Trauma and Recovery
Trauma is the result of overloading the emotional circuits in the brain’s control center. Chronic traumatic effects follow overloads that damage the brain, development, wiring, chemistry and structure. Some of this damage is immediate but most of it happens in the 48 hours following the traumatic event when the injured person is not able to return to joy and quiet, either because they have not developed the capacity (immature or underdeveloped nervous system) or because no one will share their pain with them.
Mild Trauma (left-brain off) – Normally, I run my life in a conscious way that fits with how I know life works and who I am. These explanations are kept in my left-brain and represent my reality. We could call them my accumulated “Godsight” because to me they are ultimate reality. The first loss of my brain synchronization under an increasing load of emotional energy happens when my explanations for how things work (stored in my left hemisphere) fail to account for intense emotions I am feeling. The first response from the control center in the right-brain is to shut down the left-brain (level 4+) and take over operations until my emotions have been quieted. The right-brain always tries to gather everything I know about feeling this way before it does what I have always done (or seen done) under these conditions.
Moderate Trauma (PFC off) – As trauma becomes more intense the captain of the control center in the right prefrontal cortex (level four) discovers that I have never been in a mess this bad before. There is no example to follow to tell me what my people or I would do now. The control center begins to come apart (lose synchronization) and the mental banana at level three takes over to see if there is anyone who will share this distress with me. This middle level tries to establish a mutual mind state with anyone who seems to know how to handle this experience. How long I will look for a mutual mind depends on many factors including what I have learned if I went through trauma before. Before long my brain will select a preferred way to go through trauma if I have repeated incidents. When I can’t wait any more, or the intensity of the emotions becomes too great, I will shut off level three and go into severe trauma.
Severe Trauma (Cingulate off) – If I lack enough capacity to handle the strength of my emotions or there is no one to help me through sharing a mutual mind in my pain I will turn off the mental banana at level three (cingulate cortex) and with it the front part of my mind. My left-brain has been off for a while, my captain (level 4) failed so my control center began to come apart when the top level shut down followed by the middle level (three) and now all the cortex that can be turned off has been turned off. I am no longer a relational being, I no longer think or act like a person, I do not distinguish people from objects and I react in terror/rage. I am under the control of my level two (amygdala) which is not cortex and does not respond to my will or the desires of others. In the minutes, hours and days following a severe trauma I will try to find a mutual mind at level three to help me return to the world of relationships. If I fail to find a mutual mind I will be bothered by intrusive thoughts and reactions to this experience when my cortex starts to run again.
Profound Trauma (Vegetative vagal/parasympathetic shut down.) If my impersonal terror/rage condition lasts very long I will completely shut down and become a vacant stare. This shut down condition is called dissociation. While my brain continues to respond in minimal ways, I may no longer recognize that I am present or that these events are happening to me. If my brain is immature or my capacity is too small, I may not be able to consciously recall this experience when my cortex starts to run again.
Chronic Trauma Effects will vary depending on how severe, frequent and prolonged the traumatic events were, how much “mutual mind” help I received and how weak my control center was due to immaturity or Type B trauma. These factors will also determine how much physical damage was done to my control center by the trauma and how impaired my brain has become as a result. The general effects of trauma can be divided in two ways: right versus left and back versus front.
Left and right – After trauma the brain favors the right-brain instead of the normal left side. This is because the mind struggles to control the intensity of feelings. This takes up way too much mental energy and keeps the control center on the right busy. People have difficulty concentrating, learning and being productive. They tend to be moody, reactive, thin-skinned and self-preoccupied. They may be very smart and still not live or react in ways that make sense, tending to make foolish choices when feelings are present or feelings are being avoided.Front and back – The front half of the brain is driven by desire and goals while the back half is dominated by fear. The front half of the brain contains some of its more complex thinking and activity while the back of the brain is more involved in processing basic data and solving simple problems. During trauma the higher parts of the brain (levels 3, 4 and 4+) are shut down as we have seen. One of the enduring effects of unresolved trauma is a dominance of the fear driven back of the brain. Fear driven people are anxious, hyper-vigilant and avoidant. They do what it takes to get out of problems (real or imagined) and avoid whatever makes them unhappy or uncomfortable. Since they are not goal directed they are rarely far from the very feelings events they fear and often participate greatly in producing the very thing they fear.