How Post-Traumatic Stress Affects Your Brain
Emotional Trauma and Your Brain
Why can’t people with post-traumatic stress just “get over it” and move on?
The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that the stress of PTSD can change the function of your brain. The complex answer is that nothing about your brain is simple.
Trauma can affect various parts of your brain, such as your hippocampus. The hippocampus is located under the cerebral cortex and is involved in functions such as consolidating information from short-term to long-term memory.
In addition, physical traumas have different impact on parts of the brain than psychological traumas.
Read more about the effect of emotional trauma on human brains.
Child abuse. Rape. Sexual assault. Brutal physical attack. Being in a war and witnessing violence, bloodshed, and death from close quarters. Near death experiences. These are extremely traumatic events, and some victims bear the scars for life.
The physical scars heal, but some emotional wounds stop the lives of these people dead in their tracks. They are afraid to get close to people or form new relationships. Change terrifies them, and they remain forever hesitant to express their needs or give vent to their creative potential. It may not be always apparent, but post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stifles the life force out of its victims. It is no use telling them to “get over” it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.
What goes on inside the brains of people with PTSD?
PTSD is painful and frightening. The memories of the event linger and victims often have vivid flashbacks. Frightened and traumatized, they are almost always on edge and the slightest of cues sends them hurtling back inside their protective shells. Usually victims try to avoid people, objects, and situations that remind them of their hurtful experiences; this behavior is debilitating and prevents them from living their lives meaningfully.
Many victims forget the details of the incident, obviously in an attempt to lessen the blow. But this coping mechanism has negative repercussions as well. Without accepting and reconciling with “reality,” they turn into fragmented souls.
Extensive neuroimaging studies on the brains of PTSD patients show that several regions differ structurally and functionally from those of healthy individuals. The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex play a role in triggering the typical symptoms of PTSD. These regions collectively impact the stress response mechanism in humans, so the PTSD victim, even long after his experiences, continues to perceive and respond to stress differently than someone who is not suffering the aftermaths of trauma.
[Original Post October 16, 2015]