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Trauma and the Brain

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

by Juanima Hiatt

According to the dictionary, a trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing event.” In that sense, a trauma can include seemingly common, yet difficult, life events such as divorce, a severe illness, or losing a loved one, to extreme events such as rape, war, acts of violence, sexual abuse, or torture.

25% of people can’t “get over it.”

Most people, with adequate support and guidance, are able to heal naturally from trauma and go on to live a healthy life. However, 25% of people who endure a trauma are simply not able to “let it go,” or “get over it.”

These individuals go on to experience daily, unwanted mental reminders of that event for months, or even years, afterward.

They may be stuck experiencing:

  • Shock or denial

  • Anxiety or fear

  • Anger, irritability, or mood swings

  • Sleep issues, insomnia, or nightmares

  • Flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about the event

  • Self-blame, guilt or shame

  • Withdrawing from others or isolation

  • Feeling numb or disconnected

  • Feeling sad or hopeless

  • Being startled easily

  • Edginess or a short fuse

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Exhaustion or fatigue

  • Muscle aches and pains

If this describes your experience, you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone. There is a simple explanation for why your mind and body are going haywire.

When we experience trauma, the amygdala (our Fear Center in the brain) activates fight-or-flight for our survival. The neocortex (our Thinking Center) slows way down so that our survival response can take over. Post-trauma, our nervous system has been overwhelmed, and for those individuals who get stuck emotionally in their trauma, the memory of that event has also become stuck – unprocessed – in the amygdala.

Our brain thinks the past is still the present.

The amygdala made a sensory-based recording of every detail of that traumatic event through sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. But in a system overwhelmed by the event, no narrative was provided, and thus the memory fails to be processed through the hippocampus, into the neocortex where it would have become a past event.

Why “triggers” exist

As the memory lingers in the amygdala, and those sensory recordings remain at the forefront, your brain does its job spectacularly to protect you from potential dangers. It is constantly on the look-out, and it “pattern matches” those sensory recordings to all future events. If any one of those sensory experiences are triggered, your fight-or-flight will kick in once again, and you might physically and emotionally feel the anxiety and fear of that event once more.

So for instance, if someone witnessed a robbery at a convenience store by someone in a black hoodie, any similar sensory experience at a later time could trigger the trauma pattern. This might include seeing someone in a black hoodie, or hearing bells similar to those that chime when someone enters a convenience store. It could be any raised voice, if the robber yelled threats at the clerk.

Without context, that traumatic event remains an unprocessed memory in the brain, and as your nervous systems stays in a state of fight-or-flight, you might find your ability to cope begins to weaken.


The Rewind Technique processes that memory for GOOD, and in literally one to three sessions (usually just one), that memory officially becomes a past event, the pattern matching ceases, and all reactive symptoms associated with that event dissipate.

We also have a list of Rewind Technique FAQs to answer all of your questions!

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