We discussed what happens in the brain when there is a traumatic event. Trauma is defined by the Royal college of psychiatrists as:
“…events which undermine our sense that life is fair, that it is reasonably safe and that we are secure. A traumatic experience makes it very clear that we can die at any time. The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are part of a normal reaction to narrowly-avoided death.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent distressing memories of an emotionally traumatic event. Looking at it simply, an area in the back of the brain is called the amygdala and the area at the front or forehead is called the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala controls automatic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation, so this is our breathing, temperature, blood flow, readiness to run away etc, and if we learned fear from a traumatic event we can experience enhanced emotional memory. The prefrontal cortex is where we find reason, rationale, logic and decision making, this area of the brain brings balance in the midst of managing fear and negative emotion.
It is understood that through trauma the prefrontal cortex almost shuts down and the amygdala takes over meaning that those with PTSD experience fear, negative emotion and enhanced emotional memory placing the person right back in the trauma because the reasoning and logical part of the brain is not working and doesn’t step in to help and bring any reassurance or logic. The good news is that things in the brain do not need to stay this way, we can change the way information is processed in the brain, the brain can change and healing is possible.
This information is very simplified from a number of sources, the main one being ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder: The role of medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala nueroscientist on pubmed by Michael Koenigs and Jordan Grafman and information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists as cited.
Group members said they found this information helpful, to know what is actually going on in the brain.
We also looked at a quote from a lady called Joyce Meyer who had a long history of abuse from her father. In telling her story she talked about the effects of the trauma and the ways it impacted on her life; the burden of carrying this ‘secret’, holding a false responsibility, the shame and embarrassment which poisons everything, the feeling that there is no place of safety and being constantly in fear.
For Joyce, some of the things that have helped her to recover and live a life free from burdens and fear are; speaking positive words about her life and having goals, her faith, her husband, and repeating that she is not a bad person. She says:
“I had to begin my journey of healing by being willing to look at the problem inside me rather than blaming all my problems on someone else. I even had to stop blaming them on my father and the people who had not helped me. Even though what they did or didn’t do to help was the source of my problem and the reason why my behaviour was so emotionally erratic rather than stable. I had to take responsibility for the changes that needed to be made in me…”
We talked as a group about the importance of a place of safety, and about how, even though others had caused damage, if we could own the responsibility for how we now responded this would empower and bring healing.