According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :
It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK / BIOFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.
- the reactive-fear circuit
- the cognitive-fear circuit
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
THE REACTIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :
This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response); it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :
- the periaqueductal grey
- midcingulate cortex
THE COGNITIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :
This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :
- the posterior cingulate cortex
- the ventromedial prefrontal cortex
- the hippocampus
THE SEE-SAW METAPHOR :
Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :
- The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.
And the reverse is also true, so :
- The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.
RELEVANCE TO THOSE WHO HAVE SUFFERED CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:
As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.
HOW DOES NEUROFEEDBACK HELP VICTIMS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA?
Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc.). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.
This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.
ZEN MEDITATION, ALPHA WAVES AND NEUROFEEDBACK :
According to Buzsaki, Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Zen meditation needs to be undertaken for years until the person practising it is able to slow the frequency of the brain’s alpha waves and to spread the alpha oscillations more forward to the front of the brain; slowing these brain waves have many beneficial effects including :
- reducing fear
- reducing ‘mind chatter’
- increasing feelings of calm
- reduce anxiety
- reduce feelings of panic
However, Buzaki states that (as alluded to above) whilst it takes years of Zen meditation to optimally alter alpha wave brain activity, the same results can be obtained after a mere week’s training with neurofeedback.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)
David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles. He has written several books on topics related to childhood trauma.
He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma ANd Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed).
He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance.
This site has been created for educational purposes only.