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Emotions - Trauma and The Brain

When we hear the word emotion, most of us think of love, hate, happiness, or fear those strong feelings we experience throughout life. Our emotions are the driving force behind many of our behaviours helpful and unhelpful just where do our emotions come from.

How Our Brains Feel Emotion

Our brain is wired to look for threats or rewards if one is detected the feeling region of the brain alerts us through the release of chemical messages.

Emotions - Trauma and The Brain

Emotions are the effect of these chemical messages travelling from our brain through the body. When our brain detects a potential threat our brain releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which prepare us for a fight-or-flight response.

When we detect or experience something rewarding such as someone doing something nice for you our brain releases dopamine, oxytocin, or serotonin these are the chemicals that make us feel good and motivate us to continue on the task or behaviour. In these instances, the feeding region of the brain kicks in before the thinking part.

Sometimes the reactions of the feeling brain are so strong that it dominates our behaviours and we're unable to think rationally in the moment our emotions hijack our brain.

While many of our emotional responses have been subconsciously our thinking can influence our emotions and sometimes this can be unhelpful, just thinking about something threatening can trigger an emotional response.

Emotions - Trauma and The Brain

This is where we can manage our emotions with conscious thinking. Our emotions play a powerful role in the way we experience the world understanding and regulating our emotions through our thoughts and behaviours can help us take greater control of our brain and achieve our goals.

Emotional Trauma and The Brain

Emotional trauma is literal trauma or damage to the human psyche by a severe distressing event. The trauma, in this case, is defined as an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope with that experience, such traumatic events are combat stress.

Physical assault surviving a natural disaster or the sudden death of a loved one. It has been documented that emotional trauma through its high impact of stress on the human mind causes increased release of chemical signals in the brain to better cope with the conflict. The areas of the brain that respond to a high-stress event are the amygdala, hippocampus in the prefrontal cortex.

Emotions - Trauma and The Brain

When a trigger is introduced to someone with emotional trauma these areas become far more active than usual. This high activity results in an increased release of adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine in the brain. Putting the body into an extreme high-stress alert.

These hormones are normally released in low levels during regular stressful activities such as taking a test or going on a first date. But when emotional trauma is signalled these hormones are released in much higher quantities. This scenario is best represented in someone who has PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The individual is first subjected to an overbearing stressful trauma in this case combat stress. When a trigger is introduced a second time say a loud banging sound the brain interprets the stimuli is the original traumatic event.

The increased levels of hormones are then released. Causing an overbearing response to the stimuli, such as increased breathing, increased heart rate, mood swings, numbness, and shock. Emotional trauma was a type of natural selection to ensure we survived by making us hyper-alert and readily responsive to a particular threat.

With a threat being ingrained in our minds via intense fear and hormone release. This would allow us to evade a threat if we were ever exposed to it again. This also explains why some people respond to certain stressors differently due to the threshold of subjective interpretation.

Emotions - Trauma and The Brain

Some of our ancestors were more or less afraid of predators, this genetic makeup was then passed down to offspring making some people less affected by traumatic events and others more prone to trauma.

The thing that's bad about this built-in survival instinct is it's no longer useful as we're not being chased by predators and battling for our lives every day. Now we live in protected and consistent lifestyles. Which does not flow with an instinct response that puts you into a primal stress mode.

Luckily however emotional trauma can be managed with psychiatric counselling and even some medications that have been shown to reduce the amount of stress hormones released in the event of a trigger.

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