Tag Archives: Childhood Trauma And Brain

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma 1

Three critical brain regions that may be adversely affected by significant and chronic childhood trauma are :

1) The thalamus

2) The amygdala

3) The hippocampus

Below, I will briefly describe the main functions of each of these three crucial regions of the brain, together with providing a summary of the damage they may sustain to their development due early adverse experiences.

1) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Thalamus :

The thalamus is the part of the brain that assesses all incoming sensory data (ie. information from sound, vision, touch,  smell and taste) and then sends this information on to the appropriate, higher region of the brain for further analysis.

If a child constantly experiences trauma (for example, by frequently witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by a drunken father) the child’s thalamus can become so overwhelmed by the intensity and quantity of sense data it needs to process that it is no longer able to process it properly.

This can lead to the child’s memories of trauma becoming very fragmented.

Another effect of the thalamus being overloaded with traumatic sensory data is to shut down the cortex, resulting in impairment of rational thinking processes. Also, due to the shutting down of the cortex, many of the traumatic experiences are stored without awareness (so that they become unconscious memories).

 

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma 2

Above : diagram showing the position of the thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus (together with other brain regions).

 

2) Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Amygdala :

The amygdala is the brain region that responds to fear, threat and danger.

If a child experiences frequent fear due to childhood abuse the amygdala becomes overwhelmed by the need to process too much information. This can damage it in two main ways :

a) the amygdala becomes overactive and remains constantly ‘stuck on red alert’, leading the individual feeling constantly anxious and fearful, even at times when there is no need to feel this way, objectively speaking. An oversensitive amygdala is also thought to be a major feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychiatric condition.

b) the amygdala shuts down as a way of protecting the individual from intolerable feelings of being in danger, which can have the effect of leaving the him/her feeling numb, empty, emotionally dead and dissociated.

3)  Possible Adverse Effects Of Childhood Trauma On The Development Of The Hippocampus:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for long-term storage of memories. If trauma is severe, the consequential production by the body of stress hormones can have a toxic effect upon this brain area, reducing its capacity by as much as 25℅.

Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed By Childhood Trauma 3

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Brain Areas That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma

BPD_and_brain_areas

If we have been unfortunate enough to have been subjected to severe and chronic childhood trauma, it is possible that this adversely affected how our brain physically developed during our early life.

And, if we have been particularly unlucky, this disrupted brain development could have made us highly susceptible to developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) in our adult lives.

 

Indeed, research involving brain scans suggest that sufferers of BPD can have abnormalities in the following brain areas :

– prefrontal cortex

– anterior cingulate

– medial frontal cortex

– subgenual cingulate

– ventral striatum

– ventromedial prefrontal cortex

– amygdala

 

What Are These Brain Areas Associated With?

The function of these brain areas are described below:

PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– conscious control of social behaviour

– speech / writing

– logic

– purposeful (as opposed to instinctual) behaviour

– planning for the future

– expression of the personality

ANTERIOR CINGULATE :

– decision making

– heart rate

– blood pressure

– impulse control

– emotions

MEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX:

– decision making

– memory

SUBGENUAL CINGULATE :

– sleep

– appetite

– anxiety

– mood

– memory

– self esteem

– transporting serotonin

– our experience of depression

VENTRAL STRIATUM :

– decision making

– emotional regulation (the control of emotios)

– the extinction of conditioned responses

AMYGDALA :

– appetite

– emotion

– emotional content of memories

– fear

The Effects Of Disruption Of The Above Brain Areas :

Poor decision making ; poor control of social behaviour ; impaired ability to think rationally ; poor planning for the future ; dysfunctional personality ; increased physiological response to stress ; poor impulse control ; poor emotional control ; insomnia ; changes in appetite ; severe anxiety ; mood instability ; low self-esteem ; impairment of the brain’s ability to make effective use of serotonin leading to clinical depression ; changes in appetite ; emotionally charged memories leading to flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks ; feelings of being under constant threat, fear, terror and extreme vulnerability.

OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND THE BRAIN :

 

eBook :

brain damage caused by childhood trauma

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma

3 Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma 4

We have already seen in other articles that I have posted on this site that significant and protracted childhood trauma can physically damage the developing brain and have an adverse effect upon the body’s physiology as a whole. In particular, it can:

– effect the way that the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus interact

which, in turn, can:

– lead to massive over-production of stress hormones in the body such as cortisol

which results in:

a constant state of feeling under threat, extreme vulnerability, agitation, anxiety, fear and even (and I can confirm this from my own unhappy experienced) terror.

 

Because of these physical brain changes and the accompanying alteration in the body’s biology, any dysfunctional behaviours they lead to, such as disproportionately violent responses to perceived threat (to take just one example from myriad possible others), are very hard to change because of their physical underpinnings in the brain. This leads to repetitive dysfunctional behaviour that persists because it is so hard to unlearn. 

This is why people affected in this way may frustrate those closest to them by their greatly diminished capacity to learn from experience.

In effect, the childhood trauma has re-programed the brain in a particularly unhelpful manner.

Damage to other areas of the brain caused by prolonged childhood trauma also frequently lead to a sense if being ‘unreal‘, ‘cut off from reality’, ‘living life behind a thick pane of glass’, and ’emotionally dead inside’, unable to feel anything remotely positive (also known as anhedonia), including loss of feeling towards previously close ones.

repairing_damage_to_brain

It is the brain’s neuroplasticity that allows this damage to occur. However, the brain’s neuroplasticity may also be exploited to reverse the adverse effects our childhood trauma has had on our brains.

 

Exploiting Neuroplasticity To Repair The Damage To Our Brains Caused By Our Childhood Trauma:

Three main ways we can reverse this damage done to our brains may include the following:

– learning about how our childhoods have affected, on a very deep level, what we feel, how we think and behave, and how we act eg. through bibliotherapy – thus helping us to process our trauma

– medication, ECT (in extreme cases) , deep brain stimulation. (Obviously, none of these should be undertaken accept on advice of an appropriately qualified professional, usually a psychiatrist).

– undertaking experiences that make us feel safe, cared for, relaxed and loved and that make us feel these things on as deep a level as possible, as often as possible (just as the brain can be harmed by negative experience, so, too, may it be healed through positive experience e.g. meditation and mindfulness).

Repair_brain_damage

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Brain Inflammation Resulting From Childhood Trauma

stress, brain Inflammation, microgrial

Research on the brain carried out by McCarthy suggests that if a child is subjected to significant, chronic stress, particularly when the cause of this stress is unpredictable (eg due to a hostile, abusive, unstable parent prone to random explosions of terrifying rage), s/he may develop brain inflammation.

This is a recent finding – until not long ago, the prevailing wisdom was that brain inflammation could only be caused by physical damage to the brain, not psychological damage. However, this theory has now been discredited.

It now appears that when a child is exposed to the type of chronic stress described above, the action of vital cells in his/her brain (called microgrial cells) is disrupted, leading them to go haywire and run amock; it is thought that when their action is disrupted in this manner they start to destroy other neurons (brain cells) that, prior to their destruction, were beneficial to the brain.

microgrial cells brain inflammation

Research suggests that the main neurons that the microgrial cells destroy are involved in reasoning and impulse control. Therefore, of course, it follows that, due to the adverse action of microgrial cells caused by chronic stress, the individual’s ability to control his/her impulses, and to reason, will be impaired.

These rogue microgrial cells are also believed to reduce the volume of both grey and white matter in the brain, leading to anxiety, depression and even psychosis. 

And, as if this weren’t bad enough, they also seem to inhibit regeneration of neurons (brain cells) in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus; this, too, is liable to contribute yet further to mental illness.

Related Animal Study Provides Hope:

A related research study involved rats being exposed to chronic stress. This resulted, as the researches intended, the microgrial cells in the rats’ brains being damaged (as too, we have seen from the above, occurs in humans).

This resulted in the rats behaving in a highly stressed manner.

However, when the researchers reintroduced healthy microgrial cells into their brains, the rats’ observable stressed behaviour was ameliorated.

This finding provides hope that, in the future, we may be able to extrapolate from this experiment and relieve human stress related problems, where applicable, in a similar manner.

Also, meditation, properly done, has been scientifically proved to reduce inflammation.

brain_damage_caused_by_childhood_trauma

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc, PGDE(FAHE).

How The Brain Can Change And Recover From Harm.

 

How The Brain Can Change And Recover From Harm. 5

Whilst the basic structure of the brain is formed by early childhood, this physical structure changes throughout life as a result of our experiences and learning.

A well known example of this is relates to a study of London taxi drivers (who undergo years of extensive training to learn their way around the London streets) ; it was found, through the use of brain scans, that as a result of this training the part of their brain that deals with spatial awareness actually increased in size.

This ability of the brain to physically change throughout life is due to a quality it possesses called neuroplasticity.

The main phases of brain development and change can be divided into 3 stages. I briefly describe each of these below:

1) The Precritical Phase:

This occurs during early childhood. During this phase, the brain’s neurons (nerve cells) are formed, as are the connections between them.

These neurons communicate with each other by the process of electro-chemical signalling.

The brain consists of about 100 billion (100,000,000,000) neurons and each of these neurons may be connected up to 10,000 other neurons.

Mind-bogglingly, this means that our neurons communicate with one another via a network of about 1,000 trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) connections (known as synaptic connections).

2) The second phase relates to the changes that occur to the brain after childhood as a result of our learning and the experiences (eg. see example of London taxi drivers above).

3) Later life : If the brain does not receive adequate stimulation, its processing ability may be adversely affected, as may memory. However, brain training exercises can help to prevent such deterioration.

BRAIN DAMAGE REVERSIBILITY:

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We have seen, in other articles that I have published on this site, that severe childhood trauma can harm the way in which the brain develops.

However, such harm to the brain is frequently reversible, at least in part. Two ways in which the brain is able to repair itself are:

– by developing new connections between neurons

– redirecting specific brain functions to alternative brain regions.

Furthermore, studies now reveal that, in certain situations, the brain is actually capable of developing new neurons.

APPLICATIONS TO ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION:

Meditation, visualisation and repeated hypnosis/self-hypnosis that enhances relaxation has been found to alter the brain in a beneficial manner. These changes help to dampen down negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger; also, they help both the brain and the body to heal themselves.

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Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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