“Trauma affects the entire human organism … After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system”.
There’s a lot of pressure when you learn about betrayal, to work hard on your healing, and to move on with your life.
But you’re not the same person, and the scars don’t disappear.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that progress can be made. But trauma leaves an imprint on our body, mind and brain. It changes our neurology and physiology.
In “The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel van der Kolk describes some changes that occur when a person’s traumatized, and is later diagnosed with PTSD. Some of these changes include the following:
1. In a person unaffected by PTSD, the hormone cortisol sends out an “all safe” signal after a threat or danger has passed. This doesn’t happen with PTSD sufferers. This is because the latter’s stress hormones do not return to base level after the threat or danger has passed. Instead, the person continues to experience severe anxiety. They remain agitated, they cannot relax, they remain on guard, and they tend to react disproportionately to minor or neutral stimuli.
2. A person with PTSD is primed to react to anything that might signal danger, many months and years after experiencing the trauma. This is true, even when the person has told their story, and has worked on their healing with a therapist. For as Bessel van der Kolk states:
“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain mange perceptions. (As a consequence of trauma, the person) remains hypervigilant, prepared to be wounded at any time.”
3. In ordinary everyday life, both the right and left sides of the brain work together. However, trauma temporarily deactivates the left side of the brain. This means that whenever the traumatized person is triggered, the left brain blacks out, and simply ceases to function.
At the same time, the right brain continues to feels the strong emotions related to the original traumatic experience.
Unfortunately, because the left brain cannot function when it’s triggered, it cannot distinguish between the past and the present. Thus, the person feels as if they’re trapped in the past, reliving emotions which are scary and intense.
Knowing the above, which is based on trauma research, can help relieve the pressure to “hurry up and heal.”
We need to recognize these facts, and to practice self-compassion … Because experiencing betrayal is a life-changing event.
That is, the impact is profound, it affects our chemistry, and it’s very difficult to make a full recovery.
*Quotes are from Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. London: Penguin Books.