The following definitions of the Hippocampus, the Amygdala and the Pre-Frontal Cortex are from a worksheet provided online from the Get Self Help web site. The link to their site is getselfhelp.co.uk.com To see the actual worksheet you can check out THIS LINK. There is a picture diagram of the brain ans I think many of you would find it very helpful.
You can see a good diagram of the brain and how trauma affects the brain at this link – TraumaBrain
The way I want to write this post for you is to give you the definitions and then underneath each one of them I will write something that explains it in my own words, as well as adding some opinions and ideas.
I will write anything that is my own take on things in this purple color and the definitions will be in this blue color, so that you can tell what is quoted from the worksheet.
Hippocampus The hippocampus processes trauma memories, by recycling the memory, mostly at night via dreams, which takes place over weeks or months. It then transfers the integrated stored memory to another part of the brain. High levels of stress hormones causes the hippocampus to shrink or under-develop, resulting in impaired function.
Childhood trauma exaggerates this effect. The trauma memory therefore remains unprocessed in the hippocampus, disintegrated, fragmented, and feels ‘current’ rather than in the past. (Some people may be born with a smaller hippocampus making them more vulnerable to develop PTSD.)
The hippocampus is a funny sounding name for a part of the brain that a lot of people are unaware of. Unless you have done research about PTSD and neurology, you probably have not come across this word. I am aware that some of you have done quite a bit of research about these topics, and for those of you that have the terms will be familar.
Do not feel intimidated by any of these terms.
Neurology is somewhat complex but you are perfectly capable of understanding the basics of how the different parts of the brain function and interact with each other. Having a general understanding of how the brain works is important when you are struggling to heal from abuse, trauma and PTSD.
In my opinion there is a lot of healing that be attained simply by developing an understanding of how your brain responds to trauma and abuse.
Let go of any feelings of shame about your PTSD
You can see that there is no reason for feeling shame about the symptoms you are experiencing. Understanding how PTSD works in the brain will also allow you to feel that you have more ground to stand on when you are trying to interact with other people in regards to your PTSD and your symptoms.
Integrated Memories and Experiences
The hippocampus has the job of helping you to integrate memories. It goes through the memory of your trauma many times and often causes you to dream about the memory. You will think about the memory and the hippocampus tries to help you to make sense of the memory in order that it can be integrated into other parts of your brain as an integrated memory.
Integrated memories are felt as though they happened in the past. They become part of the brain and your remembered experiences. The memories are assigned meaning by associations that your brain makes between the event and other information that the brain believes to be true.
Non-Integrated Traumatic memories are memories in which the process of integration has been interfered with. Traumatic situations cause high levels of stress on you. Chemicals are released by the brain and circulate throughout your body.
Being in an extremely terrifying situation can cause the brain to be unable to do its job in the normal way. thus the memories about the trauma do not become integrated properly.One traumatic event can cause PTSD.
This may be a situation where you felt your life was threatened, or a situation that you could not accept into your reality due to the horror or feeling of unsafety at some level.
We can feel our safety threatened in many ways including physical safety, mental and emotional safety and psychological safety.
Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an on-going situation of abuse and trauma which causes layers of memories. C-PTSD is multi levels and layers of PTSD. There were many situations which causes it.
You felt entrapped and unable to remove yourself from situations that were threatening to you over many months or many years.
These memories are from different time periods and often abuse was inflicted by different people. Mental and emotional abuse have the same level of interference with the hippocampus and memory integration as physical abuse.
Amygdala The brain’s ‘fear centre’. The amygdala helps to store memories, particularly emotions and physical sensations. It also controls activation of stress hormones – the body’s fight or flight response. In PTSD, the amygdala becomes over-reactive causing frequent or near constant high levels of stress hormones.
The amygdala is the “Fight or Flight” center of the brain. Most people have heard of the concept of “fight or flight” and have a basic understanding of what that is, but do not realize the importance and the implications of any interference with this function of the brain.
Situations such as emotional abuse or neglect during childhood will cause for the amygdala to become disregulated. This is also true with living with an abusive partner, or being in any situation where you feel in danger for extended periods of time day after day.
The fight or flight mode is designed to get you out of a dangerous situation quickly. The on-going situations like being in an active military situation, cause the stress hormones to be released on an almost constant basis. This is not how the system was designed to work so it causes disregulation.
Pre-frontal cortex The pre-frontal cortex helps us to assess threats, manage emotion, plan responses, and control impulses. It is the centre of rational thinking. Childhood trauma causes under-development of the pre-frontal cortex, which results in impaired ability to assess threat through rational thinking, manage emotions and control impulses.
The pre-frontal cortex helps us to asses threats and to know what the danger level is. If you have PTSD or C-PTSD, your normal ability to identify and asses threat and danger has been corrupted. Flashbacks from PTSD appear to the brain as real threats in real time. The stress hormones are then sent into the body which cause the feelings that happen with PTSD.
These parts of the brain are responsible for protecting us from danger. When there is trauma or abuse, the parts become over-reactive. Understanding about the brain can help to deal with PTSD. At least you can know that there are real organic differences in your brain.
When people do not believe that your symptoms are real it can be re-traumatizing. Having some information to share with people can aide in communication about the disorder if someone is willing to listen and understand you.