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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

The Healing Journey, Part 1: In The Midst Of The Storm

trauma (n):


  • a deeply distressing or disturbing experience

    • emotional shock following a stressful event or physical injury


When there’s a healing journey to be embarked on, trauma is generally what precedes it.


The Recess Bell & mental-ity's 50-part mental health project titled "The Healing Journey"

As stated in the definition above, trauma is represented by either mental anguish, emotional shock, or physical injury.


In 2024, as far as I see it, “trauma” has become a sort of buzzword, thrown around as loosely as ever by many that don’t fully comprehend the gravity of what exactly mental & emotional trauma is capable of doing to our soul, body, and brain.


To explain how trauma affects the mind, I’d like to draw a comparison between the relationship of mental trauma/mind & the relationship of physical trauma/body.


Let’s say you suffer an injury. For this example, let’s call it a broken leg. In a short time after the leg break, you’ll have to undergo surgery to repair it. Then, following a certain amount of rest & recovery time comes an arduous amount of rehab to slowly build the leg's strength back up. If all goes well in rehabilitation, you’ll most likely be cleared to return to life as usual, as your broken leg has now likely made a “full” recovery.

But that comes with some caveats. Sure, you’ve got full range of motion back in your leg, but given the trauma that the leg suffered, it’ll never truly be the same again. And on top of that — the injury in combination with the procedures performed to resolve it, in addition to rehab & physical therapy, has likely made the leg more prone to re-injury than your other non-traumatized body parts.


It’s the same phenomenon at play with what happens to the brain when we suffer mental trauma.


PTSD, as characterized by the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), is a mental health disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.


The NIMH goes on to explain that “people may experience a range of reactions after trauma, and most people recover from initial symptoms over time. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD.”


The National Health Service of Wales describes the impact of trauma on the brain:


”Research shows, for example, that adults with PTSD have a reduction in an area of their prefrontal cortex and a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. In the absence of these regulatory mechanisms adults with PTSD may feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety even in the absence of any real danger.”


To put the above in more easily digestible terms: trauma quite literally shrinks the brain. The hippocampus referenced above is a complex brain structure embedded in the temporal lobe that plays a major role in learning and memory — hence why people that suffer mental trauma and develop PTSD have significant issues with recall.


Diagram of the hippocampus in the brain.
Diagram depicting the hippocampus in the brain, which plays a major role in learning & memory. Image from flintrehab.com.

The prefrontal cortex is defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the “personality center” and the region that makes us uniquely human. The prefrontal cortex also regulates our thoughts, actions, and emotions. A reduction in this “personality center” makes us more prone to developing personality disorders.


Diagram of the prefrontal cortex in the brain.
Diagram depicting the prefrontal cortex; the "personality center" of the brain. Image from flintrehab.com.

The Mayo Clinic characterizes personality disorders as a mental health condition where people have a lifelong pattern of seeing themselves and reacting to others in ways that cause problems.


“People with personality disorders often have a hard time understanding emotions and tolerating distress. And they act impulsively. That makes it hard for them to relate to others, causing serious issues, and affecting their family life, social activities, work & school performance, and overall quality of life.”


Trauma doesn’t just shrink multiple different parts of the brain. It can drastically change neurological function in different areas of the brain, thus resulting in the possible emergence of personality disorders.


I want to spend some time on the subject of personality disorders here. Due to the well-documented connection between PTSD and these personality disorders, medical professionals have pounded the pavement to help provide clarity.


The NIH analyzed research using “nationally representative samples” that showed that roughly one-fourth of those with PTSD also met criteria for borderline personality disorder, or BPD. BPD is a mental health condition in which a person has long-term patterns of unstable or explosive emotions, resulting in impulsive actions, self-image issues, and chaotic relationships with other people. (SAMHSA)


BPD, according to multiple U.S. studies, is the 3rd-most common diagnosed personality disorder in the country, per Charlie Health. Narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is the 2nd-most diagnosed disorder. Both disorders, unlike the most diagnosed disorder in obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, are mostly caused by stress & trauma, whereas OCD is more hereditary.


As of 2024, the ties between mental trauma/PTSD and the development of personality disorders have grown to be undeniable enough that doctors and therapists have developed a fairly new term to bridge the gap between these two phenomenons.


Complex PTSD is a condition where one experiences some of the same symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, including but are not limited to constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless, and feeling as if nobody can understand what happened to you.


C-PTSD was developed in part due to the issue of apparent misdiagnosis of the aforementioned BPD in mentally traumatized patients.


Per mind.org, not all professionals are aware of C-PTSD, and “as a result, some people are given a diagnosis of BPD or another personality disorder when complex PTSD fits their experiences more closely.”


Over the course of this project, I’ll spend much more time on the subject of personality disorders and why they’ve become a sort of controversial subject because of how they’re diagnosed. The main idea of this project is to analyze the vast variety of ways in which mental trauma can lead to so many different paths of destruction — if we let it.


I’ve lived it. I went through the vast majority of my young adulthood being the main participant in AND cause of my own despair, but I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize it in the moment. See, after experiencing trauma, the first step is realizing how deeply it’s seeped into your life. Then & only then can you figure out how to not only stop that from happening any further, but how to begin the healing journey from it.


As hard as it can be to accept, we are the only ones that can save ourselves. It’s difficult to accept because the majority of the trauma we suffer were & are not of our own doing. It’s often a result of another party’s abuse, abandonment, neglect, violence, torture, and bullying. From that standpoint, it’s like a twisted and sick joke that we’re left to pick up the pieces and put them back together ourselves.


The healing journey can be infuriating, sickening, gut-wrenching & heart-wrenching at times. It can also bring emotions of relief and joy. The greatest things in life are not meant to be obtained easily. Everything is on the other side of pain. Happiness is the ultimate prize but we’ve often got to go through the wringer to obtain it after suffering trauma.


But the payoff is always worth it. Happiness? Joy? Relief? Come on, now. And wouldn’t you want to make all that suffering worth it in the end?


The healing journey is the path to making it all worth it. So let’s embark together. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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