Oct. 29, 2021

E129 This is your brain on Trauma | CPTSD and Trauma Healing Coach

In this episode, I read another chapter of my book, Think Unbroken Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma. This episode is all about “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON TRAUMA.”
See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/e129-this-is-your-brain-on-trauma-cptsd-and-trauma-healing-coach/#show-notes

In this episode, I read another chapter of my book, Think Unbroken Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma. This episode is all about “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON TRAUMA.”

I will share with you the impact of abuse on childhood trauma survivor brains. And how it affects your behavior, physical body that mitigated and even reversed through mindset practices, living a healthy lifestyle, understanding self, environment, and becoming real associated by re-establishing the mind-body connection.
Childhood trauma becoming dissociated because escapism and disconnecting the brain from the body is a survival mechanism and a natural reaction to traumatic experiences.  I believe you have the ability to survive even the most dangerous experiences and traumatic childhood. There are so many ways to be a great warrior! Come and listen as I read and share this chapter with you!

-Be Unbroken

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When you put a kid who had experienced adversity in an MRI machine, you can see measurable changes to the brain structures. – Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

The impact of abuse on the childhood trauma survivor's brain is similar to that of a war veteran, or car accident survivor. When we are still in the developmental stages of youth, our brains are the most susceptible to the implications of trauma and abuse. When we suffer trauma, our brains by default release exponentially, higher levels of cortisol than someone who had a childhood without trauma. The human brain is a hyper complicated machine that is constantly working to regulate and understand situations by protecting us from impending, death or disaster.

The ability to survive, even the most dangerous experiences is a mechanism that is slowly developed over time, but for children who have had a traumatic childhood, the brain begins to prematurely set us up for the worst-case scenario.

It's easy to understand why our brains would want to protect us from a T-Rex, but what happens when the T-Rex sleeps next door or worse? What happens when the T-Rex comes home every night? When faced with the T-Rex, you are immediately left with a choice to run fries or fight for your life. These are all-natural responses due to cortisol being pumped through your body during dangerous events.

Cortisol, a release is a natural response that occurs in our hippocampus and triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn prepares the body for incoming, danger and puts you into a fight-flight or freeze state.

This mechanism is critical to human survival. However, when that same mechanism is stuck in the on position, it leads to dire consequences that affect both the brain and body. When introduced to cortisol, the body becomes hyperactive and focused on survival. This means that all non-essential functions shut down the result includes emptying bowels without warning, shuffling blood to the extremities in preparation for battle, and shifting the brain to its most animalistic state, which can cause tunnel vision, confusion, or feeling lost.

Growing up in a cortisol state can lead to a litany of developmental issues both physical and mental. A child who was raised in a safe and loving environment will rarely if ever be subject to the impact of fight-flight or freeze or FFF.

Children, who are raised in a state of trauma, have brains that are bathed in cortisol and due to the compounding nature of abuse and neglect that mechanism never completely turns off as it should, because the danger is never quite gone. There are ways to mitigate the effect of cortisol in the brain and we will explore those in later chapters.

The impact of this continued state of trauma can lead to developmental issues, and affect a child's ability to learn and to adapt, to appropriate social norms and behaviors including empathy, sympathy, and understanding the difference between right and wrong.

The very idea of self is stripped and replaced with dissociative behavior, and physical health symptoms. Some of the lasting effects of trauma can be seen but most cannot.



The skeletons of our past, walk with our shadows. In the skeletons of our present, walk by our side. – Michael Anthony

The majority of my childhood was a daydream. In order to survive, I had to dissociate from the knights of beatings for ratings and verbal abuse. I felt like I was watching what was happening to me from outside my body. It was, as if I was, hovering over the scene in a film, I could see the little boy’s version of me being hit, hurt, screamed at, and abused, but I couldn't feel it, my brain and body had become separated.

When I was at my most dissociated. I could not focus, make rational decisions, like – the time, I let my car get repossessed so I could go to the bar with the money or understand why when I hurt people they cried.

Any emotions from another human sent me running for the hills and in relationships, I pushed back at the first sign of tears or emotional responses. Emotions to me were weaknesses and they made me uncomfortable because all emotions made me uncomfortable. My stoic presence was not about grace, but instead due to my dissociated state. To quote, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, I simply am not there.

You may be in the same boat and wondering if you have sociopathic or Psychopathic Tendencies. I would argue that perhaps you just have not really associated. Before I did the work, I could count the few times in my life that I had cried between the ages of 12 and my mirror moment.

The day my grandma died, when I couldn't get a loan for art school in New York City. When my ex told me that I wasn't her person and when I watch Good Will Hunting for the first time. My ability to feel the most vulnerable of human emotions has been predicated on a choice to allow me to feel them. Of all the things I have done in my journey, allowing myself to access, emotional responses have without question, then the single hardest practice to curate.

When I say I practice, I mean, it is the sense that I have had to home the space within myself, to allow myself a place to be vulnerable enough to feel. It's not that I have put myself in a position to cry on command like a stage actor but to simply feel emotion. My ability to feel was stripped and I had to rebuild it from the ground up. I felt nothing and feeling anything especially in the beginning, felt nearly impossible. I chose to be emotional as a form of self-care because it is the most intimate thing that I can do as a human.

Discovering the inner workings of your brain and body as a survivor of childhood trauma is one of the most critical steps that you can take in healing. Dissociation is a common side effect of the impact of abuse and clinical terminology dissociation is a mental health disorder, that creates a separation between cognizant understanding of oneself and the automatic action one takes. Through dissociation, there is a lack of connection and thoughts, memories, and emotions.

In other words, dissociation is when the brain and body are out of sync. In a simple context, being dissociated is like – sitting in a burning house not realizing that you have a pack of matches in your hand. Dissociation can present, as misremembering past events, zoning out in conversations, and interruptions and daily activities.

Childhood trauma is a catalyst and becoming dissociated because escapism and disconnecting the brain from the body is not only a survival mechanism but a natural reaction to traumatic experiences, that said, dissociation is not exclusive to Childhood Trauma survivors. Many victims and survivors of accidents, wars, and tragic events often find themselves dissociated.

One of the reasons that dissociation is developed as a coping mechanism during abuse is so that we can survive trauma. At some points, it may even feel like your brain is not inside of your body or like you are watching yourself experiencing life instead of being present.

These are some of the signs of being dissociated;

  • Inability to remember
  • Specific events
  • Blank spots of time in memories
  • A feeling of separation from yourself
  • Spacing out and daydreaming
  • Getting lost an active conversation
  • Sudden changes in mental and emotional reactions
  • Lying for no reason
  • Being unaware actions
  • Having out-of-body experiences.



Fairy tales are more than true not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. – Neil Gaiman.

Not only our childhood trauma, but survivors are also exponentially, more likely to be faced with mental and physical disorders. They are also more likely to be in a constant state of FFF or Fight Flight Freeze.

Here are some of the mental and emotional issues that can manifest before the age of 18, due to the impact of toxic stress;

  • Developmental disorders like ADHD
  • Anxiety, depression, bipolar, and multiple personalities.
  • Failing grades problem
  • Staying on task
  • Detachment
  • Negative self-thoughts
  • Ability to dictate, wants, needs, and interests
  • Sleep issues like night terrors
  • Fighting with peers
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Attention-seeking
  • Violence against peers and or animals
  • Violent unexpected outbursts
  • Dissociative Behavior
  • Lack of self-worth
  • Blind spots in memory or amnesia

And Adolescence addiction begins to present itself in the forms of smoking, drinking, sex, porn, shopping, stealing, hoarding, and drug use. There is also a myriad of physical ailments that will begin to manifest as a result of trauma.

Here are some of the physical manifestations of trauma in children;

  • Bedwetting
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Overeating
  • Unexplained illnesses
  • Migraines
  • Chronic flu
  • Sinus and ear infections
  • Hair loss
  • Skin disorders, like eczema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, like – Crohn's disease
  • Colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Self-harm, like picking skin, biting nails, pulling eyelashes, cutting and burning or branding and suicide.

Some of these symptoms may begin to manifest as soon as trauma occurs or in the late teens, and throughout adulthood. The developmental issues associated with trauma, also play a role in the day-to-day lives of adults. Have you ever been startled by a loud noise? Find that throughout the day it's hard to breathe? Or the memory of your father slamming the living room door? After a night of drinking plays on repeat in your head?

What happens to you when you are faced with nonviolent confrontation?

Do you get clammy? Stumble over your words or do everything in your power, to avoid having hard conversations? These are prime examples of the effects of trauma in daily life.

Fight Flight and Freeze mechanisms are triggered by our sympathetic nervous system or SNS. When triggered our brain and body boost our adrenaline to prepare us to fight run or hide to preserve our lives.

The fighting mechanism can manifest in verbal or physical violence. Have you ever physically hit a partner, friend sibling, or child? Have you ever yelled at someone or threatened violence, for something that someone said or did because you felt that you had to protect yourself? Does it take hours or even days to come back to filling normally after conflict?

The Fight Flight and Freeze response is one that is understood by many trauma warriors, as it is very often the first line of defense for self-preservation.

Perhaps you were beaten and or hit for little things, like – putting on mismatched socks, being late back to the house after playing, asking questions, or being said. The response to violence with violence became your default speed. Maybe it was lack of attention to your wants, needs or interests, that have led you to react with flight and avoidance behaviors when it comes to being faced with challenges or uncomfortable experiences or let's suppose that you freeze whenever you are asked to lead during a presentation or be the point person on a project. Maybe, when it's game time, you dread taking the shot, whereas many children are responded to and treated with compassion and care you were not. Because of the foundation of abuse fighting, running or hiding becomes the default form of communication for responding to misunderstandings, miscommunications, frustrations, hurt feelings, and unacknowledged emotions.

The impact of trauma and how it affects your behavior, and physical body can be mitigated and even reverse through mindset practices, living a healthy lifestyle, understanding of self and environment, and becoming real associated by re-establishing, the mind-body connection.

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Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.