Psychological trauma occurs when a person is forced to suppress the natural flight-or-fight response in a stressful situation. They seem to freeze along with their feelings and emotions. It turns out that the vast energy does not find a way out. These remain inside, expressed in an uncompleted action that is frozen and impedes the psyche from functioning normally. People do not feel the harmful effects of trauma as it goes into the depths of the unconscious.
When an extremely stressful event endangers a person’s existence, stable and reliable support represented by beliefs and worldview is disrupted. A person begins to feel in a state of chaos because the world is no longer benevolent and not worthy of trust. At the same time, the person no longer feels so strong, competent, in control of what happens to them because usually traumatic events occur suddenly. It is challenging to state whether the worldview is crumbling, but it indeed is undergoing profound changes. Recovery does not happen ultimately, and usually, after experiencing a traumatic event in the case of a good outcome and no severe disturbances, the concept of peace sounds like this: “In general, the world is friendly, and there are many good people in it, and in general they treat me well, but this is not always the case.” Overall, having endured a trauma, the psyche tends to defend itself by means available to it.
On a physical level, the consequences of a traumatic event can be expressed in a number of symptoms. These often include “somatic complaints; sleep disturbances; gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and dermatological disorders; urological problems; and substance use disorders” (Department Of Health And Human Services, U.S., 2016, p. 65). Moreover, according to the Department Of Health And Human Services, U.S. (2016), there is an evident correlation linking trauma and a patient’s health conditions. It is known that the human body reacts to stress by releasing hormones. However, depending on the mental state, different biological manifestations are distinguished. Thus, the mentioned research underlines the following possible changes typical for patients suffering from mental disorders: limbic system functioning, hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity with variable cortisol levels, and neurotransmitter-related dysregulation arousal. Evolutionarily, our brains have developed a series of reactions to environmental stimuli, so chemical and physical changes in the body almost always accompany stressful events. However, trauma itself can have an impact on brain development. Thus, an increased level of hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines provokes adverse brain development. Therefore, violence and psychological abuse of children can lead to severe pathologies in the body of an adult.
In a narrow, scientific sense, psychosomatics in medicine and psychology is called the study of mental disorders’ influence on the occurrence and development of diagnosed bodily pathology. It is also referred to when discussing the relationship and impact on the event and course of mental disorders of somatic diseases (Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre, 2021). In fact, trauma is an excellent demonstration of the connection between body and mind. Thus, an example of this interaction is hallucinations and illusions that arise in psychological disorders caused by stress or a traumatic event (Department Of Health And Human Services, U.S., 2016). Memory lapses and cognitive errors also depict how the brain physically blocks sources of negative influences on the nervous system. Moreover, with a panic attack, which is increasingly common today, a person tends to experience a powerful feeling of anxiety along with physical signs (rapid heart rate and breathing, changes in blood density, and the release of hormones), etc. All this unambiguously testifies to the inextricable connection between the body and the brain, the human mind.
As mentioned earlier, trauma has a profound effect on beliefs and personality attitudes. From personal experience, I can note that spiritual and religious perspectives can be very seriously transformed as a result of a stressful event. It is interesting that a situation can happen in any direction: a person can move away from spirituality or, conversely, choose it as the basis for his personality. The first case is more likely if the trauma experienced was somehow related to the beliefs on which the individual’s ideas were built. In this case, the person feels that his expectations were not met and seeks to find something more reliable and stable. In the second case, religion acts as a lifeline when classical beliefs fail. The psyche, therefore, seeks answers and support not in the real external world but, as it were, within itself. By and large, the concept of spirituality is aimed at working with oneself, one’s actions, and views. A person may believe that the trauma is the result of wrong choices or even fate and seeks to find answers that will help avoid repeating the experience.
Overall, the topic of the effects of trauma on the body and brain is fascinating and multifaceted. Indeed, all three elements are inextricably linked and are in sometimes fragile balance. However, it is essential to remember that trauma is an inevitable part of a person’s life, serving as a growth point for his personality. Therefore, stress by itself, in most cases, does not lead to mental disorders. However, the physical signals that the body sends through biological instruments must be taken into account. This is an important defense mechanism of the psyche, which, as it turned out, is inextricably linked with the body, warning of danger.
Department Of Health And Human Services, U.S. (2016). A Treatment Improvement Protocol – Trauma-Informed care in behavioral health services – tip 57.
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. (2021). Somatization and the Mind-Body connection | Kelty mental health. Web.