My mind was BLOWN when I found out what prolonged Trauma does to your brain!
As I've learned more and more about it, it has become so validating to me, as I'm sure it might be to you after reading this. I used to ask myself questions like,
"Am I crazy?"
"Is he right?"
"Why can't I remember anything?"
"How did I become this person?"
Once I learned what "trauma" actually was, and how it was affecting my brain, I completely understood why my mental state was in such turmoil over the last 10 years, and it was then that I truly started to make leaps and bounds in my healing process. That's why I wanted to share these things with you.
First of all, what is "trauma"?
Some of you might be thinking, I don't have trauma, I've been pretty lucky. I'm not speaking of the bigger traumas, what therapists call "Big T's". I'm talking about what therapists call the "little t's". The smaller traumas that you don't even realize you are going through each day. These could be things you don't really attribute your anxiety or self-image to. But as any therapist or mental health professional will agree, you cannot reach adulthood without experiencing some sort of trauma.
Toxic relationships, being bullied, losing a pet or loved one, being involved in a car accident or even witnessing one, watching the news... something as small as a movie you watched or even something that happened to you at birth or in your first few years can hold trauma in your body that you don't even remember in your brain.
If you are feeling anxious, sad, depressed, or have any sort of negative self-image thoughts, you've experienced some type of trauma. It's defined as an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing, or a physical injury. I have learned many ways of recovering from these traumas and the anxieties and conditions that follow through my Brainspotting Practice, however, this blog is more to explain what's going on inside of your brain and body.
Prolonged trauma, or trauma that happens repeatedly (and for those of you that still don't feel that you are experiencing trauma, think of prolonged "stress" instead). Prolonged stress or trauma leaves your brain in a state of fight-or-flight. This is an overactivity of your brain that protects you by getting you to flee or protect yourself from what's happening in this "dangerous" situation. This secretes hormones and neurotransmitters that tell your body to freeze, fawn, flee, or fight, and leaves you in a state of an adrenaline high; shaking, breathing hard, heart racing. Have you ever experienced a pain in your gut or your heart pounding when you receive a text from someone you aren't excited to hear from? The same feeling you feel when a car almost hits you in traffic. Or when you see an ex that you didn't expect to be there. That is the trauma reminding your brain that last time this happened it was dangerous, and we need to prepare for war!
So what happens when your brain stays in the fight-or-flight mode too often?
You have increased levels of cortisol - the stress hormone. This literally atrophies your hippocampus (shrinks), the part of your brain that helps you with short term memory! So... when you start forgetting those little things more and more, can't remember how that conversation went, can't remember if you did that thing... this is because of prolonged stress and cortisol levels. What's another well-known affect of cortisol? Stubborn belly fat! Is that baby weight hanging on? Have you tried every diet, exercise and sculpting product and its still there? It might be stress, my friend.
The trauma bond itself is going to put you in an addictive cycle of hormone secretions. You'll receive adrenaline when you are in a fight-or-flight situation. That is what increases heart rate, sweaty palms, and rapid breathing. When you are coming down from that state you will start to feel fatigue and exhaustion. So if you are constantly worrying, experience fear, can't sleep, and have increased irritability, it is from overstimulation of your amygdala, another part of your brain. And what happens when you have increased irritability? You snap at people. What happens when you have increased fear? You worry more. What happens when you can't sleep? You're exhausted and can't seem to get out of bed in the morning. All of this, collectively, making you feel like a terrible mother/father, coworker, family member, or friend. If you weren't like this before, then you aren't like this now. This is the hormones from stress/trauma talking, not you.
The Trauma BOND enters when you become addicted to it. How does this happen? This is when you know you are in a toxic relationship. Before and after the trauma of the fight, the draining conversation, the mental and emotional gaslighting and blame shifting, you have a period of euphoria. They love bomb you. Showering you with love and affection, compliments, affirmations, gifts, quality time, bragging on you in front of people, etc. (notice this can be anyone, not just an intimate partner). Your significant other might make you feel extra sexy during that time by increasing initiation of sexual intimacy, and if the sex is good, you'll love this too. While all this is going on, your body is receiving massive amounts of dopamine and oxytocin hits. The same hits that you receive when you are taking "feel good" drugs like cocaine, checking your social media for likes on your post, accomplishing a goal, working out, having an orgasm, watching porn, gambling, etc. As you can see... some of those are good things. Some of them, depending on your morals and values, are not. Dopamine is the motivating hormone. You need it to accomplish goals. Without it you simply won't. But it can also lead you into addiction. Your body will crave this like drugs. Your abuser sees that affect and they use it to keep you there. To control you and make sure that you are letting them live their comfortable life without disturbance. If you disturb that comfy life, they will devalue you, degrade you, make you think that you'll never make it without them. This all ensures that they do not have to do anything they don't want to do. This is explained very well in the book "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft. If you have a relationship with someone like this, give it a read!
Basically, what I'm telling you here is that your darkest moments are NOT you. They are simply a chemical imbalance in your body that you cannot control UNTIL you get rid of the stressor. In my case it was a relationship and a few toxic people. In yours, it could be your job, a friend, a parent, or maybe a mixture of those. It could be a memory that keeps haunting you, anxiety that won't go away, or an unexplained "uneasiness" that keeps you from living a normal life. Any of these things can be treated. I used therapy and Brainspotting, mixed with self development books and podcasts, and then surrounded myself with amazing people. I talk about my journey and the tools I used in my book the Reclaim Journal, which will guide you through the same things. You may already have one. You may have started it, and you might not have. When you're ready, it's there for you :) It is available here: www.reclaimjournal.com/shop
Something I do want to address before I let you go, is the end game. Say you read this and you're blown away by the finally explained changes to your personality that you weren't understanding because you always used to be a great person. Say you now want to get rid of these stressors and start recovering your body again, so your kids or your family can know the real you!
When or if you do decide to leave you will have a test. It's call Post-Separation Abuse and it can be even worse than the abuse you endured inside of the relationship, especially if you have kids with your toxic ex. I am unfortunately an unwilling expert in this field. I know everything there is to know about the 8 categories of Post-Separation Abuse and not only the mental and emotional turmoil that it puts someone through, but how to strategize and protect yourself from each one.
I explain my strategies thoroughly in my podcast Shattered to Unbreakable. It is guarded by a subscription because I don't want abusers having easy access to our strategies as the safe parents. The subscription is $2.99 and I don't even care if you decide to subscribe just to hear it and then cancel it. If you are experiencing Post-Separation Abuse or feel like you might if you leave, you can also dm me or message me directly. I'd be happy to walk you through it.
You can also look up another unwilling expert on the field, Tina Swithin with OneMomsBattle.com. She has some great resources, classes and a great "yellow rock" communication guide that is a free download.
And last but not least, your kids. If you have kids, think about what prolonged trauma might be doing in their little brains too. If they can't sleep, seem extra irritable, fearful, or anxious, talk to them about stressors in their life and do your best to help relieve it. It will have the same affect on them as it does on us and their little t's and Big T's will follow them into adulthood. The best thing you can do for them is teach them that they can heal, and show them the resources they need to make it happen. If that means healing yourself first, do it now. Don't wait any longer. They need to know their real mom/dad. I know my kids have appreciate finally getting to know the real me :)
If any of this resonated with you I am deeply sorry, because it means you have been suffering. Know that you are not alone, and there are 100 different women and men reading this with you that feel your pain. We are together in this!
Stay Sparkly Sweet Sister! (and brother if you are a man! Welcome! I know some nasty narcissistic women too!)
Shattered to Unbreakable Podcast is available on Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart radio, the Reclaim website and more! Coming to Apple Podcast soon. :)