You have heard the saying, “It happened so long ago in the past, just forget about it”. It would be nice if human beings could really just forget about some awful experience in the past. However, it is possible we would not have survived this long if our brains did not record dangerous and unsafe events to protect ourselves from further danger. Events that threaten our emotional and physical being can occur over a period of time like child /spouse abuse, war, or from a specific event like rape or a plane crash. Life threatening events train the amygdala in our brain to scan our environment for any impending danger, whether we are conscious or not of the danger. A soldier who saw combat in Iraq may be conscious of feeling very anxious at a wedding reception in his local town. He wonders why he feels so uncomfortable and feels like leaving. He does not realize it, but his amygdala is reacting to the crowd of people at the reception similar to the crowd in Iraq that hid a suicide bomber. The amygdala, the primitive part of our brain, does not discriminate between what danger is imagined or what danger is before us in our environment. Our smart brain, the cerebral cortex, can tell the difference.  When the amygdala does sense danger, it will trigger the adrenal system to prepare for a defensive response. This is typically muscle tension, increased heart rate and an alert mind to anticipate and prepare for danger. When there is actually no real danger to react to, a person will feel anxiety and worry about something dangerous happening. This is an example of a maladaptive response. It is like a person stewing in their adrenal juices.

Man in pain

The actual memory of a terrible situation is not the real problem in trauma. How well a person survives trauma depends upon what one thinks about the trauma which will elicit a range of emotions and behaviors. This explains why not all combat soldiers experience PTSD. Approximately 20% of combat soldiers experience PTSD. Some survivors of rape and spouse/child abuse recover while some do not. The trauma experience has its own event in our primitive brain. If this brain event does not integrate with the cerebral cortex, a person will suffer from on-going adrenal anxiety states. This is why I have found EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) a beneficial intervention for trauma. (See link) This intervention attempts to integrate the primitive brain with the cerebral cortex as well as integrating the left and right sides of the brain.  I use a bilateral stimulating device that is held by both hands or feet. Neurons get fired up on both sides of the brain by the bilateral stimulization. The left side where thought and logic occurs, and the right side where memory, images and feelings are, get shaken up and begin to talk to each other or integrate. This is occurring while the trauma memory is being reviewed with eyes open or closed. The experience is very much like conscious dreaming.  I believe the success of EMDR relies on the mind/body’s natural tendency to move toward homeostasis or healing.  The psychic healing comes when a deep conviction or belief rises in consciousness that one did the best they could during the trauma event. The haunting nature of trauma is usually unresolved shame and guilt that most of the time surrounds it.


The trauma memory will never go away, but one’s thinking, emotions and behaviors can change over time and move toward healing. No matter how awful a memory might be, research has demonstrated that most people do not want to give up their memories. Individuals in the study were asked if they wanted to take a drug that would block memory and most refused. Propranolol, a heart medication, is now being prescribed for anxiety related to PTSD and traumatic events. The adrenal reaction to a trauma memory may reinforce the memory and it’s intrusiveness in everyday life.  Propranolol dampens the adrenal system and has some success decreasing intrusive memories.

Human brain

There is a movement in the mental health field to recognize the harmful trauma, like conditioning that can occur with children growing up in emotionally and physically unsafe families. They may classify the condition Developmental PTSD.   A large number of child anxiety and depression diagnoses would fall under this umbrella. I am careful to identify little and big traumas. The big ones are the obvious ones. But the little ones are usually not recognized as a trauma event, such as relationship break ups or the loss of a parent. These can carry potent psychic arousals as much as the big ones. The little traumas can trigger the bigger ones and vise versa, intertwined like roots of a tree.   Worry, mistrust, suspicion, paranoia, delusions, anxiety, depression– all these conditions could originate in unresolved trauma. Many anxiety- like conditions can be resolved by doing trauma work.