Complex trauma refers to the psychological and emotional harm caused by repeated, chronic, or prolonged exposure to traumatic stress. For example, exposure to domestic violence, chronic bullying, systemic oppression, neglect, abuse, war, conflict, or forced displacement can all cause complex trauma. The damage caused by complex trauma runs deeper than emotional and psychological experience, it structurally and physiologically changes the brain too.
During periods of any kind of traumatic stress, the body's natural stress response system becomes activated, resulting in the production of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline. While this stress response helps to mobilize the body in short bursts as a means of survival, prolonged exposure to stress hormones in the body can cause harmful changes in the brain's development, structure, and function. For example, this can result in changes of the size and function of certain brain regions, and change the connectivity between different areas of the brain
These neural structures and neurotransmitters are responsible for important functions such as emotional regulation, stress response, social cognition, decision-making, memory processing and learning, motivation and reward, and disruptions to the brain's natural attachment system.
The kinds of changes common to these areas of the brain due to complex trauma are associated with changes in functioning, experiences, and behaviours. For example, behavioural and experiential changes include:
Exposure to complex trauma can have profound impacts on brain development, leading to long lasting changes that can affect daily life, relationships, social and cognitive functioning, and overall mental health, and wellbeing.
Understanding the ways that complex trauma can impact brain development, daily functioning, and individual experiences, is crucial to developing effective treatments for folks who have experienced complex trauma. While complex trauma causes significant changes to brain development, treatment can help rewire the brain and dramatically improve daily functioning and quality of life.
Working with a mental health professional who is knowledgeable and experienced in assessing and treating complex trauma is important for recovery. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one in your recovery journey.
Thanks for stopping by!