Let’s talk about a subject that is very important in human life. When handled properly, it can be overcome, but when handled the wrong way, it can jeopardize relationships to the point of ending them and hurting people. We are talking about our past.
We all have had experiences that have marked us for good or for bad. We have good memories printed on our minds, moments, people, places, but we all have bad memories too. They could even be traumatic ones. There are people who go through experiences we cannot even imagine, who have had difficult lives and need to process these past experiences in order to overcome them and have a happy life.
But, first, let’s see how our mind works in these scenarios.
How does your mind process traumatic experiences?
When an event overwhelms our ability to cope, either physically, mentally, or emotionally, we experience trauma, which can leave us feeling unsafe, helpless, and struggling with disturbing memories, emotions, and anxiety.
Trauma changes the way we perceive and experience the world and can have a lasting effect on the brain, affecting the behavior of people who did not previously have a mental health condition or even a predisposition to mental health issues. For trauma survivors, after a disturbing or distressing event is over, the brain continues to react to the original stressor, keeping them in a constant state of hypervigilance. It is as if the mind is a soldier prepared for battle, on high alert, ready to face an enemy even though the war is over.
This scenario brings many symptoms that are not easy to handle. We might notice them or we might not. The truth is that they can be there without us having the ability to relate them to what we are feeling inside, what we have in our minds, and the experiences we have dealt with.
The symptoms of trauma can include: intrusive thoughts, anger and irritability, anxiety and depression, guilt or shame, isolation or withdrawal from others, dissociation, feeling sadness or hopelessness, feeling disconnected or numb, among others. There are other symptoms that can be reflected physically in our bodies due to what we feel in our minds, such as immunological reactions, digestive symptoms, skin conditions, and others.
Psychological trauma causes the brain to activate mental alarm systems and defenses to protect itself from the perceived threat. The emotional response center of the brain, the amygdala, is connected to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze response.
When the amygdala is activated in response to trauma, it prepares us to escape or confront the threat or attack. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for regulating attention, awareness, and reasoning, is impeded by a trauma response, leading to difficulty paying attention and making decisions. Also impacted is the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and learning, often leading to problems in those areas.
Why you should let go of the past
Being in a constant state of fear, hypervigilance, or hyperarousal consumes a great deal of energy and focus, which can lead to mental and physical exhaustion, and potentially manifests itself as physical health issues. Carrying trauma can impact our ability to trust others, and therefore our ability to build and maintain healthy relationships, including preventing us from having a fulfilling intimate relationship. While we live in the past, our memories will continue to drive behaviors that sabotage our life and hold back our personal freedom and the life we deserve.
The good news is that the brain can be re-wired to effectively heal from trauma. This malleability of the brain is called neuroplasticity, which is the ability to grow and create new healthy pathways and replace the maladaptive patterns keeping the mind in a trauma response. With the right treatment and support, you can heal your past, take back control of your life, and learn to feel safe mentally, physically, and emotionally.
When you heal from past trauma, your relationships will improve, first with yourself as you restore trust and build self-confidence, and also with the people you care about. You will feel more inspired and engaged in life, ultimately living life with greater creativity, joy, meaning, and purpose.
Have you experienced any traumatic situations in your life? Do you identify with some of these symptoms? Did know that the way we process our past experiences can have an impact on the way our brain and body work? Share you answers with us in the comments section, so we can all enrich our experiences when dealing with these issues. God bless you.
 American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2007/05/brain-function