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Understanding how trauma alters brain chemistry is crucial to being able to move forward with your life.


Trauma impacts the brain by changing the brains structure and altering the way it functions.  Neuro-imaging of the brains of trauma survivors shows that regions of the brain differ structurally from those of individuals who have not experienced trauma.  The amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex collectively impact the stress response mechanism.  Long after a traumatic experience trauma survivors continue to perceive and respond to stress differently than someone who is not suffering from the aftermath of trauma.

PTSD patients, for example, show a reduction in the size of the hippocampus.  This reduction in size causes us to lose the ability to discriminate between past and present. When in a situation that remotely resembles something from their traumatic past, extreme stress responses will be triggered. So, you may have an extreme reaction to something happening today that reminds you of your past.


Emotional trauma causes long lasting changes in the prefrontal cortex.  This region of the brain regulates negative emotions.  Trauma reduces function of this part of the brain.  So when something challenging happens your brain is not able to respond in a healthy way.  This is why we exhibit fear, anxiety, and stress even with stimuli that is only remotely connected to our past experiences.


In the amygdala something different happens.  Rather than shrinking in size it shows increased activity after trauma.  Sights, words, sounds, and smells related to our traumatic encounters may cause anxiety, panic, and extreme stress reactions. 

The hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala all work together to respond in a healthy way to stress.  The hippocampus determines the appropriate response, so that the amygdala doesn’t go in to stress mode.  The prefrontal cortex then regulates the appropriate emotional response.  When one or two of these are over responding, or hyper active it triggers the others in what might feel like an uncontrollable cycle.  


Here are just a few examples of traumatic events:





severe illness

loss of career

physical injury

community splits

relational break ups

loss of standing or reputation

emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

So many traumas are experienced through out the course of our lives but we often do not identify them as trauma related because so often we are encouraged to just 'move on' after a certain period of time has passed.

The weight of a traumatic event can be made even heavier if the pain or damage is not well addressed by a support system.  Sometimes this results in a lack of trust towards others.  Compounding one set of trauma symptoms with a second set of pain.  If you have experienced trauma you may identify with the list below.

Trauma can be compounded by experiencing one of the traumas above followed by one below:


lack of support

hiding the event

being falsely accused

lack of empathy from others


But there is hope… this disorder is reversible.  The brain can be re-wired.  It has a capacity to regenerate.  That’s why From Pain to Purpose exists.  To help survivors of loss and trauma find tangible ways to bring our brains, hearts, and bodies back in to a healthy alignment.  Everyone has the ability to go from pain to purpose after trauma.  We offer resources, programs, and support to help you recover and get on the path to regaining your purpose.  

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