How Unprocessed Trauma is Stored in the Body

unprocessed trauma
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We used to believe that trauma was “all in the head,” but now we know this isn’t the case. Trauma leaves a physical imprint on the body, which disrupts the memory storage process and changes the structure of the brain. No wonder why there are such strong links between exposure to traumatic events and substance use disorders, mental illness and chronic pain. 

In this post, we are going to explore how trauma, particularly unprocessed trauma, is often stored in the body. A person may look whole and healthy on the outside, but trauma can be festering in the meantime. 

What Happens to the Brain When We Experience Shock 

Every second of every day, somewhere between 18 and 640 trillion electric pulses are sent through the brain. Everything is carefully encoded and stored, which makes up your unique collection of memories and experiences. But when you go through a traumatic experience, it disrupts this system. 

Here are the parts of the brain responsible for processing stress: 

  • Hippocampus. The hippocampus is the center for emotion and memory. A person with underlying trauma often has a smaller hippocampus. 
  • Amygdala. The amygdala is the center for creativity and rumination. Its function increases with trauma, holding onto the intensity of an experience. 
  • Prefrontal cortex. When trauma occurs, the prefrontal cortex often shuts down, making it difficult to return to a normal state. 

Shock and trauma can linger in the body and interfere with healthy functioning. People with untreated trauma have a higher risk for substance use disorders, mental health disorders and physical problems like heart attack, cancer and obesity. But it’s not just the brain that holds onto this trauma. The body does, too. 

Yes, Even Your Body Holds Onto Trauma 

Trauma doesn’t just live in the brain. Early evidence of cellular memory shows that the body’s cells may hold an imprint of past traumatic events. It’s also a belief that when the nervous system can’t process trauma, the traumatic energy goes to the surrounding tissues, organs and muscles. 

When this happens, the brain disconnects from the tissues to block the experience, which is why some people can’t recall their trauma. Unfortunately, the brain won’t stay healthy or heal if there’s a disconnection from the body. 

To prevent trauma from becoming trapped in the body, you need to release it. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to do this. 

  • Therapy. Any type of talk therapy can help unlock traumatic memories. When these emotions release, healing can begin. 
  • Meditation and physical activity. These relaxation techniques also help release negative energy and promote healing from within. 
  • Shadow work. Everyone has a shadow – the part of ourselves that we reject. Shadow work brings the unconscious mind to the forefront so that you can examine your thoughts, feelings and assumptions. 
  • Intentional movement. Moving intentionally releases stored energy while teaching the brain to recognize the difference between tension and relaxation. 
  • Stillness. The opposite, stillness, can be an effective way to process trauma. You can let your thoughts and feelings come to consciousness using breathwork, calming music and positive affirmations.

Start Healing from Trauma Today 

Trauma must be processed and released. Otherwise, it “lives” in the body and can surface at any time, sabotaging your mood, self-confidence and relationships. If you have been struggling to process past trauma and are paying the price through an eating disorder, mental health disorder or unhealthy technology use, contact CTRLCare today