Our most surprising finding [of MRI scanning the brains of people with PTSD] was a white spot in the left frontal lobe of the cortex, in a region called Broca’s area. In this case the change in colour meant that there was a significant decrease in that part of the brain. Broca’s area is one of the speech centres of the brain, which is often affected in stroke patients when the blood supply to that region is cut off. Without a functioning Broca’s area, you cannot put your thoughts and feelings into words. Our scans showed that Broca’s area went offline whenever a flashback was triggered. In other words, we had visual proof that the effects of trauma are not necessarily different from – and can overlap with – the effects of physical lesions like strokes.
All trauma is preverbal. Shakespeare captures this state of speechless terror in Macbeth, after the murdered king’s body is discovered: ‘Oh horror! Horror! Horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive or name thee! Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!’ Under extreme conditions people may scream obscenities, call for their mothers, howl in terror, or simply shut down. Victims of assaults and accidents sit mute and frozen in emergency rooms; traumatised children ‘lose their tongues’ and refuse to speak. Photographs of combat soldiers show hollow-eyed men staring mutely into a void.
Even years later traumatised people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them. Their bodies reexperience terror, rage, and helplessness, as well as the impulse to fight or flee, but these feelings are almost impossible to articulate. Trauma by nature drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past.
This doesn’t mean that people can’t talk about a tragedy that has befallen them. Sooner or later most survivors…come up with what many of them call their ‘cover story’ that offers some explanation for their symptoms and behaviour for public consumption. These stories, however, rarely capture the inner truth of the experience. It is enormously difficult to organise one’s traumatic experiences into a coherent account – a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk
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Post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and complex ptsd are all normal reactions to trauma, the ‘disorder’ is attached to it because it’s not widely understood that post traumatic stress can appear years later after the trauma is considered 'over’.
This is more likely happening because trauma was not, in fact, over. Being alone and unsupported after trauma, having nobody to confide and get comfort from, is the extension of the trauma. So is overworking yourself, frantically trying to survive in terror of failure, being isolated from your own perspective and not feeling allowed to feel your pain, being caught in shame, guilt and doubt over what happened, numbing your feelings thru medications, addictions and self harm. Having to live exposed to abusers and at risk of more trauma, as well.
The truth is, a lot of people keep living in trauma even after it’s considered over. Nobody tells you that the way you live your life is and always was traumatic, and you won’t know until it breaks you down in the form of ptsd.
Living while having no way to let trauma out is traumatic. Living while nobody knows your truth is traumatic. Knowing that if you say something people will turn against you is traumatic. We love to play up how tough we are but trauma without support can shatter anyone.
It’s not your fault if you’re feeling it years and years later; it’s possible your life only now opened up to the option of feeling the pain you carried inside of you all this time. It was never 'too long ago’ to still be traumatized to this day. Your body never forgot, even if you wanted to forget so badly. You’re having a reaction that is normal, no matter how delayed. You are not weak. You survived.
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