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How Does the Brain Heal from Emotional Trauma?


how to heal the brain from emotional trauma

How do we actually heal our brains from the impact of emotional trauma? First, we need to understand how learning occurs in the brain. How we learn impacts how we can heal.

Learning happens when we strengthen synapses through repetition. Remember, this is a highly simplified explanation of a very complex process. 

Did you realize that learning impacts the structure of your brain? Yes, your brain literally changes when you learn. And this happens throughout life. While we know that it slows down in older age, your brain continues to change until the day you stop breathing.

Why is this important to understand? Because trauma is the result of learning (meaning we can use the same concept to heal emotional trauma).

When we experience emotional trauma, our brain learns a pattern. You know how they say, “Practice makes perfect?” Well, when we experience childhood trauma, our brain learns patterns of fear, anxiety, and worry. That part of our brain becomes strong and full of neural connections. (By, the way, this is why talk therapy doesn’t necessarily work well when you have trauma because you can inadvertently be re-inforcing the trauma neural connections).

healing emotional trauma

AND Healing happens when we learn new patterns.

When you learn new habits or patterns and spend less time on old habits, you weaken the synapses in your brain related to the traumatic experience, and you work to strengthen new synapses.

Think of it like a jungle pathway. Clearing out a new path takes time, but once it’s a clear-cut path, you can move through it quickly. Similarly, suppose your brain is accustomed to taking the path that has been built by trauma. In that case, it becomes easier and easier each time you take that path. That’s why it can be challenging to change this pattern of behavior.

Understanding your brain can lead to more effective healing

We can more easily create new neural pathways and behaviors by understanding how the brain and body function.

Learning occurs when hippocampal synapses (neurons in the brain) strengthen by a process called long-term potentiation, which is crucial for memory formation. Please stick with me here; it all ties together. Synapses are strengthened when several inputs are simultaneously highly active, producing a brief high-frequency discharge (Neuroscience for Dummies, 2017).

Trauma is an intense activation of neural circuits. It leads to the strengthening of synapses. 

We can use this same principle to heal more effectively.

We can heal from trauma by using the same biological process that caused it.

Healing can be much more effective when you work with your brain and body, not against them.

Pretty cool, huh?!

trauma healing

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