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The Present is Actually the Past: The Process of Trauma

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Below is a walkthrough of the four main pillars I identify and explain to all clients dealing with anxiety, panic, and/or trauma. Please message or chat me for any questions or comments.

1. Significant Event

The beginning of trauma is a significant, negative or mostly negative event

+ This is an easily identifiable trauma event, a series of more minor events (C-PTSD),

or a near neutral event that gets stuck and remains unprocessed

● Client records three main pieces into memory: The experience through all five

senses, an emotional and body sensation, and a negative cognition forms

about the self in relation to the event

+ “Healthy” memories discard the emotional response in the body and the negative

cognition, and only the lesson learned from the event is processed into adaptive


+ This is part of our drive to survive as human animals (mammals)

2. No Integration Into Adaptive Memory

● Trauma experience becomes locked into separate network that maintains the emotion

and negative cognition or belief

● “Stuck” trauma networks light up when heavily stressed or a trigger occurs that relates in

some way (according to your brain)

+ Survival response: The brain wants to always predict the future to prepare us for

survival. As mammals, survival is priority #1 to our brain and amygdala

When this stuck, unprocessed trauma memory is activated the original emotions and

negative cognition from a past event return and influence our response to a present


Logic centers in the frontal lobe become nearly inaccessible and emotion (some

representation of fear) becomes the guiding force for decision making and reaction in

that moment

3. Driven by A.B.C.s of R.E.B.T.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) describes A.B.C.s of everyday interaction as

this is occurring at all times and in conjunction with trauma response

+ A = Activating Event (Trigger)

* We are constantly activated by everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell

*Also, what we think. Especially for those who may experience some form of

psychosis such as paranoid or delusional beliefs

+ B = Belief (Perception)

*The person then develops a belief about what this activating event or trigger

means to them

*This is based off current experience + past experience

+ C = Consequence (Emotion and Behavior)

*The person then has an emotional response to the situation based on this belief

and a behavior is then activated in response to the emotion and belief

To change a behavior that is unwanted the thought or belief that drives it must be

changed (goal of CBT)

+ The core of anxiety or trauma is the “stuck” negative memory that is not processed

and still contains the emotion and negative cognition

+ The negative thought is just a symptom not the driving force, the unprocessed

negative memory is the core issue and results in the negative cognition symptom

4. Anxiety Response Mind/Body Results

With A.B.C. occurring at all times and trauma networks/memories being activated, the

anxiety response is initiated too easily and too often

The amygdala (“fire alarm”) in the brain has been influenced by stressful events and may

become hypersensitive, it actually increases in physical size in response to trauma

over time

The brain will perceive the person’s life is under threat due to a social stressor (influenced

by past trauma) and it will sound the “alarm” (activate amygdala), falsely predicting

threat to life

The brain then sends a signal to the body and this triggers the central nervous system to

shift towards the sympathetic, or “hot”, system

This then activates the Fight/Flight/Freeze response and limits access to frontal lobe

(logic/foresight/etc.), making emotional and survival mind lead

The body is then activated through a series of physical changes to prepare to survive

+ Heart rate increases due to blood being redirected from non-vital operations

(digestion, sexual arousal, etc.) to muscles to prepare explosive energy to fight or

flight, and due to blood vessels constricting to prevent heavy bleeding if injured

+ Breathing becomes shallow and rapid as body tries to pull in as much oxygen as

possible to fuel the movement of blood and help fuel the muscles for fight or flight

+ The body shakes due to adrenaline and cortisol release into the blood, which gives a

large boost in energy and the cortisol helps manage pain that may incur

+ The body sweats to cool down core temperature due to increased activity

+ Person may experience stomach issues or sexual dysfunction due to no blood

available to fuel these operations during anxiety/panic

The individual is then essentially stuck between the choice of attack (fight) or run (flight),

or zone out/disassociate (freeze) if the brain perceives no escape or ability to fight off


This response keeps us alive when our life is under threat, but it complicates our life

when it is the response to a social threat/stressor

+ The response in the mind and body in anxiety mode is not useful for social threats

+ One can not attack a large bill or run away if the car does not start and running late

to work

+ The physical response of anxiety is only useful if trying to survive a threat to human

life, not social life

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