How Trauma Affects the Mind- Part 1

by Holly Malmsten

Did you know that 95% of activity in the mind is subconscious?

This is valuable insight because the mind makes all kinds of decisions and responds to situations outside of our conscious awareness.  When experiencing a trauma, the mind attempts to undergo the stress in the best way possible. 

How does trauma affect the mind?

1.  Fear triggers the mind to shut off  negative feelings and emotions related to the stressful experience

Have you ever felt numb?   Even though you knew it was appropriate to feel or experience some sort of emotion, you felt nothing?  This is one way your mind may be working to help cope with a seriously stressful circumstance. Just because you feel numb, doesn’t mean the negative feelings and emotions are not there.  Your mind is just sparing you from having to feel and experience them. It takes a lot of energy and strength to shut off emotions and to stuff them down. This is a difficult task and much of your natural internal strength to, think clearly, come up with new ideas, strategize and create, is used up to keep intense negative emotions hidden away.   This can be exhausting and depleting over time and can become a hindrance if these stored emotions are never acknowledged or processed.

 FEAR , Shock, and panic – the universal trauma emotions!

If the stress response has been triggered during a trauma, then fear, shock, and panic are almost always present. The mind has an aversion to fear as it was designed to function in peace. An “internal explosion” occurs during trauma and the mind is overwhelmed with these intesnly negative emotions all at once.  While fear, shock, and panic are enough to overwhelm anyone’s mind, countless other negative emotions are experienced and bombard the mind all at once.  The body and the mind join forces to perform the enormous task of protecting. This process is known as the stress response, in the body, and as the fear response, in the mind. You see, we were originally programmed for wellbeing, safety, and peace.  FEAR is a foreign intruder.  Our beings instinctively know this and work to maintain and preserve our original state of peace, rest, and stability.  This self regulating process is known as homeostasis. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that if homeostasis is successful, life continues.  This means the mind moves into self protection mode. The various emotions experienced during the traumatic event are closed down and shut off for a later time, when you have the energy and strength to acknowledge them and process them.  The mind attempts to keep the fear and negativity in an internal sealed off vault somewhere, in hopes that you still have some peace, rest, and stability inside.

The Stress Response in the Body = The Fear Response in the Mind

The subconscious mind is fascinating and will prioritize the emotions that you can handle at a given time and keep some stored for later.  This function of the mind is not part of your conscious thinking, so you would not be aware of this happening.  This is  good news for those who are willing to begin the healing process.  When given permission to heal and process stored emotions, the mind will uncover the ones that you are ready and strong enough to feel and to process.   The mind will instinctively self regulate and help to “go at your own pace.”

At some point, it is necessary and vital to tend to these stored emotions.  If they have been stored for a long time, they become trapped.  The trapped emotions will continue to steal energy and strength to keep sealed and hidden in their vault, and rob your healing break through.

 Next week, I will share  more about how trauma affects the mind.  I pray that anyone with trapped emotions, from an emotional or physical trauma, will be supplied with courage to allow your mind to uncover and expose what it has worked hard to conceal.  I encourage you make the choice to access these negative emotions, and the willingness will actually set the healing process in motion.   It’s a wonderful initial step.

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