Trauma is often thought of as a singular event. But trauma can be cumulative, with each additional traumatic experience adding to the effect of the last. That's because trauma doesn't just impact our emotions—it changes the structure of our brains.
Trauma affects the brain in several ways. It can damage the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning. It can lead to changes in the prefrontal cortex, which can affect our ability to control our emotions and make decisions. And it can increase the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which can have all sorts of negative health effects. But perhaps most notably, trauma can cause our brains to rewire themselves in order to survive.
When we experience trauma, our brains go into survival mode. This "fight-or-flight" response is designed to help us protect ourselves from immediate danger. But when this response is triggered too often or for too long, it can have lasting effects on our mental and physical health. That's because the brain is constantly changing and adapting to survive. When we experience repeated trauma, our brains change to cope with the threat of further harm.
These changes can be both physical and psychological. For example, someone who has experienced repeated trauma may startle easily or become hypervigilant to avoid potential threats. They may also develop anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And those are just some of the psychological effects; trauma can also lead to physical changes like chronic pain or gastrointestinal issues.
Trauma doesn't just impact our emotions—it changes the very structure of our brains. And because the brain is constantly changing and adapting, these changes can be both physical and psychological. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, it's important to seek professional help so that the ripple effect of trauma doesn't continue unchecked.