Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thursday’s Therapy - TRAUMA Therapy Toolbox - Understanding Your Body’s Confusing Messages

Thursday’s Therapy

TRAUMA Therapy Toolbox

Understanding Your Body’s Confusing Messages

Not understanding what’s changed in our bodies by our Child-Loss Grief would be like trying to run through the living room barefoot with the lights off not knowing someone has just rearranged all the furniture in the room.

~ the latter part of this analogy is a version of an old quote of Bill Cosby’s


Criterion B symptoms (of the PTSD {Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder} diagnosis in the diagnostic manual) relate directly to how the memories of traumatic events are processed in the brain.

Memories of life-threatening events are not stored in the same parts of the brain as other memories or thoughts.

They are stored in deeper areas within the brain called the "limbic system," which controls survival reflexes and connects directly to areas involving all of the basic functions of the body necessary for survival, including adrenaline, breathing, heart rate, and muscle tone. Adrenaline and rage go hand in hand. They help you focus, make your muscles stronger, and help you fight. Anger helps to control fear.

The limbic system memories are not under your conscious control.

Rational thinking occurs in the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain that is much more developed and larger in humans than in any other species.

The limbic system, also known as the reptilian (reptile-like) part of our brain, is more primitive, more animal. It processes danger, threat, and reflexes, and expresses basic emotions necessary for survival (anger, hurt, fear).

Limbic memories are not linear or logical.

They are highly emotionally charged images, sounds, smells, thoughts, or perceptions that immediately connect with reflexes having to do with survival--the "fight-or-flight" reflexes.

The limbic area of the brain is designed to make sure that you never forget any memories having to do with serious danger or disaster that affected you personally. These memories form the impetus that forces you to respond instantaneously when you encounter a similar situation at a future time.

~Charles W. Hoge, M.D., Once a Warrior Always a Warrior


There was a time about 2 years after Merry Katherine’s death, Tommy was going to go shooting clay targets with his friends. When I heard that a particular person was going whom I knew to be very reckless and therefore potentially dangerous in a hunting-type setting (I wasn’t aware at the time that shooting at clay targets is a much more controlled environment, but still…), all of my senses must have triggered my amygdala in my limbic system as I began almost panicking, begging Tommy not to go, because in my mind, all I could see as a result of such a trip was a dead husband being returned to me.

I was triggered – IN the danger, here and now – and even though I knew it might not be rational, it was REAL, it was DANGER, and everything needed to STOP.

Tommy on the other hand had been feeling his PTSD and all the cortisol upload in his system, and felt the URGENT need that he needed to go SHOOT something, or he was going to be endangering himself internally.

Somehow, without his even saying that, I knew that was the case, and so I also felt for him and his need, but my DANGER signals going on in my body were screaming louder inside my heart. So we butted heads, and then he went on.

This is a great example of the clashing of husband and wife grief. What one might demand, the other might –at the same time—abhor.

This is also a great example of the primitive limbic system at work in our bodies.

Pictures, thanks to


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