The Physiology of a Traumatized Brain

Trauma can affect every part of you. It can affect the way you think, feel, behave, and relate to others. Before I explain the physiology of it, I want you to remember a few things. Our brains are the most complex system in the Universe. THE UNIVERSE. Our brains control our entire body. When your brain has been subjected to trauma, that classifies as a psychological injury. So, shouldn’t we be treating trauma with as much care as we would a physical injury? Yes, we should. Just because we can’t see a scratch, bruise, or break does not mean an injury isn’t there. Understanding your psychological injuries is a big part of the healing journey.

To get into the science of it all… when something traumatic takes place in your life three main parts of your brain are affected. Your amygdala, your hippocampus, and your prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala is your instinct centre. This is the part that is responsible for your “fight flight or freeze” response. This part subconsciously determines whether you immediately attack, run away, or shut down in response to threats (either real or perceived).

Your hippocampus controls your memory. For those who have experienced trauma… you may notice you forget events, or details of things. You also might feel like you are reliving memories or having flashbacks. This could be because stress has been damaging this critical brain structure.

And finally, your prefrontal cortex. This is the front part of your brain which controls emotions, attention, planning and executing tasks. If you are left unhealed from a psychological injury it can be very difficult to function and find motivation to participate in daily tasks.

What kinds of trauma create a physiological injury? Trauma can fall under two main types: acute (single incident) or chronic/ complex (repeated exposure). An acute trauma is a single incident that has occurred with no residual traumas occurring. Perhaps you were exposed to a single trauma (acute) such as a car accident, but as a result your functioning was affected and you lost friends, a partner, or your job. Well, now that acute trauma becomes a complex one.

How do you know if something can be classified as trauma? A trauma is defined as anything that is deeply distressing. Anything that you were unable to prepare for, understand or control that caused you harm. There is no trauma that is greater or less than… and if you feel you have experienced a trauma then there is no further justification needed. You don’t have to be diagnosed with PTSD to begin treatment to understand and heal the residual effects it has had on you.

We can begin our work by creating awareness of which parts of your brain have been affected by trauma and how we can treat them. I want to create safety, support, and a space to share your story. Healing can take time, but I am here to walk alongside you in this journey.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please connect with me for further resources or information.

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