S3 E29 TRANSCRIPT Complex Trauma Impacts Brain Development

TRW E29 CPTSD Impacts Brain Development 

[00:00:00] Jennifer: “I think trauma is brain damage. Maybe that sounds really severe. I realized it’s a spectrum and that I’m really high-functioning with an ACE score 4, but I struggle in some moments and I can easily reflect on how challenging, simple things have always been for me. Like just status quo, simple kind of things. That life is just a lot of work. I struggled to organize myself. And then I take into consideration the chemo treatment. The amount of Benadryl that they gave me before chemo. I feel that trauma really disrupts the way a brain develops and functions. And after the last round of NSI, I feel it.”

[00:00:40] Jennifer: The above is an excerpt from an email that I sent to Elisabeth and Matt back in October 2022. I really wanted to explore how complex trauma impacts brain development. I always thought I was crazy. And it turns out I just have complex trauma. This conversation inspired me to take healing my deficits way more seriously, particularly in my visual and vestibular systems. Now over a year later, I can’t tell you the difference it has made in my life. And the ways that I show up in my home and for this podcast. 

[00:01:14] Elisabeth: Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. I’m your co host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of BrainBase. com, an online community where we use evidence-based neuro somatic exercises to create resilience, change behavior, and re-pattern trauma. I’m also the founder of Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification, an ICF accredited course that equips therapists and coaches with a framework and tools to create transformation from the level of the nervous system.

[00:01:46] Jennifer: And I’m your co-host Jennifer Wallace. And I specialize in preparing your nervous system for peak somatic psychedelic healing experiences, and then integrating those messages into your everyday life and into your nervous system. I’m also a Junior Educator at the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification. 

You’ll likely find yourself in this conversation today and through our own examples. But trauma resolution is more than talking about the past and deeper than cognitively deciding to move forward. Trauma lives in the here and now it impacts our relationships to self. And all of our relationships, it lives in the body and our belief systems, and it affects our Present moment until we find a way to rehabilitate the system. 

[00:02:31] Jennifer: If you want to learn more about incorporating Neuro Somatic Intelligence into your life, into your business, with practical, actionable tools that create lasting change in your client’s lives. The next cohort of Neuro Somatic Intelligence is enrolling right now. And you can go to the link in the show notes to find out more. This conversation is a little more science heavy, and it was originally released as a two part in season two. We’ll open this conversation up with what is complex trauma. 

[00:03:04] Elisabeth: You know, trauma essentially is any overwhelm of the system, right? Specifically, the nervous system. It’s too much physically, emotionally, too much for the brain, the body, and the nervous system to adapt to and respond to. And so trauma really overwhelms our capacity to cope. And from a Neuro Somatic perspective, I interpret that as also meaning the intensity of the stimulus. The intensity of an experience is such that our nervous system, our brain, and our body cannot adapt in a healthy and integrated way. So when we look at trauma from a Neuro Somatic perspective, we’re not just looking at the emotional response, although that is part of it, but a general physiological reaction and nervous system response that changes brain function, posture, movement abilities, emotional experience.

[00:03:53] Elisabeth: We know from some of our other episodes, that complex PTSD is a condition that develops in response to exposure of a series of traumatic events in a context in which the individual perceives little or no chance of escape, particularly when the exposure is prolonged and repetitive, and that comes from Judith Herman, Trauma and Healing.

[00:04:14] Elisabeth: So from a Neuro Somatic perspective, I think complex PTSD is the changes that occur in our nervous system that causes imbalance in that system that keeps someone from adapting to stress. Or integrating memories and emotions or limits our capacity to be Present and connected and self expressed. It is how the system adapted to survive in threatening environments where attachment needs and emotional needs and physical safety needs maybe even weren’t met. So it’s not one obvious trauma. I’ve heard it referred to as the water that we were swimming in as children. So we’re really looking at how that environment, how that water, shaped us and how we can reshape ourselves with new tools to create new states of being and to create new outputs. 

[00:05:05] Matt: When I think about what is complex trauma from this NSI perspective, I think it’s when we’re left with an inability to integrate and regulate into our Present moment and how it develops. Where does it come from? How does it develop? Yes, it’s that water we swim in, but how does it express itself in our daily life now as an adult? I think it really comes down to that it’s an inability to integrate and regulate into the Present moment. And so that’s what creates the dissociation, the disconnect, the inability to process emotions, feelings, thoughts, inability to speak, like it shows up in all kinds of ways. And then it begins to change and alter the way our brain predicts the future as well.

[00:05:57] Matt: So it doesn’t only affect me right now. It also affects my ability to predict and plan for the future. It’s almost like you’re looking at the world through a different color lens. That’s what we’re going to get to today in this talk is it changes your lens. It changes how you see physically and metaphorically. So it’s really important and valuable for me for us all to be talking about this because there’s an altered reality that someone with complex trauma lives in a moment to moment basis. But there’s also difficulty preparing and planning for the future. And it kind of just keeps us stuck in this repetitive complex trauma where we can’t integrate, we can’t regulate, we can’t plan appropriately. Well, I shouldn’t say we can’t- it’s very challenging to do those things. 

[00:06:52] Elisabeth: Yeah, and I think in talking about the long term neurological impacts of trauma, it’s kind of at the heart of it. And it’s really critical to look at integration and how dissociation, compartmentalization, and repression that’s caused by trauma can impact our brain integration, just like you were both talking about. Our sensory information and the integration of that sensory input and the filtration system. And then also the integration between the cognitive mind and the limbic system, the emotional center, and the body. And so really exploring those facets of integration I think is going to make for a really interesting conversation. And impaired integration is such a hallmark of the traumatized brain. It disrupts our ability to balance our nervous system. It keeps us in differentiated parts. 

[00:07:45] Jennifer: Talking about integration and dissociation, they are the opposite of one another, right? When we are dissociated, we are not integrating. And when we are integrating, we are Present. And Presence is a real factor in the… Healing and with integration, and so if dissociation is fragmentation, it is a protective response that my body has gotten very comfortable with. And I’m really only starting to gain a deeper understanding of how leaving my body for blocks of time was really detrimental to the development of my higher order systems of thinking in my brain. That front part of my brain, that plans, that organizes. And so it makes sense, that if you have checked out, there would be parts of your brain that would not be able to record memory, that would not be able to function in the way that it is if you are Present. You can’t be two places at one time, basically, Your short term memory is affected, the learning impairment, project management, organizations. 

[00:08:52] Jennifer: I was listening to Dr. Dan Siegel speak as well. And he said that dissociation wreaks havoc on the internal sense of self. That dissociation and the sense of self is profoundly assaulted in states of dissociation. That dissociation itself is the traumatizer. And if you can’t rely on your own experiences, then your own sense of self is the cause of being overwhelmed by things. Presence is the threat.

[00:09:22] Matt: That’s a great place to lead into talking about a little bit what we mean by integration from an NSI perspective. Because Jennifer, at the beginning of that, you were saying dissociation and fragmentation is a lack of integration. And these words all go together, right? If we’re integrated, we can be Present, we can be associated, not dissociated with our self in the Present moment. Physical, emotional, intellectual, all staying together in the body in the moment.  I think of it, excuse me, not I’m not telling you two to think of it, but think of this as our holistic felt experience, physical, emotional, intellectual, with all of the richness of sensory input to be able to take in all of that at one time. And it makes sense, I understand it, and most importantly, it feels safe. That’s really what high level integration creates. 

[00:10:32] Matt: And on the neuro side of things, it’s like integration is my ability to take in, interpret and create appropriate outputs. Like we’ve used that loop forever, right? We’ve been talking about the loop of input, interpretation, output. And integration really is my safety in that loop in whatever environment I find myself in. So it’s a nice way to think of it.  It’s not a complex idea, it’s a simple idea, even though it may be somewhat challenging to bring into reality, but I think when we kind of wrap our head around my brain should be able to do all of those things in a safe, regulated way, no matter what environment I’m in, That’s the goal. So from our perspective, I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to create. 

[00:11:22] Elisabeth: I love that. I love thinking of the whole point of this as being able to stay Present in, increasingly more, Present in more parts of my life and through all different types of environments and in all relationships.

[00:11:39] Elisabeth: And I think with complex trauma, even that first really safe moment of mindfulness can be scary and threatening. You know, it can be scary to feel into our own bodies, it can be scary to be still. And so how do I start to make even just those first least threatening moments of mindfulness not overwhelming to my system and then train my nervous system gradually in a minimum effective dose to be able to handle more.

[00:12:08] Elisabeth: And I think a really big part of that is memory integration. And a huge facet of trauma is really the inability to integrate memories and experiences, right? It means this traumatic memory doesn’t get properly stored in a way that it no longer affects us in our present day to day experiences. And that’s why the traumatized brain struggles so much. And why you hear people talking about feeling stuck and feeling like they’re repeating these emotional experiences or these trauma patterns or trauma loops or trauma bonds over and over again. And I think one of the reasons that that happens is partially because of the hormones that we experience as part of the stress response. That response that’s mobilizing us to, to take action and to protect ourselves under threat.

[00:13:00] Elisabeth: And when that happens, when we move into that stress response, we have both adrenaline and cortisol moving through our system. And while these are really important to enable us to take action and to Fight or to flee. but it can also impact our hippocampus function and cortisol specifically can bind to receptors on the hippocampus that then impairs our ability to integrate memory. And over the long haul our memory recall. And then at the same time, we have adrenaline releasing that actually increases the laying down of emotional memories. So we have this increase in our emotional memories increasing the intensity and the laying down of those emotional memories with adrenaline. But we are losing the ability to integrate and to process that memory as that’s being inhibited by the cortisol. And this inability to integrate memory and experiences for people with complex trauma, not only does that keep us stuck in that pattern, but I think it’s also. can be really problematic for healing, especially for people with complex trauma.

[00:14:10] Elisabeth: And it can make a huge difference on the efficacy of various treatments. Like example, cognitive behavioral therapy or maybe even like EMDR or somatic experiencing that can be really effective for somebody who has one acute traumatic, like an acute episode of PTSD, a single incident, or maybe even they are sometimes effective for people with less severe CPTSD when they’re done in the window of tolerance. But for a lot of people with really high ACE scores or severe cPTSD, these treatments, not only are they not effective, but sometimes they can be harmful. Sometimes they can push us further into dysregulation or into emotional flashbacks or further dissociation. So really until those integration skills are developed in a smaller, more subtle way that is within the window of tolerance or within minimum effective dose, as we talk about here so much, then there’s really no way to stop re-traumatizing someone until they have the capacity or the brain function to do that.

[00:15:16] Elisabeth: And because of the cortisol and its effects on the hippocampus, or maybe just long term dissociation over time, or damage to the corpus callosum that integrates between the right and the left hemisphere. Or maybe just because there’s this fundamental disconnect between the body and the emotions and the cognitive brain, and so then it can’t be reintegrated, that memory, that experience can’t be reintegrated if you have developmental trauma until those skills are restored. So that can be really problematic for healing. And also, I think it can be problematic for growth too, Jennifer, as you and I were talking about recently, because it’s really hard to connect to those past versions of yourself and the future versions of yourself if all those memories are so disconnected and fragmented.

[00:16:06] Matt: Let me ask one question and either one of you feel free to answer this is more kind of on behalf of the audience, but we talk a lot here about how memories are not only stored, but they also should be able to be integrated or processed. And I want to clarify that language. What does it mean to be able to reintegrate a memory? Because I think for kind of all of us growing up in our society, we just think of memories as, well, they’re just stored. They’re just things that happened in the past. What do you mean I have to reintegrate a memory? What does that even mean? I thought it was just hanging out like in a file cabinet. And if I need to access it, I’ll go back to the file cabinet and I’ll pull it out again. It doesn’t affect my day to day life. It’s just a memory. That’s kind of the cultural understanding. Can we take just a second and flesh out more of what we mean by integrating it into daily life?  

[00:17:02] Elisabeth: So, when I think of memory integration, I think of an experience. In an experience there’s my physical reaction, there’s my emotional reaction, there’s the cognitive thoughts that are going on with that. I think a lot of times, just speaking for myself, what has happened in my life, especially developing growing up with a pretty high level of trauma, there was a lot of dissociation. So I experienced these big emotions, but they were never released. I experienced a big surge in my body of  mobilizing energy that was held into me because I moved into a free state and a state of dissociation, it wasn’t safe and there was no escape. And none of that, I never completed any of that, I never escaped the situation, I never discharged the emotions. I never learned how to adapt to that stress. I never had a successful adaptation to that stress. And so now in life, as I experience things that trigger me, I’m catapulted back into that place of helplessness. And I also still have these big emotions that come up that are totally disproportionate to what I’m experiencing in the moment. I will get immobilized and Frozen, and at the same time have these huge surges of grief or anger, and none of it ever goes anywhere. None of it is ever processed and my body doesn’t have the opportunity to adapt to it because it overwhelms my nervous system. It’s more stress than I can adapt to. So then I never get the growth and the resilience that you should have from experiencing a stress and you adapt to it and your system evolves. Instead, it just kind of stays in that state of overwhelm. 

[00:19:05] Elisabeth: If you’re a coach therapist or practitioner and you want to learn how to work with the body and the nervous system and the brain to create lasting sustainable change for your clients, join us for a free workshop this January to teach a Neuro Somatic Intelligence framework and tools that brings change from the level of the nervous system out into the world. Matt Bush, Melanie Weller, and I will be teaching. It’s free and we’d love to see you there. The link is in the show notes or you can go to neurosomaticintelligence.com to sign up.

[00:19:39] Jennifer: Completely. I mean, just completely everything that Elisabeth just said. It wreaks a lot of havoc internally. You talk about that filing cabinet and that we should just be able to access and pull those memories out. But when it comes time for me to access those files, they’re not there. I’ve said so many times on this podcast that if it weren’t for pictures, I don’t know that I could have existed in those moments to even be in those memories.

[00:20:08] Jennifer: Then there’s the emotional flashbacks component, right? And we talk about healing and that you don’t have to know what it is exactly that you’re healing. And I think that’s true in this example of the filing cabinet and the emotional flashbacks and the memories. It’s interesting that as I create more safety and create more safety that the filing cabinet actually starts to come online a little bit and allow me to access it and I will get flashes of memories.

[00:20:36] Elisabeth: As you were talking, Jennifer, too, I was thinking about a lot of times I don’t have the ability to bring my cognitive mind to the memory, to the experience, right? So I’m really just experiencing, a lot of times it’s just the emotion or sometimes it’s even just the somatic experience, but it’s not like I can’t have my cognitive awareness and my rational mind and my logic all involved in that memory. It’s almost like I’m having the reaction of a five year old, but not even that much. It’s like just emotion. 

[00:21:14] Matt: So to kind of bring a metaphor to the same thing, and I appreciate so much how both of you shared on that. It’s like our brain, and especially our hippocampus, instead of encoding these memories into our long term memory center like it should, it leaves them sitting out on the desktop, right? So we have all of these things that are scattered and sitting around. When we’re in that moment and we want to find the verbalization file, so we can actually speak to what’s happening, or we want to find the emotional regulation center so we can have a little bit of control of those emotional. Or we want to find the calm down the somatic experience folder that’s sitting on our desk. And we’re like, I can’t find anything because all of these traumatic memories or events are just sitting out and scattered everywhere. So it’s very disorganized. 

[00:22:12] Jennifer: Getting back to vertical integration and developmental trauma, the areas of the brain that creates what you are referring to as really good integration. And what we’re describing as being Present, mindful, connected; regulated into the Present moment in a physical, emotional, cognitive, and relational ways. And that the three areas of the brain are the brainstem, the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. Matt, can you dive into the impact that developmental trauma has on vertical integration and how someone may be experiencing this lack of integration now in their lives?

[00:22:52] Matt: All three of these brain areas in this vertical alignment have to be integrated and working together. So, the sensory inputs that we receive from vision, auditory, balance, smell, taste, touch- they all start at the brainstem. They don’t all start there, but 9 out of 10 start at the brainstem. All of them at least start in the old brain, the bottom part of the brain. And the first thing that’s happening when we receive all the sensory inputs is our amygdala primarily is asking the question, am I safe? Is there any immediate threat in the environment real or perceived that I might need to protect myself from or run away from?

[00:23:33] Matt: So think of like the brainstem and the bottom part of the brain are asking, am I safe? Those sensory inputs then travel upward and they hit our limbic system, kind of the midbrain area. And the midbrain here is responsible for asking, am I loved? It’s kind of this question. All of these inputs, everything that’s happening around us, it’s filtering through the lens of that question.

[00:23:56] Jennifer: Am I loved? Is my sense of self safe? Like my personal identity, my relationships, my social standing. And then finally, as those signals ascend up into the cortex, which is the top part of the brain, it’s like the wrinkly part of the brain you see in all the pictures, the cortex’s responsibility is kind of to be asking, what can I learn from this situation? In one sense, there’s like actual learning, like schooling, listening to a lecture or a podcast. What can I learn from this? But the cortex is also asking that question in both positive and negative interactions with other people. Like if I ask a question or say something and then somebody responds poorly. Well, what my cortex can learn is don’t ask that question to that person. On the other hand, if it reaches out to a friend because I need some support and that person’s highly generous and caring with their time and they give me some support, my cortex learns that’s somebody that I can trust and rely on.

[00:25:01] Matt: So it’s not just didactic learning or like informational learning. It’s also experiential and relational learning that our cortex does every moment of the day. So for us to fully integrate all parts of our self with the environment and other people, all three of those systems have to be working together. That’s what we mean by vertical integration. Where that breaks down is if either the brainstem and the old brain sense that I’m not safe, they will short circuit the system and they will start to engage in protective behaviors or safety seeking behaviors. Fight or Flight is one example of that.

[00:25:45] Matt: Freezing is an example of that having a startle reflex, muscle tension. Even engaging in anxiety or depression or chronic fatigue, like those are protective mechanisms. So if the brainstem and old brain don’t think that we’re safe and they either perceived or real, they think there’s a threat. They’re going to start to enact protective mechanisms. It’s going to short circuit and the other two brain areas are not going to get to work and integrate in that moment. The old brain takes over.

[00:26:18] Matt: We call that amygdala hijacking. That’s the term for that. If however, right, if the old brain, like, yeah, everything seems safe from a like physical survival perspective, but the limbic system perceives a threat. Remember its question was, am I loved?,if it goes, whoa, I’m not feeling loved or I’m feeling attacked, then it’s going to engage similar protective mechanisms from a limbic emotional perspective. And they really serve the same purpose, but just on an emotional level. They keep me safe from whoever might be attacking me. They protect my sense of self, my identity, my ego. And they also serve my own survival as a signal to myself that I should get out of the environment as quickly as possible.

[00:27:09] Matt: So the old brain could short circuit and take over. That’s amygdala hijacking. The limbic system could short circuit the whole thing and take over. That’s called limbic escape. And the reason we use that term, or it’s used in the literature, that’s not an NSI term, is normally the cortex should be exerting some level of control and regulation upon the limbic system. The cortex should be in control. But when we have these big protective mechanisms that show up, it’s like the limbic system has escaped the control of the cortical brain.

[00:27:47] Matt: Our frontal lobe is no longer running the show. Now I’m running on an emotional driver or emotional pattern. It’s going to protect me and keep me safe. But it has very little, if any, cognitive thought involved. So that’s an overview of this vertical integration idea, and then how it can get derailed either by a physical threat the old brain identifies, or by an emotional threat that the limbic system identifies. Then we’re in a whole nother world at that point. 

[00:28:24] Elisabeth: Yeah. I mean, I feel that in my day to day existence. And I think with complex trauma, it’s very much a relational wound, an attachment wound. And so I feel like just as much as I’m driven into like Fight and Flight in terms of safety, I experienced maybe even almost more that emotional overwhelm that limbic escape and the complete inability to override or to control my emotions with my cognitive mind. And I think it’s one of the most important things that we do at Brain Based Wellness and in the NSI program is coming up with tools to aid in vertical integration. And I think when you’re doing that, you really have to work with all of those systems.

[00:29:16] Elisabeth: And that is what has been most beneficial for me. So we have a process for deconstructing our cognitive beliefs, looking at the beliefs that evolved and came because of our trauma, the protective beliefs, the limiting beliefs, and really looking at those from a cognitive stance. And then we also have to work with the emotions to affect the limbic system. So we develop different ways to process emotions, to regulate emotions, to Move emotions through the body safely in a minimum effective dose way, 

And then also to work with the body, right, addressing all of those three components, especially the trauma patterns, the compensatory movements that are held in the body and the tension. Allowing the body to release and bringing all of those things together, either through intentional stimulus inputs that create a new experience or combining the inputs with the cognitive work, with the emotional work, so that we’re looking at it from all sides. We’re deconstructing the beliefs, we have tools for processing the emotions, and we’re working with the body. And then, again, remembering that when I talk about we’re working with the body for trauma resolution. It’s really the primitive reflexes, the trauma reflexes, the protective postures, how you stand, how you walk, how much you’re bracing, your muscle tension, and so working to re pattern those with the thoughts, with the beliefs and with the emotions is really powerful for vertical integration. 

[00:30:54] Matt: I think that’s one of the things we’re learning as neuroscience gets applied more and more into somatic healing and modern psychology. Is that you really can’t separate the emotions from those other areas. And you both alluded to this already. You can’t take them and pull them out and look at them in a vacuum. So I think it’s a huge strength of the NSI tools that we bring all of it back together, though it has to be integrated. We have to process through the emotions. Get them out of the body, reconnect the cognitive brain. All that stuff you just talked about, Elisabeth, is vitally important to being able to move through the trauma rather than just kind of continuing to sit in it and have it in play again and again. 

[00:31:42] Elisabeth: As you were both talking, because I was thinking about how really it is through this method of using these tools that I have been able to make progress, because it just didn’t work for me to try to just cognitively address things or just somatically address things. It was really the integration of all of those things that made change possible. Just like you were saying, Jennifer, it’s like we have to have times where we see that it’s working.

[00:32:05] Matt: So just to speak to that, that concept of like, how does developmental trauma affect this vertebral integration, it doesn’t have to be an emotional or relational complex trauma that creates a dysregulation in that verticality. It can be a physical trauma that sets somebody on that path, but the results end up very similar, regardless of how the trauma occurred in the first place. That by the time you bypass those developmental windows. And you get into adulthood, what you’re left with is a limbic system that is unregulated. It’s kind of all over the place. A survival brain that’s hypersensitive to any kind of threat, and a cortex that doesn’t know how to control the other two the way that it really should. 

So your sense of identity, your sense of self, your sense to be able to integrate and process those memories of what happened, how did it happen, when did it happen. For this person I’m talking about, there’s a period of time from probably age 11 to 18, where all of the memories there are skewed. Their recollection of what happened and if you were to talk to a family member of theirs and say, what’s your recollection of what happened, you’re going to get two totally different memories of the actual facts. This person did this or said this. And that a family member would give you a completely different version of the story. So, it’s very interesting that physical trauma can invoke such dysregulation just like emotional trauma can.

[00:33:52] Elisabeth: If you’re a coach therapist or practitioner and you want to learn how to work with the body and the nervous system and the brain to create lasting sustainable change for your clients, join us for a free workshop this January to teach a Neuro Somatic Intelligence framework and tools that brings change from the level of the nervous system out into the world. Matt Bush, Melanie Weller, and I will be teaching. It’s free and we’d love to see you there. The link is in the show notes or you can go to neurosomaticintelligence.com to sign up.

[00:34:25] Elisabeth: Yeah, it is fascinating because as you describe that it sounds very much like myself and like the clients that I work with that have high degrees of cPTSD. And when you think about that, all the different ways that our system can get disintegrated, it is makes you think like all of us have some degree of developmental trauma because we all experience these things, physical, emotional, and…

[00:34:52] Elisabeth: Yeah, it’s, it’s a lot to think about. And when you think about how many people are affected by that and how much that underlies so many different behavioral and psychological diagnoses that people come up against and how much of that has to do with brain dysfunction and nervous system dysregulation. Let’s talk a little bit about integration between the right and the left hemisphere. Matt, do you want to start us off on that? 

[00:35:19] Matt: Certainly, so we just need to clarify what we’re describing here first is that the idea of left brain, right brain dominance is what we’re talking about here with this left brain, right brain, like what happens to each side.

[00:35:32] Matt: Although that’s been around for a really long time, here’s the rundown. Essentially, the right brain is thought of as the more creative expression side of the brain. Artistic, intuitive, emotional, maybe more imaginative or even more musical. Well, the left brain is more logical. The analytical, the linear side of the brain. Which is also more factual and more verbal, like with our ability to communicate or articulate an idea clearly.

[00:36:03] Matt: So when you have dysregulation in that vertical piece that we just talked about, it often also shows up as dysregulation in the right and left hemispheres. And what tends to happen is that because the left side is more logical, cognitive, verbal that’s the side that tends to shut down a little bit more with complex PTSD. So what you’re left with is someone who seems to have a personality that’s more expressive, more artistic, more creative cause that’s the side of the brain that’s working at, at least we could say closer to optimal function. While the side that’s like the pure cognitive cortical control is still kind of shut down because our cortex doesn’t just completely shut off.

[00:36:54] Matt: It would be an oversimplification to say that our brainstem is running the show and our frontal lobe is just not turned on at all. It doesn’t work that way. All brain areas are activated at all times. Because if the neuron doesn’t get activation, it literally starts to die. So, our cortex does stay active, even when we’re in the middle of hijacking or limbic escape. It just doesn’t have a lot of power. And the left side, being more logical, is going to have far less power over cortical outputs than the right side. In this idea of left and right dominals. So it’s going to be easier to express through an artistic creative way or a more intuitive way; harder to express through logical, verbal, or written communication.

[00:37:43] Matt: That also creates a really nice inroads to doing a lot of cPTSD therapy and treatments, right? There’s a lot of different types of art therapy that exist. Music therapy, expression based therapies that exist for that very reason. Those are ways that you can access the cortex to get more cortical activation, which will then allow greater regulation and control of the limbic and survival brains.

[00:38:15] Matt: So if you want a really short course on why does art therapy work it kind of comes down to that. The more we can activate that right cortex and then turn up the frontal lobe activation in general, it’s going to be better at regulating and processing emotional feelings. As well as survival responses coming from the old gray.

[00:38:36] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s actually really fascinating to think about, and I know one of our co-teachers in the NSI program, Melanie Weller, she uses a lot of neurographic art to work with people when they’re in trauma response with a lot of success as a way to, as you were saying, to keep more activation to the cortex and to allow the processing and the integration of those memories and experiences in a different way that is keeping the system more integrated, that’s better integrating through the system.

[00:39:07] Elisabeth: I think too, when we look at all of this, all of these ways in which we lose the integration in our brain function and also just leads to general imbalance in the nervous system. When we are cycling through protective responses, protective reflexive trauma responses of Fight, Flight, Freeze, and also having all these disconnects in areas of our brain.

[00:39:32] Elisabeth: And really, when we think about the nervous system it evolved to help us experience stressors and respond to them in acute situations, and then to be able to come down out of those and have periods of rest and restoration where the brain and the body can adapt to the stress response. And so we’ve talked about this many times on here that we don’t really want a flat line of the nervous system, but we want to be able to modulate between a sympathetic and parasympathetic activation and to have the appropriate amount of nervous system activation for the reality of the Present moment to be able to act and move and be mobilized when we need to, and then also to be able to come down and rest and repair. But when we’re constantly stuck in either a heightened sympathetic state with too much activation or parasympathetic state to shut down, when we’re stuck in that dysregulation, we really lose, we lose the ability to bounce back from situations to be able to recover, to be resilient. And then also too, I think, to be able to then experience the growth that we could get from that experience, from the stress, an unbalanced nervous system can block our capacity for resilience and stress adaptation.

[00:40:45] Elisabeth: And so that keeps us from forward movement in our life a lot of times. Then I also think  that when our bodies. are stuck in these states of dysregulation, we can’t release emotionally and stress wise, we can’t discharge that. We can’t release what our nervous system can’t regulate. So like underneath a Freeze response or other protective reflexive trauma responses, we often have those big emotions that have been repressed or unprocessed. And like we’ve talked about before in the emotions episode, we may want to release them. We may know cognitively, I want to release these emotions, be Present with them, allow them to move through my body. But we can’t because it doesn’t feel safe, right? Our amygdala says no. So we have to ask how safe is my nervous system with these emotions, with these sensations, with these memories, and that there’s like a real direct link between the amount of safety correlated with how much release is possible.

[00:41:45] Elisabeth: More safety, more regulation, more release can come. And so I think these imbalances in the nervous system, they keep us from being able to adapt, but they also keep us from being able to express and process emotions in that way, too. 

[00:42:01] Jennifer: You know, when I hear you say, talk about the inability to bounce back I think about back to October 2014 and being diagnosed with Stage 3 HER2 positive breast cancer. And what I know now about stress and ACE scores and then there’s that arousal state in the nervous system, that imbalance, the lack of integration, all of it, the emotional state. Then it’s like, there’s this arousal state from age 3 to 32, already primed for breast cancer, but then it’s like, Oh wait, now you’re going to get kidnapped in Turkey. And it was like breast cancer at 37 being taken in Turkey at 32, that was like throwing gasoline on a fire.

[00:42:54] Jennifer: And I think, of course I got breast cancer. That imbalance and that activation level, that chronic stress was so high. There’s no way I was going to avoid some sort of an actual physical manifestation of disease in my body.

[00:43:11] Matt: If it’s not expressed, it’s going to show up somewhere. And that makes me kind of think on this idea of how this ongoing disintegration or , dysregulation, like what happens to the nervous system in the longterm and the physical. Jennifer just talked about what happens in the physical body in the long term is that it shows up in our tissues, right? But in the nervous system, when we bounce back and forth into this free state and dissociation and the back, kind of back to regular life. In and out and in and out of this representation or reality of complex PTSD. Eventually, the brain gets to a point where it thinks that the dysregulation is norma., Which creates this whole, whole set of challenges. Yeah, it really makes things challenging. And the idea is the imbalance there, I guess.

[00:44:15] Matt: Let me go back to this idea, actually. Let me just kind of restart the phrasing. In all of our neuro work, we learn about and really respect this idea of the S. A. I. D. principle. Which is S A I D, it’s an acronym: specific adaptation to imposed demand. And most people may have learned that in an anatomy and physiology class, if they know it at all, because it’s usually taught at the very beginning of the class. That means the body adapts to whatever it does. So if I go out running, I’m going to get better at running. If I ride a bike, I’m going to get better at riding a bike. If I swim, I’ll get better at swimming. There’s usually not a lot of transference between those different activities. I just get better at what I do. I don’t get better at everything. 

Well, if you take that principle, because it’s known that that’s kind of always an effect, right? The neural pathways that we utilize most often become more powerful and our brain goes to them sooner and more easily to respond to the situation. So the more frequently that we dissociate, the better we become at dissociation. The more frequently you dysregulate, the better we become at dysregulation. So it creates a lasting state of imbalance in the nervous system where it’s like our nervous system is just digging the hole deeper and deeper and deeper.

[00:45:43] Matt: And like we all know this phrase of like, if you want to get out of the hole, stop digging. But when you’re in complex PTSD it’s like my brain is digging and I can’t make it stop. It just keeps going back to these same experiences and these same feelings. So yes, it shows up in long term development of the nervous system. It’s showing up in the physical body, it shows up for years, sometimes on those sides, because we don’t know how to stop the digging. But the brain will keep engaging with these patterns that it thinks are protective, regardless of really what our cognitive brain wants to do, here’s the cool part, until we find some way to set limbic system at ease and help them to understand that they’re safe.

[00:46:37] Matt: That’s how we break the pattern. So it’s not our cognitive brain telling our limbic system that we’re safe. It’s not telling my old brain I’m safe. It’s like, Oh, if your old brain here is saying, Oh, it’s okay. You’re safe. Just calm down. Right? Everyone’s been told to calm down before. Oh, you didn’t just tell me to calm down. Right? Don’t tell me what to do. Our survival brain is like going to react to that. Our limbic system is going to react against that. Go, no, don’t just tell them to calm down. This is where we really have to show it and prove that they are safe before they’ll start to break the pattern of that dysregulation.

[00:47:20] Elisabeth: I see that evidenced in my life and in the life of the people that I work with, with my clients. One, it’s why minimum effective dose is so important and why sometimes with healing modalities I have gotten progressively worse as I’ve pushed into things. My body has been pushed further into these states and then it gets better and it does that more quickly, I dissociate more quickly, I dissociate more often. And then also, because there are things that I want in life there, I want to be in relationship.

[00:47:55] Elisabeth: I want to have human connection and go out and experience things. I want to be in environments sometimes that are a little bit stressful to me. Doing this podcast episode was really stressful for me. I had to do this research and look at myself. and re-experience a bunch of emotions, but I want to do it because I also feel like it gives purpose to all the things that I’ve been through.

[00:48:19] Elisabeth: And it helps me to share what I know and what I learn from it with other people. That helps to like, alchemize the wound a little bit. So what I have to do to not keep digging, to not keep digging and digging by trying to create the life that I want to create and then keep having my system dig that way is to recreate safety around this stuff.

[00:48:43] Elisabeth: I have to regulate before I do it. I have to regulate after I do it. I have to use my tools to create new inputs, create a different internal environment, different physiological experience of doing this. When I’m moving into higher levels of intimacy or I’m having a difficult conversation with someone or setting a boundary and making all these changes that my cognitive mind, that my spirit, my higher order thinking systems, all those things that I want, I have to also work with the nervous system and work with the old brain and discharge the emotions so that it becomes safer and safer for me to do that without moving into those patterns. More and more and more, I can interrupt the pattern and create a new experience by focusing on working with the nervous system. 

[00:49:33] Jennifer:  Yeah and some days it takes more tools than others, right? Like when we talk about dissociation, fragmentation, being Present and being aware. Being able to sit and have these conversations, be Present with loved ones, have the experiences that we really want. When inescapability is part of your ingrained pattern from your trauma, it sets that pattern of dissociation out really quickly. And we have to almost retrain that it’s okay. We don’t have to escape. This isn’t threatening any longer because no matter how old you are, you’ve found yourself in a situation that you couldn’t escape from, but when you put that into a child’s perspective, into a child’s brain and framework, you can’t escape. So dissociation becomes the escape. And like you said, when you just get better and better at doing that, and it has been that experience 

[00:50:26] Matt: Yeah. That kind of makes me think about the day to day of all of this/ Like, okay, so I have cPTSD, what do we do about it? How can I even start to break the patterns? So in the nervous system, there’s these responses where the more that we can observe and become aware of them, the more power we have to actually start to change them.

[00:50:51] Matt: If I’m not even aware that I’m dissociating. I’ve kind of already lost that battle and I’ll have to just fight it again another day. But if I can bring awareness and if I have some of these tools that will speak to my nervous system on a deeper level, I have the ability to at least interrupt the pattern to be able to do something different.

[00:51:12] Matt: Whether that’s a breathing exercise, a somatic exercise, a movement, a sensory input, there are these like high payoff drills. That I kind of think of them like my rescue drills. I’m in a bad way right now. I need to be rescued from my own nervous system. So how do I work with it instead of either running away from it or letting it just take over and run the show?

[00:51:39] Matt: So that’s the piece where all of this conversation circles back. What do we do about it? How do I start to interrupt the pattern more frequently and have my rescue drills so that I can. Either survive or maintain my composure as much as possible. And then the second is how do I do daily training to improve the function of my nervous system and build my resilience so that I’m better.

[00:52:10] Elisabeth: I think that is the purpose of all of this, right, is building that resilience in our nervous system, not just rescuing ourselves, but also having a daily practice of working with our nervous system to re-pattern and to reintegrate. I don’t want to say it’s work and make it seem heavy and really hard all of the time, because it’s not. It’s really very practical and easy to implement, but it requires a level of commitment. And there is some work to it, but also like at the end of the day what I really want most out of my life is to be a Present person. I want to be Present with you guys. I want to be Present with the people I love. I want to be Present with my clients and fully awake and alive for my human experience. I want to be a connected human that’s capable of bonding and connecting with other people.

[00:53:10] Elisabeth: I want to be wholly integrated and I want to be self-expressed. Those are really the things that trauma takes from me. It takes from me my integration. It takes from me my ability to be in the Present moment and my ability to connect to other people. And so, I believe that it’s worth understanding and developing the tools for that reason.

[00:53:33] Elisabeth: I also think that when we’re talking about all of this, it is important for me to remember too that I have a pretty big expanse of life, despite the brain function that we’re talking about. My life is. is also really wonderful and magical. And I do believe that trauma opens us up to some pretty deep understandings about the human experience. I think it’s a catalyst for growth. I think it’s a catalyst to expand your consciousness and to have a deeper level of the ability to really understand other people. And there is such a thing as post traumatic growth, you know, that people who experience trauma can also have a deep appreciation for life, newfound personal strength, improvement in relationships. See new possibilities and undergo a lot of spiritual growth as well that I feel like trauma brings us to. So by working with the nervous system, by working with the operating system, it allows me to get that growth from the experiences. It makes everything I don’t know that I would say worth it, but it brings the richness and the duality of the experience into my life and it really expands my life in some ways.

[00:54:52] Matt: Yeah, I think the most important thing to take away from me is that this idea that your nervous system is always adapting. We kind of talked about that with the SAID principle. That neuroplasticity doesn’t stop because you had complex PTSD, physical trauma or developmental trauma. The brain is still adapting and working and neuroplasticity is still at work, still functioning every single day without the ability to adapt, we just wouldn’t survive as humans. Which turns into a very hopeful message and a very good thing because it means, wait, I say it a little clumsy, is ‘if you’re not dead, you’re not done’. You still have the ability to change and to retrain your nervous system to address some of the triggers, some of the traumas, some of the survival responses that your brain has. And it’s really inspiring to recognize that people, literally people around the world, have changed their brain’s response to cPTSD by doing neuro training. Kind of by using these NSI tools. So if you are struggling with that, please hear us say that it’s not always going to be like that. There is hope to change. And there are tools to change and we would love to be able to help you do that. 

[00:56:25] Jennifer: Yeah, I feel hopeful. You said it can be hopeful and I do feel hopeful. I feel hopeful in my brain’s own story and the way that I can rewire those limiting beliefs and heal and balance emotionally and start to light up different parts of my brain and what I feel and know to be possible does feel hopeful. Your brain is your whole body and relational world and you can change your life by training your nervous system. It takes daily thought and consideration, conscious time and energy to come back to yourself  and get that self nurturing, self compassion, and I really want to be Present too.

[00:57:05] Jennifer: I want the big life. I’m just totally here for it. It feels very purposeful to be part of this healing revolution and to, I’m ready for it. I want it. And that does require Presence. Presence is how I begin to restore. It’s the Presence that creates that integrative state of energy and information flow in the somatic world and in the social world. I think having that integration really changes your whole experience in the world. I find that really exciting. It doesn’t have to stay the way that it is. And we are here for it. 

[00:57:43] Jennifer: As practitioners, we know that these narratives are very layered and we want to support people coming into their body, safely, feeling their emotions safely. And supporting emotional processing that could be holding them back from being Present connected in relationships and having the capacity to experience the good stuff in life. Like joy and pleasure. The next round of NSI is enrolling now neurosomaticintelligence.com.

S3 E29

Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE

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