We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that, if we suffered childhood trauma, our risk of developing problems controlling our anger as adults increases, especially if our experience of trauma was so severe that we have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder.
Five major causes of anger are fear, rejection, frustration, disappointment and being negatively evaluated by others. When such causes occur, a chain reaction takes place within the brain :
First, the region of the brain known as the amygdala is activated (one of the consequences of childhood trauma is that the amygdala can become highly sensitive and over-reactive); in turn, the amygdala activates the hippocampus which, in its turn, activates the pituatary gland.
The pituary gland then activates the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones including :
THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF CORTISOL ON THE BRAIN :
Excessive cortisol :
– harms the prefrontal cortex
– harms the hippocampus
– reduces levels of serotonin
I provide more details about these three adverse effects below :
Cortisol can cause neurons in the brain to absorb excessive quantities of calcium which, in turn, can cause these same neurons to fire too frequently and die.
Two areas of the brain which are especially vulnerable to losing neurons in this way are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus ; let’s look a little more closely at the implications of this :
ADVERSE EFFECT ON PREFRONTAL CORTEX :
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain involved in planning, judgment and decision making ; it follows, therefore, that the loss of neurons in this part of the brain impairs these functions.
ADVERSE EFFECT ON HIPPOCAMPUS :
The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in short-term memory and the formation of new memories ; again, it follows that the loss of neurons in this part of the brain impairs these functions.
REDUCTION OF SEROTONIN LEVELS :
Levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are lowered ; lowered levels of serotonin are associated with : increased aggression, increased sensitivity to painful stimuli, increased susceptibility to depression.
THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS HORMONES ON THE BODY :
Excessive levels of stress hormones generated by anger also physically damage the body ; in particular, harm is incurred by :
– the immune system
– the cardiovascular system
– the digestive system
Let’s look at how these bodily systems are damaged in a little more detail :
THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM : impaired functioning of the metabolic system, reduction in blood flow
THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM : increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased levels of glucose levels in the blood, increased levels of fatty acids in the blood, increase in tension of the arteries – these symptoms in turn increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM : impaired functioning of the thyroid, increase in the number of cells infected by viruses, reduction in the levels of diseases fighting cells, increased risk of cancer
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).