How Trauma Seeps Into Your Body
Though no one knows for sure, it appears that trauma changes the wiring in the brain. According to Earl Grey, PhD,*normally when we take in information through our five senses, it reports to the center (the hippocampus) of our brain for processing. Then it is sent to the thalamus to decide where it needs to be stored. At that point our brain says, “this is familiar and I know where to send it and the information is sent to the front of our brain (the prefrontal cortex), our brain’s filing cabinet. The prefrontal cortex acknowledges a past, present, and future time line. Events can be filed in chronological order. But when something overwhelmingly upsetting happens to us, such as in the case of a trauma, the hippocampus becomes unable to handle it. The unprocessed information about the situation is still sent to the thalamus, but this time it is rejected and sent to the primitive brain or reptilian brain or amygdala in the back of our heads, via the hypothalamus basal ganglia. Or more simply put if our brain can’t handle it, it is placed on the back burner. Here there is no acknowledgment of a past or future. Everything is happening in the present. The event, the emotions, body sensations and negative beliefs feel as if they are happening now. So when we get triggered by something similar to the event, we react with a flight, fight or freeze reaction to the upsetting situation. We want to run away, we stand and fight or we cannot move.
The situation does not get processed properly and we are stuck reliving it over and over. The upsetting event, the emotions and body sensations connected to that event and the negative cognitions that come out of this event all replay involuntarily in the primitive part of the brain. This can look like flashbacks, nightmares or other trauma symptoms that keep us reliving the traumatic past.