Tag Archives: Prefrontal Cortex

Childhood Trauma May Damage Prefrontal Cortex : How To Help Reverse Such Damage.

how to reverse damage to prefrontal cortex

Childhood Trauma May Damage Development Of Certain Brain Structures, Including Prefrontal Cortex :

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that severe and chronic psychological and emotional trauma in early life may adversely affect the physical development of various structures in the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. In individuals who have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) following childhood trauma, such impairment to the brain is thought to be particularly likely.

What Is The Prefrontal Cortex And What Is Its Function?

The prefrontal cortex is a brain region located in the front of the skull (see diagram below) and its main functions include :

  • complex planning and decision making
  • self-control in the context of social behavior
  • setting and achieving goals
  • impulse control

reverse damage to prefrontal cortex

ABOVE : Position of frontal cortex in the brain

Evidence For Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex In Individuals Diagnosed With BPD:

MRI Studies : have shown that individuals with BPD have reduced volume in the brain’s frontal lobe and left orbitofrontal cortex (although further studies are required in order to ascertain if this link is causal).

fMRI Studies : have shown that BPD sufferers experience abnormal activation in the brain’s inferolateral prefrontal cortex in response to stimuli that generate negative emotions as well as unusually elevated levels of activation of the orbitofrontal cortex during the recollection of traumatic memories

Other Brain Imaging Studies : have suggested that BPD sufferers have an abnormally low density of neurons and abnormal neuronal function in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as abnormally low blood flow to the ventrolateral right prefrontal cortex.

(More research needs to be conducted in order to shed further light upon the nature of the link between childhood trauma, BPD and impaired physiological development of the prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, there exists evidence to suggest that severe an chronic childhood trauma can adversely affect the development of other brain regions including the amygdala and the hippocampus).

Potential Adverse Effects Of Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex :

If a person incurs physiological damage to the development of their prefrontal cortex as a result of severe and protracted childhood trauma, it follows that the functions of the prefrontal cortex may be commensurately impaired, including the functions listed above (i.e. complex planning and decision making; self-control in social situations; setting and achieving goals; and impulse control).

Reversing The Damage :

We can employ various methods that mat help to reverse such damage and I list some of the main ones below :


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


Early Trauma Can ‘Shut Down’ Prefrontal Cortex


First, I will describe the main functions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex ; they are as follows :

  • modulates feelings of fear associated with threat (eg calms us down if a raised alarm turns out to be a false alarm)
  • controls the intensity of our emotions (so we are neither inappropriately under-emotionally aroused nor inappropriately over-emotionally aroused)
  • helps us to plan and control impulsive, ‘knee-jerk’ reactions
  • helps us to become mentally attuned to others and to empathize with them
  • provides us with a moral awareness and ethical framework
  • provides us with insight into the workings of our own minds
  • helps us behave rationally
  • helps us to think logically
  • helps us maintain a healthy balance between hyperarousal (too much arousal) and hypoarousal (too little arousal).


How Early Trauma Adversely Affects The Development Of The Prefrontal Cortex :

Even in emotionally and mentally ‘healthy’ individuals, the prefrontal cortex does not become fully developed until the age of about 25 years; this is a major reason why the behaviour of someone aged, say, eighteen, is often more erratic and ill-considered than that of a person aged, for example, twenty-six years. (It follows from this that a strong argument can be put forward that courts of law should take into account the underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex in younger adults when considering sentences for this age group.)

Also, crucially, the development of the prefrontal cortex is particularly sensitive to the emotional and psychological environment in which we grow up.

Indeed, if one has suffered severe trauma when growing up, the prefrontal cortex (specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex)  may not physically develop to its usual size  and, therefore, in adulthood, be of a smaller volume than average.

This can inhibit the functions listed above to varying degrees (depending upon the degree to which the development of the brain region has been damaged). In particular, the individual affected in this way may develop hypersensitivity to stressful stimuli, an inability to calm him/herself down when experiencing stress (sometimes described by psychologists as an inability to self-regulate emotions) and abnormally high levels of fear and anxiety.

Extreme fear responses and high levels of anxiety are particularly likely to occur when an individual who has incurred damage to the prefrontal cortex due to childhood trauma experiences a stressful event or situation which triggers memories (on either a conscious or unconscious level) of the childhood trauma.


However, there is hope for people who have been affected in this way due to a quality of the brain known as ‘neuroplasticity which allows the brain to repair itself. You can read about this in my article  Mending The Mind With Self-Directed Neuroplasticity.



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

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


Childhood Trauma, Anxiety, The Amygdala And Hypnosis

hypnosis and amygdala

Hypnosis And The Amygdala :

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that significant and protracted childhood trauma can lead to physical damage being done to the development of a brain region known as the amygala, locking it into a state of over-activity.

This damage can lead to severe psychological and behavioral problems in our adult live, such as:

– an inability to control our emotions

– easily triggered outbursts of aggression/rage

– severe, debilitating anxiety

– intense feelings of fear/terror without obvious cause

This over-activity of the amygdala also frequently produces physiological symptoms of anxiety such as racing heart, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling etc. In other words, we get ‘stuck’ in fight or flight mode.

The amygdala evolved to increase our survival chances and reacts to fear-inducing stimuli at lightning speed.

Indeed, the amygdala responds to frightening stimuli before we are even consciously aware of why we are afraid – the response is automatic and NOT consciously willed.

This is because if our distant, primitive ancestors encountered dangers such as hungry tigers they needed to run away immediately rather than sit around deliberating whether or not it was completely necessary to do so.


The other way that the brain produces a response to fear is as follows:

The threatening stimuli in the form of sensory input is registered in the thalamus and this information is then relayed to the cortex.

However, this process is slower than the process involving the amygdala described in the above paragraph.

Harnessing The Power Of The Prefrontal Cortex :

Over-activity of the amygdala can be dampened down by another region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. Amongst other functions, the prefrontal cortex is involved in:

–    reappraising problems and generating new solutions

–   visualization

–   planning

By the use of hypnosis, we are able to harness the power of the prefrontal cortex so that it, in effect, ‘turns down’ activity in the amygdala and thus reduces feelings of fear and anxiety.

One technique which may achieve this goal is repeated self-hypnosis that induces visualization (remember, the prefrontal cortex is intimately involved in the mental process of visualization) of a ‘safe place’ in which one is completely protected from danger.

A second technique is that hypnosis can be used to help us reappraise our problems (again, the prefrontal cortex is closely involved in the process of reappraisal, as we saw above); for example, if we lose our job we may initially feel very disheartened; however, hypnosis can help us to positively reframe what has happened and to start viewing it from a positive perspective (e.g. focusing on the fact that by no longer having to do our previous job we now have the opportunity to retrain for something better, start our own business, or undertake studies as a nature student, perhaps in something we’ve always wanted to do).

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

3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

We know that those who suffer significant childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from emotional dysregulation (ie problems controlling their eemotions) in adulthood compared to those who had a relatively stable upbringing. This is especially true, of course, if they develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a result of their childhood experiences (BPD is strongly associated with childhood trauma and one of its main symptoms is emotional dysregulation.

It is theorized (and there is much evidence building up which supports the theory) that one main reason childhood trauma causes the person who suffered it to develop problems controlling his/her emotions in later life is that the experience of significant childhood trauma can lead to damage of the brain structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional reactions to events. (It is also thought that the experience of childhood trauma can also damage other areas of the brain that affect our emotional responses, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex). Click here to read my article on this.

The three types of emotional control difficulties that an individual who has suffered significant childhood trauma may develop are:

1) Severe emotional over-reactions.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state (also known as emotional lability).

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Severe emotional over- reactions:

We may react emotionally disproportionately to the things that happen to us. For example, disproportionately angry as a result of what would objectively appear to be very minor provocation, disproportionately anxious in response to a very minor threat or even suicidal behaviour/self-harming behaviour in response to events that the ‘average’ person could take in their stride with little difficulty.

To take a personal example : when I was a teenager I had a minor argument with a friend. As a result, he demanded that I leave his house. Before I knew it, I had punched him. It was only years later (because I’m stupid) that it occurred that I’d reacted as I did because the incident reminded me, on an unconscious level, of my mother throwing me out of the house some years earlier (when I was thirteen years old); in so doing, it had triggered intensely painful feelings associated with the memory of this ultimate rejection.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state:

For example, one minute the individual may be withdrawn, depressed and reticent but then suddenly swing, with little or no provocation, into a highly agitated, angry and voluble state.

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels:

It thought that this is due to problems of communication between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (in healthy individuals the prefrontal cortex acts efficiently to send messages to the amygdala to reduce its activity once the cause of the emotions is over – the amygdala being a part of the brain which gives rise to emotional responses).

Indeed, it is thought all three of the above problems occur due to brain dysfunction caused, at least in part, by early life trauma.

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

Other Resources:

Control Your Emotions (hypnosis MP3 download). Click here for details.

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