Can Emotional Trauma Cause Brain Damage?

Anyone suffering from emotional trauma or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) may exhibit emotional scars for months, years, or even for the rest of their life. They often exhibit heightened fear and stress to situations and events. Many people wonder, “Can emotional trauma cause brain damage?”

Studies have shown that PTSD actually does affect the functions of the brains in multiple ways. The three areas of the brain that are impacted the most are the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. These area’s all play a part in regulating emotions and responding to fear. After emotional trauma and with PTSD, these areas may perform and function differently than before.

can emotional trauma cause brain damage

Emotional Trauma and The Amygdala

The amygdala is a section of nervous tissue in the brain that is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. A major role of the amygdala is to detect fear. It recognizes and gathers information around us to determine threats. By using our senses, such as sight and sound, the amygdala will respond with the feeling of fear if it perceives a threat. This all happens unconsciously, deep in our brains.

When affected by PTSD, the amygdala becomes hyperactive. Those who suffer from emotional trauma will often exhibit more fear to traumatic stressors than others. Often, stimuli can trigger overactivity in the amygdala if somehow connected to the traumatic event a person suffered from. This might lead to chronic stress, heightened fear, and increased irritation. This might also make it harder for those suffering to calm down or even sleep.

Emotional Trauma and The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is part of the limbic system in the brain. It is mostly responsible for storing and retrieving memories, while also differentiating between past and present experiences. When affected by trauma, the hippocampus may be physically affected; studies have shown that in people suffering from PTSD, the volume of their hippocampus may be smaller than others.

Mainly, the hippocampus will affect the ability to recall some memories for trauma survivors. Other memories may be extremely vivid and constantly on the mind of survivors. Environments that remind the survivor of their trauma in even small ways can cause fear, stress, and panic. This is because the victim cannot differentiate their past trauma and the present situation. The fight-or-flight response is then activated due to the brain’s perception of a threat.

Emotion Trauma and The Prefrontal Cortex

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that regulates emotions. This emotion-regulating center is often affected after trauma and becomes vulnerable to other parts of the brain. Normally, the amygdala will sense a negative emotion, such as fear, and the prefrontal cortex will rationally react to this emotion. After trauma though, this rationality might be overridden and your prefrontal cortex will have a hard time regulating fear and other emotions.

So, these three parts of the brain- the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex- are the most-affected areas of the brain from trauma. They can make a trauma survivor constantly fearful, especially when triggered by events and situations that remind them of their past trauma. Overcoming emotional trauma is a long process, but it is possible. If you are suffering from after-effects of emotional trauma or PTSD, know that recovering from your trauma is possible.

overcoming emotional trauma

Recovering from Emotional Trauma

The functions of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex that are affected by trauma can also be reversed. The brain is ever-changing and recovery is possible. Overcoming emotional trauma requires effort, but there are multiple routes you can take.

Medications

One way to overcome emotional trauma or PTSD is with different types of medication. Often, doctors will prescribe medications that affect the neurotransmitters, serotonin or norepinephrine. This is to help balance these chemicals that occur naturally in the brain. Some different options of medication typically recommended for survivors are antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, or benzodiazepines. Depending on your trauma, your physician will recommend using medication and prescribe you which medication they believe will be best for you.

Therapy

Another common treatment to help survivors who are recovering from emotional trauma is therapy. There are many different types of therapy, but the main goal is to change the thought process of the victim. This may involve talking, exercises, or other types of treatment.

Here at Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we have a PTSD Treatment Center to help victims of trauma heal and overcome their PTSD. Our therapists and clinicians are experienced in PTSD and emotional trauma. They have specialized training and high-level expertise that allow them to customize trauma treatment options according to individuals.

At Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we combine cognitive behavioral therapy and desensitization therapy. Our cognitive behavioral therapy helps our therapists and patients identify the root of the trauma and triggers that bring fear and agitation to the surface. Once these triggers are identified, the therapist and client work together to replace these emotions with more rational, neutral emotions and overcome emotional trauma.

The desensitization therapy will then help the client heal by verbalizing the trauma that occurred in the past. This allows them to release emotions connected with the event and decrease flashbacks and other symptoms. Desensitization is all about acceptance and moving on. The client will be able to leave their trauma in the past and learn to live a more healthy lifestyle free from PTSD symptoms.

Whatever process you choose for overcoming your emotional trauma, the journey will take time and require work. But recovering from emotional trauma and PTSD is possible. Contact Highland Springs Specialty Clinic today, to see how we can help you overcome your past trauma and move on to a healthier, happier life.

AUTHOR: Dr. Todd Thatcher

Dr. Todd Thatcher has worked at Valley for 8 years and has been the Chief Medical Officer for 5 years. He is triple board certified in forensic psychiatry, general psychiatry, and addiction medicine. Currently, Dr. Thatcher is passionate about the high-quality training of our employees and generating and tracking as much clinical data as possible to improve processes and procedures for increased ease, accessibility, and ultimately to better serve our clients and provide the best care possible.

1 Comment
  • Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article.

    Thanks for providing this information.

    February 23, 2019