Trauma and Health
Clearly, this issue is of critical importance in achieving optimal health and function, so it is well worth our time in understanding how this works.
The way in which the trauma is held in the system is through actual physiological changes in the brain, relating to memory structure. The emotional memory of the event becomes unconscious and hard wired in neural networks in a kind of ‘capsule’ connecting all the experiences occurring with the trauma.
Experiences occurring with the traumatic event are about how your body remembers to do things like walk, run, ride a bike, play basketball, play a piano - skills and habits involving motor systems and sensory systems. These also include the smells, tastes, sounds, images, feelings (somatosensory events such as tingling in the arm, pain in the wrist, bracing of muscles), which get bundled together at the time of the trauma along with the strong emotions of fear and horror.
Now, because these elements are all bundled up together, re-experiencing these cues triggers the entire trauma response again and again. The memory of this past trauma event keeps recurring in the present moment, as if it had just happened or is actually happening now.
Neuro-sensitisation occurs in the neural nodes related to the capsule memory, and this means that anything occurring within the brain, such as a dream, can trigger the arousal of the bundle of memories and the trauma is re-experienced without an external trigger.
Well, I hear you say, I wasn’t in a severe car accident, I wasn’t in a war zone, I’m not traumatized like this, so why is this of any interest to me?
Read further and I’ll show you why!
Next we need to take a brief look into the brain, at what is going on there while a trauma happens.
In Sympathetic arousal, a fear state emotionally, the limbic system of the brain gets activated. The amygdala, a part of this, sends the fear messages to the hippocampus and on up to the right side of the orbitofrontal cortex. This is where decisions get made about what to do with the fear signal – do we get ready to fight, or do we decide to stand down? It gets decided here.
The cyngulate gyrus, also part of the limbic system, is in connection with the orbitofrontal cortex, and has the role of damping down the amygdala’s activity if that’s what the orbitofrontal cortex decides.
This next bit is very important: this very same area has a huge role in the social attunement between the infant and mother. We’ll come back to it later.
In general most people will not develop a trauma response to say, a minor car accident at 10 mph, yet some will, suffering whiplash, pain, muscle rigidity and a whole host of symptoms typical of severe trauma.
These individuals lack the tone condition of resiliency. And this implies that a pre-existing condition exits in these people, in which a fear cue coupled with neurosensitisation predisposes them to re-arousal of a trauma that occurred at an earlier point in time. What they are really experiencing is an old trauma triggered by a present event, which need not be traumatic in and of itself.
It very much seems that it is not only severe trauma – such as occurs in wartime experience - that matters here, but the cumulative effect of lifetime experiences and how they were subjectively felt by the person that is critical.
Does there need to be an earlier severe trauma for all this to happen? Well, apparently not, and here’s where it gets interesting!
Remember the dual role of the orbitofrontal cortex and cyngulate gyrus in both damping down the amygdala as well as in mother-infant social attunement? Let’s look at that for a moment.
In the developing brain of the infant a face to face attunement at a distance of 10” or so (mother’s eye to breast distance) is very important in the development of the right orbitofrontal cortex. Now remember, this is also the place where decisions are made about how the organism responds to threat messages from the amygdala.
So an individual lacking adequate neural development in this region, as a result of poor social attunement to the mother, will not be able to accurately judge the threat level of incoming messages, and in an extreme case, will regard every threat as an existential one!
In contrast, normal development in this part of the brain allows an individual to have a normal autonomic regulation to stress and trauma, and provides for the resiliency needed to deal with them.
Thus with developmental deprivation in the infant there is a lifelong autonomic dysregulation as a consequence, a lack of resilience, leaving the individual extremely vulnerable to physical and emotional illnesses for their whole lifetime.
The list of illnesses associated with lifelong accumulated trauma is long, and will include such things as chemical sensitivities, chronic fibromyalgic pain, chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel syndrome. These all tend to be diseases of self regulation rather than due to infection from outside pathological agencies.
There are well recognized ways to heal trauma.
Healing a trauma means dissipating the memory capsules. To do this we have to have a situation in which the cues are experienced without arousing the response. To subdue the response the amygdala must be downregulated, as this is the part of the brain which sends the emotional trigger to the right orbitofrontal cortex.
The anterior cyngulate is the social center of the limbic emotional brain, which includes the amygdala, so we can access it by social means. Rituals, social contact, have been the traditional means of indigenous peoples to heal trauma. By activating the social center of the brain through shared ritual we also gain control of the amygdala.
We also need to balance the right hemisphere where the arousal and emergency action happens by activating the left hemisphere and integrating the two. This can be achieved through EMDR eye movement therapy, which crosses the active focus from one hemisphere to the other (since the control area is on the right hemisphere only), through positive affirmations and empowerment techniques.
Neurofeedback now offers itself as an ideal way of achieving brain balance, and NeurOptimal does it in a completely non-intrusive manner. This is an ideal approach to dissolving the root of the problem, which are the neural networks representing the encapsulated trauma in the brain.
What makes NeurOptimal unique is its non-directive approach – when the sensors on the head detect a neural network which does not function efficiently and smoothly (such as those representing an encapsulated trauma), feedback in the form of a micro-interruption to background music is generated.
This serves to alert the brain to the turbulence and the entire magic of it is that the brain then self corrects! In this way the entire trauma capsule is dissolved without any further action on the part of the client.
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