The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies trauma and violence as “widespread, harmful, and costly public health concerns. SAMHSA describes individual trauma as resulting from ‘an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.'”*
What happens in the body and mind of an individual who has been subjected to such events or series of events?
Without reinventing the wheel, we can examine already well-researched data on the brain and mental and emotional responses. In order to understand the mechanics of unresolved trauma, we must become acquainted with a part of the brain called the amygdala.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.† It is the first part of the brain triggered in a series of reactions that gives rise to the “fight or flight” response we learned about in Biology in school.
This set of reactions is helpful when we’re fleeing an immediate, truly life-threatening situation (such as a house fire or a violent assailant on the street). The problem arises when the amygdala is overstimulated and/or repeatedly stimulated through mental, emotional, and/or physical abuse. This gives rise to hypervigilance, a state in which the “fight or flight” mechanism is continually engaged. This not only represents a potential emotional “time bomb,” but causes elevated levels of mental, emotional and physical stress which, in the long term, can and often do give rise to a decline in overall health.
Thus, the amygdala has often been linked to neuropsychiatric disorders such as PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression, and—unresolved trauma.
Deconstructing the trauma—essential in healing the individual—can be difficult and must be an ongoing process. Knowledge of the nature of the trauma is imperative, and necessary in order to identify the appropriate protocol for mitigating the effects of unresolved trauma.
Medicine and psychology’s study of the human brain and mind are still in their infancy, but it has become evident that it is very easy to induce trauma in individuals, particularly in children. When you raise a child, you are essentially “programming” that child in similar fashion to programming a computer—and the computer programmer’s axiom, “garbage in, garbage out” most certainly holds true.
There are millions of people in our society suffering mentally and emotionally who don’t even know that it’s due to varying amounts of “garbage” in their programs.
In the coming years, as people at large become aware of the gravity of this problem, they will become far more conscious of the impact of their actions on the people with whom they interact closely. In the future, parents will be far more concerned with getting their children to adulthood without being exposed to trauma than what kind of grades they get or what college they get into.