#3 – Limbic Trauma Loops – A Deeper Understanding

The Neuro Light Experience keeps opening new doors for me.  The subjects of Neuroplasticity, Brain Networks and Adaption are so very ripe with new views and understandings. One area in particular is strongly affecting me.  It is both profound and (most probably) very common.  This is the Limbic Trauma Loop.  I have discussed it a little before and, now would like to go deeper.

The basics

All organisms seek to survive.  This is also true of we humans of course and is an "urge" we share with all beings of all types.  There are basically two types of survival: 1) survival of the individual and 2) survival of the species (through reproduction). As humans, we are equipped with a highly sensitive "security system" that monitors all incoming stimulation. This "security system" inspects the flow of stimulation and (essentially) categorizes it into two domains: 1) no threat and 2) threat. Good/bad.  Attraction/aversion. Positive/negative. You get the idea. This "security system" is the Limbic Network. Before the year 2000 it was technically referred to as the paleo-mammalian system.  Even earlier, it was (infamously) called the Reptilian Brain indicating that it developed at a very very early stage of evolution. In Nature, systems that are found to work well are typically kept and integrated into other entities.

So what happens?

When stimulation passes through the Limbic Network for scrutiny, a "feeling" state is generated that accompanies the No Threat/Threat assessment. If it is a Threat, a "feeling" state combines with the shift in the nervous system and endocrine system that prepares us to encounter the Threat to our survival. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system flips into a stress response with all its parallel neurotransmitters and altered muscle tone. The endocrine system spits out stress/survival hormones. The stage is set for fight/flight/freeze. Meanwhile, the flow of stimulation (saturated with the "feeling" state) finally reaches the cortex where....we assign some thinking to what we can now properly call an "experience"!!! We are not thinking creatures that feel...we are feeling creatures that think.

The Limbic Trauma Loop

If (and more likely, when) we experience a significant trauma that is valued as being a real threat to our survival, it is possible that this trauma so strongly effects the Limbic Network that the Limbic Network becomes even more biased towards categorizing incoming stimulation as a THREAT. In a way, the Limbic Network (as a main "security system) becomes prejudiced and over reactive. This is the rooting of the Limbic Trauma Loop...and the beginning of a new set of challenges. The initial significant trauma interestingly can come from a wide range of threats. It can be as fundamental as a strong viral, bacterial or fungal infection. An unfortunately common one these days is a toxic exposure to some type of chemicals (pesticides, cleaning agents, industrial byproducts, etc). It could be physical trauma such as a car accident or wounds from violence such as crime or war. Serious illness of any type can easily leave such an imprint in the Limbic Network. Naturally, and maybe most commonly, serious psycho-emotional traumas and abuse (including sexual abuse) can easily create a biasing imprint in the Limbic Network. Once the Limbic Trauma Loop is established, it will cause a hypersensitive response to the class of stimulation that was first associated with the Threat Trauma. Seeing above the possible list, you can easily imagine that anything in the same type of threat becomes a suspicious stimulation...and with a "better safe than sorry" attitude towards survival, the number of suspicious types of stimulations keeps growing and expanding. At an advanced stage, the "threat" reaction bleeds over to other previously unrelated areas. The smallest sensitivity can be magnified and reacted to as a threat. Our body and mind start manifesting more and more symptoms of stress. We have a very difficult time completely relaxing. There is the constant "feeling" that "something is not right"....."there is always something wrong". Anxiety and depression can set in. We start to have illnesses and become sensitive to many types of food. We change our behaviors and become more and more controlling in an effort to limit the sense of constant threat. The more we look, the more we find things that irritate and unsettle us. Habits can evolve into obsessive-compulsive rituals and schedules. Remember that it is the "feeling" state that we are first aware of and not the thinking response....BUT....when we start getting more and more of these "feelings", the tendency is to desperately come up with all sorts of "ideas" to attempt to make sense of it all. There is a tendency to put blame on innocent experiences and even people. Here is THE BIG DEAL....the Limbic Network is not telling us the truth anymore. But the "lies" are so convincing that our body, emotions and thoughts fall into line with the false messages from the biased Limbic Network. This kind of thing can and does happen because a creature always trades short term survival over long term wellbeing. This at first may seem bizarre but just think about it. What is the point of long term survival and wellbeing if you don't survive a short term threat? You would be DEAD. So....as I have studied more deeply the subjects of Neuroplasticity, Brain Networks and Adaption, the role of the Limbic Network and its mal-adaptive Limbic Trauma Loop cousin have been making a dramatic impact on my appreciations of Total Brain Wellness.