Bessel van der Kolk is a name that most professionals working with psychological trauma recognise. Recently attended his webinar and was re- assured to hear that the things that I have seen in my practice as a private psychiatrist and my conceptualisation of trauma and it’s consequences are similar to his.
Whilst writing about the full description is for a scientific journal, I thought it may be useful to put things in a simple way. So here is a simple explanation- there are some inherent stress action systems in human beings that make us function as a ‘whole organism’-
1. The Freeze system
2. The Flight system
3. The Fight system
These help us in situations of danger and being ‘primitive systems’ get modulated by the ‘Neocortex’ (Newer developed parts of brain), so that the person in a stressful situation such as trauma, eventually derives a ‘context’ and puts a meaning to the stressful or traumatic life event in the wider context of his/her life, the ‘primitive systems’ are reset and life moves on.
What happens in PTSD or in people suffering with consequences of trauma is that the ‘primitive systems’ remain active for a longer period of time than what is necessary for adaptation and the individuals are in a state of ‘Chronic Hyperarousal’ leading to living life in a sense of fear with constant alertness or hyper vigilance to ensure their safety and experience symptoms of anxiety.
At the same time the memories of the event are laid down in a disjointed manner. More on memory in trauma in my next post.