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Understanding the Brain and Trauma

Understanding the Brain and Trauma



Trauma, consistent with the fifth edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (American Psychiatric Association, 2012, p. 271) results from "exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the subsequent ways: directly experiencing the traumatic event(s); witnessing, in person, the traumatic event(s) because it (they) occurred to others; learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to an in depth loved one or close friend (in case of actual or threatened death of a loved one or friend, the event(s) must are violent or accidental); or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to adverse details of the traumatic event(s)."

The first step toward fully understanding the devastating effects of trauma should be a neurological one-that is, understanding the structure and performance of the brain the sufferer is forced to use to both experience then process it. As an organism, it's the middle of his universe and therefore the most intricate structure alive .

"The human brain is that the most complex structure within the universe," consistent with Professor Ken Ashwell in "The Brain Book" (Firefly Books, 2012, p. 9). "Nothing-not even the foremost advanced computer-comes on the brink of equaling its performance in completing feats of data processing. And no computer has anything sort of a sense of self. Yet all features a multifaceted sense of ourselves as a singular individual."

Interpreting and processing information both about the planet within the body and therefore the world without, it are often considered the command enter of the systema nervosum , enabling its user to form decisions and induce, usually and automatically, his glands and muscles to effectuate the changes that ensure physical health and stability, all by means of converting stimuli into electrical signals.


Progressing from an embryo to infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and advanced age, the person begins as one cell created by the embryo , which carries the ordering form his parent or sperm donor.

After 18 days of gestation, the brain assumes initial form as a racket-shaped neural plate that appears on the embryo's surface and already contains the map of its ultimate parts. From the front portion the forebrain will develop and from its tail will grow the medulla spinalis . During ensuing gestation, the edges of the neural place fold upward, forming a tube over a three-day interval.

Ridges from the plate's thickening walls produce to neural crest cells, which themselves produce the cells of the peripheral systema nervosum (PNS).

Actual brain shape solidifies between 28 and 50 days. Three bulges at its end become the fore-, mid- and hind-brain sections.

After birth, a baby's brain, at about three-fourths of a pound, is merely 1 / 4 of its eventual weight, with increases to 2 pounds after the primary year of life and a couple of .2 pounds after two years of life. Early experience sparks the expansion of the brain's nerve cells or neurons.

The rate of brain size growth significantly decreases between the ages of two and eight, leading to overall weight gains of only about 20 percent. Despite that deceptive number, the quantity of additional brain tissue now incorporates a big increase in connections, which enable the baby to accumulate the required cognitive and motor skills he will use as he matures.

Childhood experiences are instrumental in his development.

"Experiences during childhood-good and bad-can have long-lasting effects on behavior later in life," consistent with Ashwell (ibid, p. 103). "Many studies have shown that children who are abused or neglected during childhood are at a way higher risk of developing anxiety and depression during adult life. Stress early in life causes an increase within the stress hormone cortisol within the blood and a discount within the number of receptors for cortisol within the brain. These changes are believed to predispose the person to anxiety and depression when stress and misfortune occur during adult life."

Although most of the brain-controlling processes cease by adolescence, two important developments continue: (1). Important executive function areas of the cerebral mantle still mature, albeit at a slow rate, and (2). Poised on the edge of adult life with its responsibilities and demands, the person acquires complex cognitive capabilities and motor skills.

The period between approximately 25 and advanced age are often considered the center years, during which up to 30 percent of the brain's volume are often reduced due to its pruning of not needed neuron connections. Although this leads to subtle behavioral and cognitive changes, and these reconifigurations accelerate within the very late years, intellectual and motor skills acquired early in life became mostly automatic; therefore, an individual can remain both functional and alert. This mental and physical activity, retaining original and sometimes even prompting new neuron connections, can delay further decline.

At significantly advanced ages, a discount within the number of neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitter levels, even within the absence of any neurodegenerative diseases, can further reduce brain weight, decreasing mental flexibility and psychomotor speeds, the problem in learning new skills, and reducing processing and response capabilities.

Since all brains don't age at an equivalent rate, and physical and mental activity, along side genetics, can have positive influences thereon , decline can considerably vary, but LTM and personality remain.


Because of the brain's gelatinous composition and delicate tissue, it's protected by bones that collectively form the skull.

"The braincase is formed from a skull base, including the occipital, sphenoid, petrous temporal and frontal bones," consistent with Ashwell (ibid, p. 64), "which form three bowl-shaped depressions into which the lower parts of the brain fit snugly."


When viewed from above, it's evident that the brain is subdivided into two (left and right) cerebral hemispheres, each of which governs the control and sensations of the body side opposing it. left brain functions include, among others, control of the body's right side, movement of both eyes to the proper , touch and pain sensations on the body's right side, and goal-oriented planning. right brain functions include control of the body's left side, touch and pain sensations on the body's left side, movement of both eyes to the left, appreciation of the emotional aspects of music and speech, and rationalization of emotionally difficult decisions.

Two regions concerned with language, Broca's area and Wernicke's area (named after neurologists), are only located within the left brain , although studies have shown that those belonging to fifteen percent of left dominant handed people are located within the right brain .

Spatial perception is usually located within the right brain of all.

The nerve pathway , a bundle of between 250 and 300 million axons, facilitates connections and communication between the 2 hemispheres.


If the brain were viewed from the side, it might contains the upper portion, the cerebral cortex; the midbrain, which is within the upper portion of the brainstem and facilitates emotions; and therefore the brainstem itself, which descends from the thalamus to the medulla spinalis .

THE cerebral mantle 

Subdivided into the four lobes of frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital, the cerebral mantle caps the forebrain, which is its largest part. Under the lobes themselves and deep within the core is that the insula. One third, or appxoximate9y 30 billion, of all nerve cells facilitate neural processing and high levels of executive functioning, with further functional subdivisions for aspects like control , touch, sound, smell, taste, sight, spatial perception, balance, and planning.


Within the brain core may be a group of structures and cells, linked together to foster smooth movement, which facilitate sensory, endocrine, cognitive, and movement functions. They include the subsequent .

1). Basal Ganglia: the gathering of nerve cells itself, the basal ganglia fosters emotion, deciding , and movement control.

2). Thalamus: Consisting of two large, egg-shaped structures, located on either side of the ventricle and itself the most important of the structures that constitute the diencephalon, receives and interprets incoming stimuli and knowledge , processes it, and routes or relays it either above, to the cerebral mantle , or below, to the brainstem.

3). Hypothalamus: Located slightly below the thalamus, the relatively small hypothalamus governs the nervous system's automatic functions, the endocrine system's glands, the guts rate, and therefore the vital sign , all of which play roles in emotional responses. It also provides conscious satisfaction of animal needs, including eating, mating, and therefore the body's internal environment.


The brainstem, located between the thalamus and thus the spinal cord connection, is subdivided into the three components of midbrain, pons, and medulla , and successively provides three major functions.

1). it's the central nervous system's tract , whose travel is bidirectional-that is, both up and down.

2). because the processing center of sensory information, it controls body process by means of mostly subconscious commands to organs.

3). "(It) allows us to process sensory information from the cranial nerves and to manage the muscles and glands of the highest and neck to consume and digest food and communicate by speech and countenance ," advises Ashwell (ibid, p. 40).

It is from the brainstem, which has changed little throughout the centuries and is almost a bit like that in lower natural phenomenon animals, that the brain ultimately evolved into higher-functioning areas, particularly the cerebral cortex . Its nerve pathways connect it, via the intermediate brainstem, with the spinal cord .


Sensations, thoughts, and actions are controlled by the brain and thus the spinal cord through the nerve cells.

"Nerve cells, also called neurons, are concerned with processing information and transferring (it) to other nerve cells therein complex network that makes up the brain," notes Ashwell (ibid, p. 72).

Nerve cells themselves contains an axon, which transfers information to other neurons; tree branch-resembling dendrites, which stretch up to 0.2 inches long to receive the information; and axon-surrounding myelin sheaths, which augment faster, more reliable electrical impulses. Neurotransmitters are chemical messenger molecules, which bridge the synaptic cleft between them, sparking changes within the recceing cell's electrical behavior and creating a neuropathway. Transfer speeds depend upon axon diameter and thus the existence or absence of myelin sheath coating.

The actual electrical signal transfer is designated an "action potential" and is taken under consideration an all-or-nothing-at-all sequence-that is, either the bridge between the neurons are getting to be completed or it'll not be initiated. there is no turning back midway across the cleft.

Multiple neuron connections are considered circuits. Their repeated use as neuropathways creates progressively thicker connections and it takes concerted effort to vary a person's thoughts so as that he can forge new ones.


Several systems, activated by and responding to brain impulses, spark physiological, emotional and behavioral changes, ensuring internal homeostasis and regulation and augmenting the person's survival potential.

The nervous system , the first of them, is subdivided into the central nervous system (CNS), which consists of the brain and thus the spinal cord , and thus the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that sends impulses to both. The latter are often further subdivided into the somatic nervous system , which controls voluntary functions, and cautoromic nervous system , which controls the automated ones.

The limbic system , located on the border (or "limbus" in Latin) of the forebrain, could also be a dual system, consisting of the amygdala, a gaggle of almond-shaped nerve cells-"amygdala" is Latin for "almond"-in the lobe and thus the hippocampus, cortical tissue also within the lobe , and connected by means of the amygdala outflow and thus the papez circuits, thus forming a link between memory and emotion.

Vital to understanding the mechanism and routing of trauma is that the amygdala itself.

"The most significant tasks performed by the amygdala is to link sensory stimuli and emotional experience," according to Ashwell (ibid, p. 244). "This allows them to seek out out whether experiences are positive or negative and is profoundly important in regulating future behavior. The amygdala also lets us recognize anger and fear within the faces of others. Stimulation of the amygdala in humans produces a way of hysteria and thus the experience of reminder (the feeling of getting experienced the same situation before)."

Strongly influencing a person's nervous system , defenses, and emotional responses through his internal organs, it generates a fight-or-flight dynamic, so severely dictating his actions that he may have little to no control over them.

"The pathway to the cerebral cortex ... allows the amygdala to influence decisions about movement that serve the satisfaction of basic drives, and to serve links between the perception of objects, (such as) a snake, and appropriate emotional responses, (such as) fear... ," Ashwell continues (ibid, p. 34.) "The pathway to the hypothalamus allows the amygdala to initiate the physical changes in emotional responses."

The final system is that the autonomic one, so designated because it's considered automatic or not under the conscious control of the person. Subdivided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, they maintain the body's internal environment and use energy reserves during emergency times.

Preparing a private for survival-intended actions, the first of the two increases the center rate, opens the airways, and redirects blood from the stomach to the muscles.

The second both complements and counteracts the first by restoring regulation, thus lowering the center rate and decreasing sign .

Full, simultaneous activation of both divisions seldom occurs.

The enteric system, also an autonomic system division, controls the movement of digested substances, food, and liquid through the alimentary tract .


Several chemicals and hormones are instrumental in behavior and emotion.

Adrenalin, both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, is released into the bloodstream during stressful, emergency, and life-threatening times, whether or not they're real or only perceived, to form fight-or-flight responses intended to reinforce and increase a person's safety and survival-that is, it increases the center rate, sign , airflow to the lungs, and blood flow to the muscles. During panic attacks, it acts like an overheating engine, overriding the autonomic system and rendering it impossible for the person to manage himself.

Cortisol, a stress hormone secreted by the cortex , controls mood, motivation, and fear, and aids within the body's fight-or-flight responses.

Dopamine could also be a neurotransmitter chemical employed by the neurons of the midbrain's substantia nigra to manage motor activity, pathway-routed to the limbic system and medial cortex to strengthen motivation and cognition. Although it rewards behavior by amplifying the brain's pleasure centers, misuse of its pathway can cause addition.

Melatonin could also be a hormone produced by the pineal gland to manage circadian rhythms, a 24-hour cycle within the physiological processes of living beings.

Finally, serotonin could also be a neurotransmitter employed by brainstem cells to manage sleep-awake cycles, moods, and pain perceptions by means of upper and lower pathways.


Familiarization with brain structure and performance can immeasurably aid the neurological understanding of trauma, which alerts a private to perceived or possible danger by gearing the body for survival-promoting strategies.

There are levels of trauma severity, however. Major ones include life-threatening accidents, rapes, losses, abuse, parental or primary caregiver alcoholism, para-alcoholism, and/or abandonment, and horrific events, like wars, terrorism, the 9/11 attacks, and thus the holocaust. Lesser traumas include living with someone who himself suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); overexposure to media reports about terrorism; growing up with economic insecurity; harassment, sexual or otherwise, in school or within the workplace; extended periods of illness or pain; and behaving in ways during which are against the person's core beliefs.

Integral to all or any or any of these adverse experiences is fear.

"Fear is that the acute emotion that's usually experienced when confronted with a dangerous or painful situation, whereas anxiety is that the anticipation of painful and unsightly experiences and will be felt over how longer period of some time ," advises Ashwell (ibid, p. 246).

Incoming stimuli, which can number within the various thousands on any given day, enter the brain through the thalamus, its router, which then relays it through two possible paths-the slow upper one or the faster lower one.

In the case of the slow upper route, information entering and routed by the thalamus is shipped to the cerebral cortex for processing and understanding, and thus the hippocampus.

In the case of the fast lower route, the knowledge is shipped on to the amygdala. This pathway, sparking the characteristic overtaking and controlling sensations because the amygdala is inextricably tied to the hypothalamus, results in several fundamental differences.

1). it's faster, overriding the logic and reasoning of the upper route through the cerebral cortex , whose path it cuts off.

2). It floods the blood with adrenalin stress hormones, which increase the center and sign rates.

3). It activates the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system , which increases airflow to the lungs and redirects blood to the muscles, initiating the survival-promoting, fight-or-flight response.

4). It drives the person's response behavior, controlling him with floods of stress hormones to either combat or flee from the danger, real or perceived.

5). it's reactive in nature.

6). It creates, via the sympathetic division, a rupture within the autonomic system, which the parasympathetic division cannot counteract or reregulate, leaving the energy locked in. Because it cannot be discharged, later retriggerings create post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like emotionally going off line, the one that suffers from PTSD can have any or all of the next symptoms: bracing, exaggerated startle effects, eruptive rage as against anger, hypervigilance, numbing, dissociation, cognitive distortions and misinterpretations, the shortage to sustain intervals of calm without assistance, and thus an equivalent emotional and physiological effects that were generated by the primary trauma, leaving him to believe that it's whilst real now because it had been then.

Understanding these neurological, physiological, and emotional concepts can greatly aid an adult child, who experienced abusive, dysfunctional, and alcoholic upbringings, in his life's plight.

Most likely subjected to an ingenious trauma at an early age that would be measured in months, unable to resolve or maybe know it , hypervigilant for repeated danger as he's held captive to sometimes raging, out-of-control parents or primary caregivers, developing PTSD, and adding layer upon layer to his dilemma, he's forced to filter much of his life through the amygdala, leaving little surprise on why he was (or still is) scared of people, places, and things.

"Eventually, even imaging things may cause an increase in vital sign and pulse that we experience as anxiety," consistent with Ashwell (ibid, p. 247).

Regressing to the age of his original trauma, despite being an adult who may have already passed the half-century mark in life, he re-experiences now an equivalent tool-devoid, powerlessness he felt then, thus explaining one among the adult child survival traits, "We are reactors, not actors."

"Trauma," consistent with Roger Keizerstein, a clinical caseworker and therapist in East Setauket, New York, "is an injury to the autonomic system, not (just) an occasion . Post-traumatic stress is that the way during which the body speaks the unspeakable. (And) healing begins during a place between stimulus and response."
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