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Woman on a Deserted Road

Healing the brain - A survivors guide

Updated: May 3

Did you know many people who survive trauma, especially DV or have PTSD may also have ADHD like behaviours? The constant activation of fight or flight response causes immeasurable  damage to concentration, motivation and ability to succeed, leaving many survivors numb, foggy, unable to focus and understandably with a damaged ability to trust. Victims can stay perpetually in a child like phase of life, clinging to the 'familiar' unable to mature.

Studying phenomenology and experiential learning during my Education Masters provided an opportunity to learn about the impact of experiences on brain function and development.  People who survive trauma may stay with those that provide a comfort zone... not a good environment, just a familiar one, even if it is within the environment that’s damaging. They may step out of the zone but will often return.

This is no reflection on their  intelligence, but it is a very devastating result and a sad reality when these victims may never reach their full potential and utilise their abilities and skills... often too damaged, the most brilliant individuals stay within the comfort zone because it's familiar.

There is a very good reason I left my ex, my abuser, because I had to save my son's brain from being damaged by his father... and  it's the same reason I am weary of what and who he is exposed to. I can't risk ever exposing my son to anything like that again. It causes permanent changes in the natural development of the brain... Along with further trauma as an adult. It can have devastating impacts on the possibility of living a full life, so protecting  my baby (now 13) has to come first always...

Ironically victims of trauma who don’t break out and instead form a loyal bond to an abuser can instead hide in their comfort zone and repeat the same behaviours that caused  them the damage in the first place. This often results in intergenerational domestic violence. We all know how hard it is to break the bonds of the familiar but there becomes an unhealthy bond to that which hurt us simply because we fear what we don’t know. "Better the devil you know" has a frightening relevance to DV.

Breaking old patterns is the key, and gently rewiring the brain. Often traumatised people’s poor decisions, behaviour and repeating the mistakes of the past is not based on a lack of values or ethics it’s based on emotions being poorly developed due to damage and that will take time and therapy to heal.

Survivors also often have guilt on some level, often children of violent homes feel guilty towards their mothers , they sometimes think maybe they  could have  helped her. Too often it creates a rather unhealthy level of loyalty or overprotectiveness to her (which I’m very conscious of my child developing) and that loyalty can outweigh future  loyalty to partners. My reading and research through interviewing survivors confirms this is  a common issue with sons of abused mothers.

Trauma victims may also have had to perpetrate their own actions for survival that give them immense guilt and trauma. Victims can react and respond to abuse as part of the fight response leaving them with feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings can keep them distant from intimacy in all forms.

Survivors of trauma may have  child like tantrums due to the trauma, but it’s important to understand  that the brain can heal and self regulation can be practiced and taught. And regained.

When my son was little he had therapy on self regulation…  he had no off switch…  but we began these incredible therapies that reconnected him to his body and surroundings and we had practice activities to complete using scenarios where he needed to reflect on appropriate behaviour. Working through these helped him to learn regulation of his behaviour based on circumstances using a coding system to categorise different situations and how to behave, being mellow yellow, for calm quiet time, cool blue for when we need to do activities but calmly and  racing red like when you might be playing outdoors or doing sport. After about a year he finally self regulated, the reminders and excercise’s trained his brain to self regulate.

His physical motor skills were also underdeveloped and it was critically linked to his lack of self regulation mentally and emotionally as was his stuttering which took years of therapy to rectify. All of which with care, love and time are healed. The extent to which the brain impacts both behaviour and physical responses can’t be ignored.

Some survivors coping mechanisms are adrenaline based activity which doesn’t really help their brain and body to heal... it does help effectively burn off cortisol.. whereas yoga , walking, writing and art for me  has been my therapy.

My yoga study broke me free of the past and trauma and for the most part I don't think about it any longer. Having  a child that needed my love stopped me from emotionally shutting down that's where children can be the most incredible  healing force in our lives.   

Support around you to help pull you out of the disfunctionsl comfort zone can reduce survivors need for the familiar, however years and years of being stuck in an awful cycle almost like Stockholm syndrom means victims often stay stuck if a conscious effort is not made to move forward.

Some survivors can get out and start fresh but they stay in family circles, social groups and cultures where they are miserable but familiar, they stay in friendships, homes, living situations, poverty, unemployment etc. I have been there, but it’s  a really awful example of how stuck people can be, how the brain becomes so wired to endure negativity that their fight or flight moves to freeze. Antisocial culture becomes so normal that it's hard to see there is a whole new life awaiting.

It’s like the fight or flight reaction has turned into nothingness, feelings of nothingness and numbness even after they are free and able to move on the numbness remains, without the right therapy, support and physical development they can remain in this comfort zone indefinitely.

Survivors moods can be impacted by the change in hormones during abuse. Constant cortisol can cause a reduction in natural serotonin balance. I balance my hormones with yoga and daily walking and doing arts snd crafts.  I know it sounds simplistic but they help return your hormones to balanced levels whereas doing aggressive sport and adrenaline causing activities can make hormone issues in survivors worse and stress their body rather than helping it heal.

Creating a mentally and physically healthy and enjoyable environment with improved  lifestyle will help balance your hormones and improve your mood.  Creating a new safe place where you have normal healthy memories made is far more  beneficial to your recovery than many realise.

Doing yoga helps your serotonin levels, as does walking in nature. These will help reduce mood swings. Outburst are your amygdala causing an overreaction to minor things because of your low seroton. When I studied and taught emotional intelligence I was astounded to see the simplicity of something so devastating… then later when  I completed my yoga studies I decided to include this knowledge  as part of my 8 week yoga philosophy program.

More recently I’ve been investigating durable, resilient and humanistic skills for academics… the combination of mindfulness, communication and emotional intelligence training are precursors for success. I realise now my joy and success with my own professional career which is leading the University Educator Capability Development is likely to do with my serotonin levels,  they promote leadership abilities and impact on motivation and the joy you derive from your work or life.

In short …

Low serotonin = life problems

Solution = yoga,  walking, diet,  therapy …

None of this is a quick fix. However I can attest to its effectiveness and hope you find some benefits from reflecting on the lessons in this article.



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