If we experience traumatic events, they can fundamentally alter our life’s direction.
Not only does it cause physical, emotional, and psychological suffering, trauma has a tremendous impact on the way we handle life, our relationships, day-to-day challenges, and attain our mood. Thus it has been postulated that trauma can alter our brain permanently.
What is trauma?
There is no set or standard definition of trauma. Different individuals perceive or react to stress differently. Some examples of traumatic events that may have an impact on our lives include
● Physical, mental, or sexual abuse
● Sexual violence or physical attacks
● Stressors like emotional or psychological stress
● Death of a close family member or friend
● Financial, professional, or personal loss
● Early childhood neglect
How does trauma alter the brain?
Amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex are the major areas of the brain that are involved in the stress response. Trauma is associated with permanent changes in these regions.
After emotional pain or trauma, there is an increased release of cortisol from the brain in a fight, flight, or fright response—every subsequent trauma results in increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses to each emotional stressor.
Research has shown that patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a finished volume of certain areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and anterior cingulate gyrus. There is increased amygdala function and markedly reduced medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate function.
Like family heirlooms and diabetes can be genetic and passed down to families, trauma can also be generational. It is also known as intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma.
It was first recognized as a separate entity after it was observed that there is a high rate of psychological trauma in the children of Holocaust survivors.
This trauma may be silent or overt but has a considerable impact on our life choices and how we view the world. These children were more prone to anxiety and depression and had a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Who is susceptible to intergenerational trauma?
Holocaust survivors, people undergoing repeated abuse, exploitation, poverty, hunger, racism, and sexual abuse all are vulnerable to developing generational trauma.
Effects of trauma on our lives:
People who have experienced early trauma undergo a drastic change in their personality. It is associated with panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hypervigilance, a sense of distrust, loneliness, aloofness, high anxiety, depression, poor self-confidence, poor self-esteem, poor sleep, nightmares, insomnia, and a fight or flight response.
Several theories like the scar hypothesis and the theories of behavioral sensitization or electrophysiological kindling have shown the effects of trauma on our brain.
Persistent or severe emotional traumas may leave behind remnants that persist even after the remission of depression. This causes one to become vulnerable to the new episodes of depression, even when subjected to only mild to moderate psychosocial stress.
Unfavorable experiences permanently change the structure and function of the prefrontal cortex in our childhood or formative years. Some of these people may develop substance use disorder in an unsuccessful attempt to escape their past or thoughts.
Effects of trauma on our body:
Trauma affects the brain and our emotions and causes dysregulation of our immune system. It may be overactive or underactive and lead to autoimmune disorders.
How to heal from trauma?
Trauma can be devastating and recurrent trauma can desensitize the individual and people around him. One may feel powerless about the recurrence and may even wrongly start self-doubting one’s worth, thus enabling the trauma to continue. If you are reading this, you may be worried about you or your loved ones suffering from abuse or trauma; please seek help as trauma is treatable.
If trauma or abuse is ongoing, it is important to break the cycle and remove yourself from abuse. A holistic, intense approach can heal trauma. It can include cognitive behavior therapy, therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, group therapy, and family therapy. It is important to know that you are not alone. Please seek help as it will help you heal.
Volunteering to help other people is also a great way of dealing with trauma. It provides a positive influence, releases endorphins, and empowers you. It reduces the sense of loss and helplessness and provides a positive direction to your life.
Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is a valuable tool in the management of trauma. It uses a special therapist who guides eye movements and helps to process emotional trauma and traumatic memories. This can help the brain process traumatic events and benefits patients with flashbacks, nightmares, or panic attacks.
Often medications may be given in combination with psychotherapy to uplift mood, reduce anxiety, and decrease panic attacks.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
This involves the processing of previous trauma by talking to a trained psychologist. It can help one come to terms with their past so that they can move ahead with their life by offloading the heavy burden they are carrying on their souls,
Although it may feel like trauma will be a permanent part of your life, mental health professionals have a growing awareness about underrecognized trauma and stress.
Seeking help early can make you learn healthier behavior, break the cycle of trauma, and improve your physical and emotional well-being. We are committed to providing excellent care to our patients.
We use evidence-based medicine with innovative behavioral therapies to provide you with the support needed to heal your mind and body.