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Complex Trauma, The Brain, & Neuroplasticity
Healing Complex Trauma through Neuroplasticity

Written by Ashley Posey

Hello, beautiful soul. I am Ashley Dianne Posey, and I believe in the integrative path to healing. I am a free spirited, trauma-informed psychotherapist and Reiki master who incorporates the scientific with the energetic and spiritual. Writing is a love language for me, and my intention here is to create a space for learning, laughing, healing, and getting to know a little more about me.

The complexities and intricacies of the brain have always been a source of curiosity for me. This incredible organ that controls thought, emotion, memory, touch, breathing, motor skills, temperature, hunger, and every process that regulates the body has so much power in how we experience the world around us!

When I first embarked on my own healing journey, I can remember being terrified that the damage was already done. I had an immense amount of shame related to my own complex trauma history. Through my own therapy, it was such a relief to me to learn about the brain’s capacity to heal through the concept of neuroplasticity. I share this with you now with the intention of bringing you hope in your own resiliency and deep capacity to heal.

First, a little about complex trauma…

Complex trauma refers to prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences typically occurring in childhood or over an extended period. It typically involves interpersonal trauma experienced within the context of a close relationship.  It often is experienced as a betrayal of trust, which can result in substantial emotional, psychological, and physical distress.

Some examples can look like (but are not limited to):

  • physical abuse
  • sexual assault
  • emotional abuse
  • bullying
  • abandonment (emotionally or physically by a caregiver)
  • witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
  • harassment
  • family dysfunction
  • exposure to a caregiver’s addiction

Complex trauma can have lasting impacts that disrupt our sense of safety, trust, and attachment, resulting in difficulty regulating emotions, forming and maintaining healthy relationships, self-esteem issues, disassociation, problems with self-perception, and identity disturbance.

In relationship to the brain, trauma can have a significant impact on the areas involving:

  • emotional processing (the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, insula, and anterior cingulate  cortex)
  • memory (the hippocampus)
  • decision-making and impulse control (also the prefrontal cortex)
  • the body’s heightened stress response (the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal)

It is important to note that complex trauma is a highly individualized experience (i.e. the impact of interpersonal trauma may differ from person to person). I believe that it is increasingly imperative to hold space for ourselves and others as we collectively examine our experience of complex trauma.

The Good News = Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s remarkable ability to heal and reorganize itself by forming new neural connections, as well as by modifying existing ones based on experience, learning, and environmental changes. Neuroplasticity informs recovery from complex trauma in the learning (and unlearning) of the behaviors and patterns of responses that are associated with our trauma. When we learn and consistently implement new coping strategies for regulating emotions and forming positive relationships, we begin to create new “default’ neural pathways that lend to our continued healing and recovery.

Some psychotherapeutic techniques that leverage the healing benefits of neuroplasticity include:

  • trauma- focused therapy
  • art therapy
  • mindfulness- based interventions
  • somatic experiencing
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy)
  • Inner child healing

Outside of therapy, relaxation-based activities such as  meditation and breathing exercises can permit rewiring of brain circuits involved in fear, anxiety, and the stress response. Creating a supporting environment that stimulates the brain (i.e. physical movement/exercise, artistic expressions, self-care, and positive social interactions can also promote healing and neuroplasticity.

Possibly the most important function of neuroplasticity is that of providing hope for the deep capacity to innately heal ourselves from complex trauma.

If you’re curious about your own capacity for healing your trauma, trying to acknowledge/discern your own trauma experience for the first time, or just ready to learn some skills to improve your self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, and quality of life, please give me a call. I would be honored to support you on your healing journey.

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