PTSD and Bullying part 2 – WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE BRAIN CANT COPE
(Sian Barnard, CBT psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist)
Messages in the brain are carried by electrical signals along nerves called neurons, when the neuron ends the electricity stops and the message is then carried forward by chemicals. Chemicals carrying the message are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are very sensitive to other chemicals, whether it be drugs, alcohol or hormones such as cortisol, high doses of cortisol such as times of stress has been shown to impair and distort memory.
Trauma has an enormous effect on the entire mechanism. The hot system takes over and overrides the logical cool system. The Amygdala sets in motion the “fight or flight” response. You begin living in the moment, full attention on immediate survival. You have to be the strongest and fittest possible. This means increased blood flow to carry oxygen to the muscles, increased heart rate. We have to be lighter and not expend energy on digestion so we might want to shed loads, food can come out quickly up or down ! We need fast muscle reactions so we shake in readiness. A huge amount of chemicals flood the brain.
One response is dissociation, where the brain separates its self from the experience of the trauma, like putting it in a box. This gives an ‘other worldly dreamlike feeling’ so things aren’t experienced in real time. This is a way of protecting the mind from the horror of the event, because it can anticipate the possible physical damage. People with PTSD can appear to be in their own worlds, and in a way they are, they can remove themselves from reality. The entire memory can be sealed off permanently and the event can be buried so deep there is amnesia. People with PTSD can tend to slip into their own worlds and dissociate as being in reality can be to painful.
Even when the memory is sealed off and buried it can still affect the person’s emotions and behaviours and they may not be able to explain their reaction. This is because the brain works by association. If knives, blood, a persons name, loud bangs or anything that has been associated with the traumatic memory before it was buried they can trigger a fear response.
If the trauma is repetitive, extreme or prolonged the brain doesn’t have time to cool down and can become physically altered. The amygdala can be come stuck in its activity not allowing the hippocampus to introduce rational thought. The amygdala can no longer recover and recompose. It remains on high alert stimulating all the stress hormones which further have damaging effects on the brain chemistry and the neurons themselves. This is when trauma can turn into post traumatic stress. Reliving the feelings of “fight or flight” long after the event. You can’t just expect someone to “snap out of it” .
They have essentially been brain damaged.
Severe cases psychotic episodes can be induced which include visual and auditory hallucinations and even imagined feelings ofI haven’t seen this in my years of of working with bullied individuals I would rule nothing out when it comes to the mind.
When an individual is screamed at in the workplace, the shock can take the amygdala on overdrive; then if the person feels isolated and receives no support they will feel vulnerable; need to be on high alert will be maintained. If they need the job desperately, or believe they do, they will panic about the future and catastrophize. Imagine if the abuse is constant these experiences will get worse as they are compounded by feelings of worthlessness. Each experience is keeping the hot system in overdrive.
Prescription drugs can be a great help in controlling the fight or flight response, but how do we rewire the brain and restore physiological health ?
Every one is different. Some people are physiologically more resistant to stress, others think differently and dont trigger the “fight or flight” response. This is where CBT ( cognitive behaviour therapy) and hypnosis can play a big part. And this is where I help individuals during and after bullying episodes.
Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist
Look out for part 3