Moving forwards after a trauma
Last week I posted a video of Andrew Huberman talking about neuro-science, and today I wanted to highlight one of the areas he spoke about. In conversation with Tom Bilyeu, he was talking about how to heal trauma.
Experiencing symptoms of being traumatised means that the same thing is happening inside us again and again and again, we’re stuck in a loop of being triggered and reacting, and the same thing repeating and repeating. It can be in many forms, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, habitual emotional responses here and now that reflect then and there, how it presents varies.
What is consistent though, is that we don’t heal until we find ways to move forwards, to begin to experience one thing after another if you like, different stuff, here and now stuff.
What fascinated me about Huberman’s talk, was that he explained that the action of moving forwards itself can heal the experience of trauma. He explained that it literally changes the chemistry in a part of the brain’s frontal cortex and re-wires us. Having a sense of agency, that we have influence and can cause things, which he describes as feeling like winners, gives a hit of the chemical dopamine. What’s more, when we sense we win this begets further winning, just as when we feel trapped, helpless and hopeless, or we lose, this also causes us to behave in ways more likely to get more of the same.
For healing, Huberman suggested we need not only the dopamine hit of seeking for things outside of ourselves, but also that we need to release oxytocin and serotonin, and that these come from warmer motivators, from love, touch and gratitude. For health, both of these circuits need to be firing.
What was hopeful about Huberman’s explanation was that he was able to explain that by taking action, and by deliberately introducing new thoughts, we can help our own nervous system organise itself differently. He counselled against suppressing negative thoughts, and instead suggested giving ourselves the dopamine reward of recognising small, incremental steps about forward action and growth e.g. I made it through today, I got one thing ticked off my to do list, I got out of the house today. These deliberate thoughts act like a buffer to the giving up pattern that might otherwise dominate, and they help us motivate ourselves to take more incremental steps and build build build towards health.
Another suggestion was the power of getting excited about the personal learning process itself. Acknowledging yourself for trying and giving things a go, even if they don’t work out every time is important, we can feel better for making the effort and doing something, and that can be another virtuous cycle.
Isn’t it nice to know that when you take action, and think enabling thoughts, you are actually changing your brain chemistry and developing yourself? Sometimes you may also need help to clear out past trauma, but it’s nice to know there is much in our individual gift, whether therapy is needed or not.