Now we’re going to talk about the second thing – the traumatic loss recovery. We explained last time that when a loss is violent, unexpected and sudden, it’s likely that survivors will be overwhelmed. So, we think about that and we think about people that have been raped, people that have relatives that have been shot in robberies…sometimes we don’t think about people who have been in, or have had loved ones who have in automobile accidents. That’s its own kind of violence. When people are exposed to that kind of loss, their resources to adapt are sometimes less than stressors they’re having to adapt to. When this happens, the brain begins to improperly store memory.
Now, some people have a higher tolerance for things like this. And that’s usually because they grew up in a family where they were very well supported early. They’ve proven that that reduces the risk of PTSD, drug addiction, all of those things.
So, when a person is overwhelmed, however, the traumatic part of the memory – the emotional part of it – gets stuck in the place where it was created, instead of stored in the cortex. And when this happens, predictable results ensue. It seems that no amount of talking about it helps us adapt, and the brain, somehow, needs to be healed at this point. Fortunately, God has built into our brain a self-healing mechanism.
You know, your body has mechanisms built into it to heal itself of wounds. I was reminded of that recently when I tweaked my knee and it swelled up like a balloon. It seemed like a very minor thing that happened. It didn’t really hurt that much, but man, did it swell up! Well, that’s my body protecting me from that. Of course the reaction can sometimes cause a problem, but it was racing blood into the area to take away the damaged stuff and to protect it, and to let me know that I shouldn’t be moving around on it.
And you know about shock and all that – how our body heals itself – and it has lots of things in place to take care of that. Most diseases are self-limiting, if we just give it the right help and support. Your brain has something like that, too. And, if we access it, the frozen or stuck memory can be adaptively rewritten so that we can move past it. In fact, every night, when we sleep, our eyes move back and forth rapidly in REM sleep. And this back and forth movement is actually stimulating first the right and then the left side of your brain, and a channel is opened up, so that the stuck material on the right side can move to the left.
The professor I mentioned at the start, Dr. Bonanno, verifies that, when loss is traumatic, then people have a harder time getting over it on their own. So, we’ve now discovered a way to access this healing process while people are awake, focused on a specific trauma, and the results are quite dramatic.