An Excerpt from a
Get the Applications in One Easy-to-Use Guide
by Ruth Buczynski, PhD
with Bessel van der Kolk, MD
1. The three differences in a traumatized brain
The brain can undergo many changes when a person experiences trauma. Dr. van der Kolk explains which parts of the brain are most affected by trauma, as well as the impact that
There are three big differences.
One is that the threat perception system is enhanced in those with PTSD. These people see danger where other people see what is manageable.
This perception is not in the cognitive part of the brain – this is in the core perceptual part, a very primitive part of the brain.
Basically, this primitive part of the brain is in charge of making sure that your body is okay – it is the fear-driven part of the brain. So threat perception is enhanced – that is number one.
Number two is that your filtering system, which is a little higher up in your brain and helps you to distinguish between what is relevant right now and what you can dismiss, gets messed up.
What other people sort of ignore or don’t pay attention to, the PTSD brain starts to pay attention to, and this makes it very hard to focus on what is going on right now. The filtering system does not function efficiently, and it’s difficult to fully engage with ordinary situations.
The third difference is with the self-sensing system, which runs through the midline structures of the brain.
The self-sensing system that is devoted to your experience of yourself gets blunt. This is probably a defensive response – when you are in a state of terror, you feel it in your body: you feel it in terms of heartache and gut-wrenching feelings – your body feels bad, and as a way of coping with that, people start taking drugs, to dampen that system, and other people naturally find a way of dampening that internal response.
2. How flashbacks affect the brain
Flashbacks can be described as a fusion of the past and the present, and trauma patients can sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Dr. van der Kolk gets into the neuroscience behind this phenomenon.
When people start reliving their trauma, much of their brain go es offline.
They immediately get pulled back into the past. Their emotional brain on the right goes back there, sees the images of what happened back then, and experiences physical sensations. Stress hormones get released and the body starts behaving again as if the trauma is happening right now.
The timekeeping part of the brain that tells you, that was then and this is now, tends to go offline.
You experience the trauma as if it is happening right now, and the part of your brain that says, “Oh, but that was forty years ago or that was last year,” cannot reassure you that this is an issue belonging to the past.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (of the frontal lobe) is supposed to say, “Oh, yes – that happened to me but that’s a year ago – it’s not happening right now.”
With trauma, the brain cannot do that, so it is happening right now.
People become dumbfounded when they go into their trauma. Clinicians see that, but we are such “talking” type people that we tend to ignore the fact that when you really go into the most elementary, fear-driven situation, you cannot talk – your body is just making you feel terrible.
Your speech center goes offline, and at that point, the speech center that can generate four-letter words works very well. It is a different area, but the speech center that I am using right now to try to explain something to you goes offline.
For me, that study – it is a long time ago now – about twenty years ago was the opening salvo to help me realize that words are important but they are limited in their capacity to access the trauma.
When you really go into your trauma, you become a speechless person.
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