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Why You Can’t Talk About IT: The Effects of Trauma on the Brain

Trauma is caused by a very difficult experience that has emotional, psychological, and physiological effects. In this post, I explore some reasons why it is often difficult to verbalize traumatic experiences.

 

 

Oh, horror! Horror! Horror! Tongue nor heart Cannot conceive nor name thee! Confusion now hath made his masterpiece! – Shakespeare

 

 

All trauma is proverbial (Kolk, 2014). I read that, and it was so profound that I had to read it again. Then I highlighted it. That one sentence seemed so intriguing to me. Verbalizing the horrors of our lives has been espoused as one of the best ways to deal with trauma. Realistically though, being able to talk about painful or embarrassing situations is an accomplishment in itself. I thought it best to write about this because often, in an attempt to heal, we are unaware of the many factors that play into that healing and hit obstacles that slow progress. Slowed progress is the main reason I have seen many abandon the journey of healing and personal growth. Instead, they resort to past behaviors because of comfort and predictability. They learn to accept the pain as part of the experience. 

 

However, it is never okay to give up. Life can be joyful, and the pain can be managed. Sometimes, we need a deeper level of support or the support of multiple professionals to help assist us through the trenches of the mind and emotions. The book I referenced at the beginning of this blog helped me understand why some individuals need more support than others. So I decided to write this blog to help someone else understand. 

 

First, I want to define trauma as an emotional reaction to a devasting event with psychological and physiological effects. One of them is not being able to talk about the event. 

 

In the book, Dr. Kolk (2014) goes on to explain the reasons for this are that there are parts of the brain that are active and the ones that aren’t during the attempt to verbalize the traumatic incident. One of them is Broca’s Area. 

 

Broca’s Area of the brain is the part of the brain that is a part of speech. It shows a significant decrease in activity and blood flow in people who have experienced trauma. When Broca’s Area is not activated, it is improbable that you will be able to put your thoughts and feelings into words. Broca’s Area is also the affected part of the brain of people who have suffered a stroke.  

 

While Broca’s Area goes offline, Area 19 is very active. I stated this point because Area 19 shows activity when we initially witness something with the eyes. The information is then sent to other parts of the brain for interpretation of what is being seen. So, if you recall a traumatic event, you are not witnessing it visually. It has already happened. Since it has already happened, the processing should have been completed to know what you saw and verbalize it. However, your brain is functioning as if it is occurring in real-time for the first time. 

 

In addition to that, the left side of the brain has a significant decrease in activity while the right side of the brain is very active. The right side of the brain is the first part of the brain to develop in the womb and is our emotional/feeling, intuitive side. The left side develops once we start interacting and understanding the world. It is our thinking, rational side. So, it is not unusual that traumatic experiences bring deep feelings that can’t be verbalized. The part of your brain that would help you create the words to compare and relate what you felt for human consumption is not working properly.

 

As I stated before, sometimes, the journey to healing and growth will take the combined efforts of professionals to assist you. There is nothing wrong with that. Suppose you require assistance working through traumatic experiences. In that case, that is okay, and congratulations on the big step it takes to recognize that. You deserve so much respect for the courage it takes to acknowledge the problem. Here’s a big virtual hug for the bravery you show when deciding to take the steps needed to end the pain and reach for better, brighter days.  

 

I am here if you need me and rooting for you too. 

 

 

 

Citation

 

Bessel A. van der Kolk, 2014, The Body Keeps The Scor: Brain, Mind and Body In The Healing of Trauma, Penguin Books.

 

 

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used in any legal or medical capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a medical or legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast or blog.

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