“Neuroplasticity provides us with a brain that can adapt not only to changes inflicted by damage, but allows adaptation to any and all experiences and changes we may encounter…”
Severe childhood trauma can adversely affect the way in which the brain develops, leading to, for example, extremes in anxiety or great difficulty in controlling emotions. However, there has been exciting research conducted showing that the brain is able, under certain conditions, to ‘rewire’ itself, correcting its own faulty circuitry, and, thus, alleviating the behavioral and emotional problems caused by the original damage.
NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER WIRE TOGETHER
- Neurons that fire at the same time repeatedly wire together through chemical changes that occur in both to create a bond making them connect more strongly
- Neurons that fire apart wire apart
- Neurons out of sync fail to link
- Brain maps work by spatially grouping together events that happen together
- Brain maps will grow as the skill is being learned
- After many repetitions, the skill is learned
- It takes fewer neurons within the area to perform the task
- The neurons became faster and more efficient, requiring less to keep the skill functioning
The adult brain is much more changeable and modifiable than had previously been believed. There is now a large amount of evidence to show that damaged neural (brain) circuitry resulting from severe childhood trauma can be corrected, reshaping our brain anatomy and consequent behaviour, with the right kind of therapeutic interventions. In other words, it is now clear that brain architecture continues to change throughout adulthood, and this can be manipulated in highly beneficial directions.
Many people who suffer extreme childhood trauma go on to develop personality disorders as adults; one hallmark of these disorders is rigid, destructive behavioral patterns. Research is now showing, however, that certain therapeutic interventions, due to neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change itself), can change those behaviors to become more flexible and adaptive (helpful in creating a more successful life).
The brain is arguably the most fascinating and impressive organ in the human body. Medical and scientific professionals alike are only beginning to mine its vast complexities. Of particular interest to those involved in the field of trauma recovery is the area of neuroplasticity. This refers to how the brain is wired and its extraordinary capacity to rewire neuro pathways.
Here is how it works: as a young person, probably around the age of 15 or 16, you learned to drive a car; this took a great deal of intentional thought and effort. Remember how you gripped the steering wheel and carefully executed every action? Now, you hop into the driver’s seat without giving it a second thought. This is because your brain laid down a neuro pathway for the completion of this task; from start to finish, a set of synapses occur to complete the action.
In trauma, a similar pathway is set down; it can even be additionally engrained due to shock or intensity. Therefore, when a single trigger or set of triggers occur, the emotions associated with the trauma are revisited.
But, due to neuroplasticity, this does not always have to be the case. New pathways can be created through changes in behavior, environment and neuro processes. Not only is the brain capable of creating new pathways, it is designed to do so. The brain is highly resilient and desires flexibility. The brain functions at its best when it is limber and rich with options. The incredible thing is that the human brain has a very real desire to heal itself.
Creating new pathways necessitates a great deal of awareness, mindfulness and acknowledgment of the present. Yet, in time, these new pathways will eclipse the old, thus allowing trauma survivors.
Your brain is constantly adapting and rewiring itself. Your thoughts and behaviors influence this process. If certain thoughts and behaviors are repeated often enough, a strong connection, also known as a neural pathway, is created.
Just think of your brain as a dynamic, connected power grid, with billions of roads and pathways lighting up every time you think, feel or do something. Some of these roads are well travelled. These are your habits; your established ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Every time you think in a certain way, practice a particular task, or feel a specific emotion, you strengthen this road, and it becomes easier for your brain to travel this pathway.
A ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
When you think about something differently, learn a new task, or choose a different emotion, you are carving out a new road. If you keep traveling that road, your brain begins to use this pathway more and this new way of thinking. Feeling and doing becomes second nature. The old pathway becomes used less and less and it weakens. This process of rewiring your brain by forming new connections and weakening old ones is neuroplasticity in action.
One reason why it is so difficult to change the way you think, feel, and behave is that your beliefs and corresponding neural pathways have been formed early in life. They have been reinforced and strengthened, over and over again. In other words, your brain activity has carved out a deep and well traveled road. If that road remains and no new roads are built and strengthened, it is very difficult to change your ways, and you will easily fall back into old patterns. Creating and strengthening new, positive neural pathways is an essential part of achieving lasting change.
The good news is that we all have the ability to learn and change by rewiring our brains. If you have ever changed a bad habit, or thought about something differently, you have carved a new pathway in your brain, experiencing neuroplasticity firsthand. With repeated and directed attention towards your desired change, you can effectively rewire your brain to move forward and live a healthy, abundant life.