unconsciously on our mammalian limbic brain to process emotions and things we sense, with the reptilian portion confined to its base, automatic functions. When a traumatic event is encountered, the survivalist functions of the reptilian part rises to the forefront, creating a fight, flight, or freeze mode of reaction. Mental and non-essential physical processes cease, stress hormones are released, and the sympathetic nervous system is set on high alert. Once the threat is over, the parasympathetic nervous system usually restores mental, emotional and bodily functions to their normal settings.
However, this shutdown process fails to occur in around a fifth of trauma victims, leaving the activated state of threat and chemical imbalances intact. During a traumatic encounter, several imbalances occur within the chemistry and biology of the brain which is not corrected in those haunted by trauma. The amygdala, located deep inside the brain, is activated to perform its duty of identifying threats and connecting memories to emotions so that they can be avoided in the future. When not shut down, the person remains in a constant or near-constant state of fear. Glucocorticoid, a stress hormone, is also released in abundance which will kill hippocampus cells. The hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory as well as the identification of people and objects. The cognitive abilities of the victim are hampered, and they remain in a prolonged state of stress which eventually leads to fatigue and breakdown.
Due to the severe impact of trauma on the brain, it is important for trauma victims to seek professional help and support groups if symptoms occur. Delaying such treatment could lead to severe mental health issues that deteriorate their quality of life.