Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What is it?

How Does PTSD Develop?

Most people have suffered at least one traumatic life event. However, not everyone who encounters such an event, suffers from the intrusive memories, avoidance symptoms, negative thinking patterns and emotional reactivity of PTSD.

When a person suffers from PTSD their body continues to live with changes to their brain circuitry they formed when they experienced the initial trauma. For example, people who were abused as children, recognize when someone looks angry much earlier on average than a person who was not. On brain scans we can see that the area of their brain responsible for threat recognition, called the amygdala, is both larger and more active.

These 'symptoms' they suffer today may have had an advantage in the past.  Being perceptive of those who may become angry may have saved them from additional suffering in the past. Being able to identify early signs of danger and avoiding such situations would make perfect sense. The brain is able to make adjustments to refine and enhance survival skills.

The same adjustments are made in our veterans in war time situations. Many will tell you that initially, in the heat of battle, a young soldier may freeze under the pressure. They may miss warning signs of danger. They may not be able to perform in a way that optimizes the safety of their unit's survival.

However, after several months 'in theater’ this same young man, or woman, is able perform adeptly under stresses that would have crushed them earlier. They are now equipped to ‘go on automatic’. Often there isn't have time to think and it is here that their training and experience take over. They do what otherwise would have seemed impossible.

PTSD and the Unconscious Mind

When we  ‘go on automatic’, we focus on learned abilities within our unconscious mind. There are structures in the right brain that enjoy responding to things that are different. However, when ‘different enough’ these same brain structures, including our right amygdala, begin sounding the alarm. This sets off the fight, flight or freeze reactions we hear so much about.

But...what if we were exposed to trauma earlier in our life and then are exposed to trauma again as an adult? As we might expect, we adjust to the new traumatic situation even more. What if we inherited an alarm system that, once we learned danger was all around, didn’t have the circuitry necessary to allow us to 'sound the all clear' and relax?

We can all see that in certain situations, each of these responses, fight, flight or freeze may save our life. On the other hand, if we are no longer in a traumatic situation, this 'hyper' awareness no longer serves us. Avoiding situations becomes problematic and the flashbacks, nightmares and depression cause suffering.

Being aware of what your body was able to do for you, when you were in that situation, is helpful. Literally, you became an expert at survival. You saw things before they happened! You responded before others knew what was going on. Your brain made adjustments. You moved your abilities outside the box...and survived.

Oneness and PTSD: Bringing Your Neurons Home

Now...the neurons that went outside the box to warn you of potential danger, need to be coaxed back home. These same neurons that, when brought back home and integrated, will help you to better assimilate situations and enjoy your life again. These little neurons did their job and changed just for you. They are no longer needed where they are...so they ‘fire’ (flashback) from time to time. For little neurons it’s either fire off or die.

Many therapies now focus on centering exercises similar to those promoted in the Oneness Approach. These centering exercises can ground you and allow you to feel the core of who we really are, your Oneness, as these little cells make their way...home!

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2 replies
  1. Tom Bellinger
    Tom Bellinger says:

    Dr. Seng has helped me understand that I have used Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for my complex PTSD issues, and that it has taken me some time to integrate that healing path into old habits of self-defense. I am getting along well with my 10 year old daughter and hope to gradually find more peace with my ex-spouse. It is not easy, but it is good and the reward is feeling more alive even when life is hard. I have integrated my faith in Yeshua with my recovery process. This is the way of peace for me. Dr. Seng has shown me that mindfulness and mood regulation and healing trauma bring gladness, replacing my constant threat cue monitoring. This is fundamentally life altering. There is more to say but this is a start.
    Thank you for your support and wise counsel. Life is made for supportive friends and love that casts out fear. Amen.

    Reply
  2. Dr Michael Seng
    Dr Michael Seng says:

    Tom,

    Thank-you… Your faith… Your persistence… and your love will clearly show in the eyes and in the life of your little girl.

    Take Care,

    Dr. Seng

    Reply

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