Remembering trauma causes more trauma

Mental trauma: what is it?

Stress makes sense from a biological point of view. However, extreme and persistent stress has a detrimental effect on the body and soul. For more information, see Stress: Effects on Body & Mind. In the case of trauma, it is extreme stress that can also leave traces in the brain. In acute, massive stressful situations, the stress-processing system is overwhelmed. As a result, the typical so-called peritraumatic symptoms can occur. These include, for example, constant reliving of the trauma, nightmares, general alertness, massive fear or numbness and numbness. Initially, this is a normal reaction to an extraordinary event.

Neurobiological processes and stress regulation play an important role in this. For example, after war experiences, accidents, civil disasters, acts of violence and trauma in children, changes in the metabolism of the brain sometimes even change in the structure of the brain. The excessive release of stress hormones and the stronger activation of the sympathetic nervous system (e.g. increased pulse, high stress hormone levels, sleep difficulties) lead to physical overexcitation. This also affects memory performance.

If the extreme stress reaction continues, there will be a negative impact on information processing. Among other things in the area of ​​the so-called hippocampus. This is a structure in the brain in which the importance of experiences is evaluated and which then ensures the "transport" of content evaluated as important into the cerebral cortex. That is where the experience becomes

cognitively classified and one can learn from it. Imaging methods using MRI have shown that the hippocampus region can show a reduced volume in chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. However, this is not always the case.

Trauma & memory

A disorder in the hippocampus triggered by the trauma can make it impossible to store the traumatic experience in the memory (especially in the short-term memory), making learning difficult. The “almond kernels” (amygdalae; singular: amygdala) are located near the hippocampus. Feelings associated with a certain experience (negative as well as positive) are stored there. It is assumed that the amygdalae is overexcited in post-traumatic disorders.

The sensory impressions, physical conditions and feelings associated with the trauma are stored in the so-called almond kernels in the brain. Sometimes they disintegrate into many individual parts during / after a trauma like the splinters of a broken mirror and can therefore no longer be perceived or assigned as a meaningful whole. This means that they cannot be integrated into the personality as a learning experience that can be used in the future.

These fragments begin to have a life of their own and can recur on all sensory channels as so-called intrusions (inner images of the traumatic experience). They overlay current reality. In such situations, individual brain functions are also suppressed, e.g. Broca's language center is no longer fully functional. This means that there are no words to express what has been experienced. The stimulus threshold for potentially threatening external stimuli is also significantly reduced. The interplay of partial memories, gaps in memory and images and feelings that keep popping up is a great burden for those affected. You are no longer “master of your own house”.

"Flashbacks" & sleep disorders

Sleep disturbances, nightmares, impaired feelings, irritability and great fear for yourself and your own health can occur. The sudden reliving of trauma is also called flashback. These also occur in other contexts, e.g. after taking drugs.

With those affected, the desire to deal with the event again and again alternates with the feeling of not wanting to talk about it. As a result, the person may try to avoid anything that might remind them of the trauma. All of these reactions around the trauma can be understood as an attempt to come to terms with it. You try to protect yourself from being overwhelmed. In the broadest sense, they serve for survival. They are normal reactions to an extraordinary situation.