What are the effects of trauma on the brain? Enduring an experience of psychological trauma can have an ongoing impact in many forms. For example, you’ve probably already heard plenty about dissociation, hyper-vigilance, and a wide range of physical symptoms. Also, there’s the effect trauma has on your long-term cognitive functioning. People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often report problems with processes like:
- Attention and focus
- Planning and executive function
- Memory (particularly episodic memory)
In addition, they may experience a progressive cognitive decline as they age. The more severe the traumatic event, the worse the decline. To follow, we’ll take a closer look at a few of these cognitive effects.
The Pathways to Cognitive Decline
Firstly, let’s be absolutely clear. Not every person who has suffered through traumatic events will display related cognitive impacts. While generally speaking, trauma effects the brain and the nervous system, not everyone suffers from the exact same effects of trauma on the brain. Those who do, however, may end up dealing with one or both of these outcomes:
- There is an established link between trauma and our body’s immune system. This can take the form of inflammation, susceptibility to infection, or even metabolic disease. All of these links can negatively influence your brain’s performance.
- The second cycle of links involves the connections between trauma, depression, and stress. When it comes to impairing cognitive functioning, both stress and depression have been shown to be major factors in one’s decline.
To make matters more difficult, this cognitive impairment is often happening alongside many other trauma-induced symptoms, e.g.
- Problems with physical coordination
- Self-isolation and withdrawal
- Difficulty setting boundaries
- Dysfunctional emotional regulation
- Lack of empathy
- Shame, guilt, and low self-esteem
- Poor impulse control
- Aggressive behavior
- Sleeping and eating disturbances
Any or all of the above can only serve to exacerbate burgeoning cognitive issues. It can reach a point where it’s difficult to discern cause and effect.
A Few of the Cognitive Effects of Trauma on the Brain
To add to the list at the top, you may struggle with
- Language development
- Handling new information
- Staying oriented in terms of space and time
Also, you may have difficulty recalling the specifics of the traumatic event. This can result in a distorted perception of the events via nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or flashbacks. In turn, such a distortion increases the likelihood of emotions ranging from disorientation to self-blame.
Loss of Joy
PTSD can leave feeling unable to enjoy activities you once treasured. For many, the dimming of the spark of joy can be one of the worst effects of trauma on the brain. Such a state frequently catalyzes a spiral of other negative emotions — from guilt to shame to fear to anger to confusion. Consequently, these negative thought patterns can be all-encompassing. You think badly about yourself. You think just as badly about others and the world itself.
Additionally, an inability to access positive emotions can feel isolating. It increases the chances that you will withdraw from social interactions. Inevitably, you may begin to feel detached from those you once enjoyed being with. They have trouble understanding you and view you as over-reacting or under-reacting. From there, another cycle of negativity-detachment-withdrawal-shame will commence.
Find the Right Treatment For Your Trauma-Induced Cognitive Effects
Finally, if you are dealing with general relationship issues, there are many treatment options and countless therapists available. But if you have a history of trauma, it makes a world of difference to meet with a specialist in trauma treatment. A big reason for this is the tendency to re-live the ugly experiences. The simple act of talking about trauma can lead someone to re-experience the events.
This can and does happen during therapy. In such instances, you want to be talking with someone who gets it, and help you navigate through it. Moreover, you want support, guidance, and experience as you commit to healing. The process is hard work but you’ll never regret learning these new skills and perspectives.
Please read more about trauma therapy. Then, let’s connect for a confidential phone consultation. It’s the first step on the road to processing the trauma and moving forward in your life.