Trauma is like a demon in our head; it consumes all the positive feelings and confines us with only the negative ones. By definition, trauma is the emotional response to a horrific or threatening event in our life such as domestic violence, rape, natural disasters, severe illness or injury, the death of a loved one and, witnessing an act of violence (even if it is from a distance). It leaves the sufferers with a trail of emotional disturbance such as anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) depending on the severity of the psychological distress caused by the horrible event. Furthermore, the sufferers may experience disrupted sleep patterns, face turmoil in personal and professional relationships, constantly battle with depleted self-esteem and even undergo physical pain. (Trauma, n.d.)
We all are aware that trauma can leave a significant strain on our mental health, but how exactly does it affect the brain? Physiologically, the impact of trauma pinpoints the following key structures of the brain: hippocampus (for memory and spatial navigation), amygdala (for processing emotions), and the cortex (for maintaining complex cognitive behaviours, personality expression, and controlling appropriate social behaviour). When trauma occurs, the brain stimulates an extreme biological “alarm state”, causing intense fear and a rapid release of adrenaline, cortisol (a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress) and other hormones. During this state, our brain cannot fully administer information, disallowing us to think and instigating us to fight against the situation instead. Recurring traumatic experiences can strain this alarm state and can activate the malfunction of healthy neural connections, disorienting the basic architecture of the brain. In children especially, this can hinder the natural growth and maturation of the brain. As the brain tries to fight against the trauma, it results in the overall unhealthy development and other emotional complications. (The Science Behind Trauma, n.d.)
Young children are the most susceptible to developing trauma and damaging their emotional well-being. In fact, childhood trauma can disrupt an individual’s mental health throughout one’s whole life. If you have seen the recent box-office topping film, “Joker”, you will witness a great portrayal of how childhood trauma has majorly impacted the protagonist’s – Joker’s – mentality throughout the movie. Joker’s childhood was acquired by his stepfather’s physical violence and abuse and voided with affection and nurture from his mother (who was diagnosed with mental illness). Growing up, his childhood trauma shed under his skin and occupied his mind with toxic stress which, in turn, molded him into a man capable of committing unpredictable, violent acts. Scientific studies have found that early and repetitive exposure to trauma can stay permanent as our brain’s stress response system is overworked due to devastating memories from childhood and toxic stress. Although trauma may come in many forms, it most often comes in toxic stress. (Pacione-Zayas, 2019)
Fortunately, the effects of trauma can be reversed according to science. With demonstrations from biochemical and brain imaging studies, it is stated that the brain has the ability to not only survive trauma but also heal itself. (The Science Behind Trauma, n.d.) Logically, it sounds far-fetched to completely rid of the effects of trauma. However, a lot of mental healthcare programs all over the world are offering and innovating strategies to diminish the effects. The essential approach is to surround an individual going through trauma with a loving and nurturing environment, whether it be family, friends, relatives or all of them. Basically, they need to be surrounded with trustful and reliable people whom they can confide in and express their emotions. Also, it is important to provide such individuals with a certain routine in which they can also seek for more opportunities to learn new skills or maintain hobbies so they can stay occupied and on track. As for young children who have experienced a traumatic event, it is crucial to have them psychologically examined to help them maintain good mental health and prevent them from further psychological distress. In some less severe cases, trauma can naturally go away. If it is persistent, we all should not hesitate to get professional help. Do not let trauma become the inner demon.
Pacione-Zayas, C. (2019, November 4). ‘Joker’ movie shows audiences the painful truth about the impact of childhood trauma | Opinion. Retrieved from The Philadelphia Inquirer : https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/joker-childhood-trauma-impact-20191104.html
The Science Behind Trauma . (n.d.). Retrieved from Multiplying Connections : https://www.multiplyingconnections.org/science-behind-trauma
Trauma. (n.d.). Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trauma
Trauma Symptoms, Causes and Effects. (n.d.). Retrieved from PsychGuides.com: https://www.psychguides.com/trauma/