From Ken Collins: When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body.

Piecing it all together
Piecing it all together

When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body. Our brains control our ability to think, talk, move, and breathe. In addition to being responsible for our senses, emotions, memory, and personality, our brain allows every part of our body to function even when we’re sleeping.

The brain can be hijacked by the Amygdala in the limbic system after our brain injuries as outlined in this source:

Wikipedia: Daniel Goleman speaks about Amygdala hiijacking – Amygdala hijack is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.[1] Drawing on the work of Joseph E. LeDoux, Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.[2] From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the amygdala while another part is sent to the neocortex or “thinking brain”. If the amygdala perceives a match to the stimulus, i.e., if the record of experiences in the hippocampus tells the amygdala that it is a fight, flight or freeze situation, then the amygdala triggers the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received. If, however, the amygdala does not find any match to the stimulus received with its recorded threatening situations, then it acts according to the directions received from the neo-cortex. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it can lead that person to react irrationally and destructively.[3]

Goleman states that “[e]motions make us pay attention right now — this is urgent – and gives us an immediate action plan without having to think twice. The emotional component evolved very early: Do I eat it, or does it eat me?” The emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened.”[4]HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack”%5B5%5D An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.[4]

Goleman later emphasized that “self-control is crucial …when facing someone who is in the throes of an amygdala hijack”[6] so as to avoid a complementary hijacking – whether in work situations, or in private life. Thus for example ‘one key marital competence is for partners to learn to soothe their own distressed feelings…nothing gets resolved positively when husband or wife is in the midst of an emotional hijacking.'[7] The danger is that “when our partner becomes, in effect, our enemy, we are in the grip of an ‘amygdala hijack’ in which our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic center of our brain, rules our reactions without the benefit of logic or reason…which causes our bodies to go into a ‘fight or flight’ response.”[8].

Understanding the role stress plays on triggering the limbic system fight or flight response is critical for people to learn about after our brain injuries. Brain injuries are often described as either traumatic or acquired based on the cause of the injury.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an insult to the brain, not of a degenerative or congenital nature, which is caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness, and results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.

A TBI can affect our ability to, think and solve problems, move our body and speak, and control our behavior, emotions, and reactions.
Acquired brain injuries are caused by many medical conditions, including strokes, encephalitis, aneurysms, anoxia (lack of oxygen during surgery, drug overdose, or near drowning), metabolic disorders, meningitis, and brain tumors.

Although the causes of brain injury differs, the effects of these injuries on a person’s life are quite similar.

This is why understanding about the consequences of stress on the limbic system after a brain injury is so important.

Understanding the Sympathetic Nervous System in the brain injury recovery process is seldom talked about to us after our brain injuries by doctors or health care professionals because they only treat the symptoms.

The following information is critical to understand and has great value for people with brain injuries and their families to understand.
The Sympathetic Nervous System – “limbic system is autonomic” and creates many problems people with brain injuries face during our recovery process. If people with brain injuries don’t understand the Sympathetic Nervous System and how it works – our family members and friends react to our emotions and unwittingly create more stress for us for us to deal with.

This stress triggers the “limbic system’s fight or flight response” into action.

We do not have any control over what we are reacting to because of the stress that is being generated by our emotions shuts down the thinking part of our brain – pre-frontal cortex.

What happens next is – we react and they react, the stress builds and we lose control, get angry and have emotional meltdowns or worse.
During any stressful situation our loved ones react to our “actions” and we react to theirs – which increases our stress during those hard and difficult times.

We (family members/ people with brain injuries and friends) get caught up in a reactionary mode instead of being proactive to keep the limbic system in check.

If we set up daily routines, have structure and find purpose and meaning in our lives we have a better chance of controlling stress and the situations that trigger the limbic system fight or flight response.

If we do not control the stress, our families and friends will constantly be reacting to issues we have little control over. Learning relaxation techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction can help to stay calm so the limbic system is managed.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help with this and I encourage you to look this up on the internet because there is a lot to learn about this tool that can help us rebuild or lives after a brain injury.

After our brain injuries “emotional outbursts, anger, and memory issues” are an expression of the problems caused by our limbic system fight or flight response under stress. By understanding how our emotions can get out of control we will have a better understanding of why we react to things that don’t make any sense to us.

There is a reason for all this madness and by learning the role the sympathetic nervous system plays in our recovery, the better chance we have to live full and rewarding lives again – after our brain injuries!

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

4 thoughts on “From Ken Collins: When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body.”

  1. Thanks for doing this – I really apreciate it! Here is something a friend just sent me: Love for the Amygdala
    Integrative Psychiatric Healing Center
    Will Van Derveer, MD
    Love for the Amygdala
    Posted on January 4, 2016
    Mind experiences reality through ordinary and non-ordinary perception. Brain, however, is limited in perception to the 5 ordinary senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
    Non-ordinary perceptions include dream imagery, gut feelings, intuition, synchronicities, and déjà vu, for example. Shamanic journeying and other deliberately-induced hypnotic trance states, with skillful guidance, can also open doors to non-ordinary perception, where we might be able to unearth disavowed parts of ourselves. Indigenous traditions dating back thousands of years and all over the globe have relied on the local shaman to provide communities with critical information from non-ordinary reality.
    Connecting with the “unseen world” has been a lifeline to ancestral wisdom in Africa forever, without which healthy communities and individuals cease to exist. Wholeness is the dynamic mystery of interconnection of the various aspects of the universe, unseen and seen.
    Fear is an impulse to cut ties and separate and defend, a signal from the sentry on the guard tower in the citadel of Self, back to headquarters, that says: drop the portcullis and arm the cannons. As mammals, our amygdala are robust protectors, something like our immune system is to the gut: sorting threats from all of the rest of the information we perceive.
    Do mammals need a threat response? The survival of our body depends on it. But the amygdala needs something it does not often get: enough down time and reassurances after a stressful event to know that it has left threat and returned to security. Like a guard who is never relieved from duty, the amygdala can begin to act a little odd…
    This dysfunction is recognizable to the conscious mind only later, when we overreact to a new situation. The amygdala has fired shots into the air because it is does not know that the present situation is non-threatening. We can tell this is happening when we feel “triggered” by someone or something which is in fact non-threatening, and we act out of anger or fear. Amygdala signals are driving our nervous system and our bodies out of the window of tolerability and into hyper vigilance, fight or flight, or even freeze. The amygdala is a repository for undigested intense experiences, and it uses uncomfortable sensation and emotion to remind us we have more emotional digesting to do. These signals fire off whenever a new experience smells, feels, looks, tastes or sounds like the undigested memory.
    Quite literally, traumatic memories are not recorded where “normal” memories are stored. These memories in fact have unresolved ties with the amygdala, until they are released through trauma healing techniques. Like an old laptop computer with a slow processor and very limited memory, the amygdala malfunctions when too many big files are left on its little hard drive for too long.
    The poor beleaguered amygdala has to receive and label every new experience and decide if it is threatening or non-threatening. And the default is set for threatening.
    Fear for anything unfamiliar, coupled with fear for events which smack of previously-experienced trauma, crimps the bandwidth of energetic flow of love, both given and received. Repeated experiences of overwhelm can be a vicious cycle contracting into more and more isolation and more and more fear. For deeply traumatized people, it is as if fear is their one remaining, and only trustworthy, companion.
    The process of spiritual awakening is the turning of the vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle. Gradually we remodel and stretch our conduit of love, wider and wider, until the reference points of self and other are eventually lost in the bliss of oneness. When we truly experience our essence, which is indivisible from everyone and everything, then our human apparatus, even with its antiquated mammalian fight/flight system and its brainstem-mediated freeze mechanism, can enlighten itself by truly experiencing the ecstasy of knowing that there is nothing to defend, nothing to win or lose, nothing to fear, not even death. Some fellow human beings have accomplished this: Jesus, Gautama Buddha, possibly Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, certainly many others. We are all capable of this natural state of non-fear. Love is the natural state of life. Fear is the shadow to its light. Fear, in fact, is an illusion created by the nervous system in order to trick the organism into implementing self-preservation behavior. Same mechanism used to great effect by political regimes and religions which instill fear or guilt in order to dominate the behavior of its subjects.
    We prepare for our adventure of self discovery by gathering a few essential tools. Having a guide is extremely useful. Someone like Gandalf in the Hobbit books. There are many living masters, who are like us working through the illusion of fear. Our guides are not different from us, only a few steps further down the path. I also recommend a great deal of inquiry into the shadow, with a good flashlight! Such a flashlight is powered with honesty and self-responsibility and humbleness and curiosity and kindness so that we may rescue the wretched creatures (hate, fear, shame, and so many others) we once out of necessity locked in the dungeons of the mind. Then these parts can take their places within the ever-expanding sense of wholeness we come to know as our limitless self. A jolly band of fellow adventurers is also highly recommended.
    One very effective way to heal our love constriction is through loving relationships. I think most people who are widening their bandwidth for love probably do it that way. When we share a loving gaze with a loved one, the hormone oxytocin is released by the pituitary glands in both parties. This “love hormone” down regulates the amygdala, lessening fear. Being seen really is healing. So many of us grew up without enough being seen, loved, accepted, or supported enough.
    A potent complement to expanding the conduit of love through relationships is the shamanic journey. Ancient methods of healing, as well as modern ones, are based in this technology. Hypnosis, somatic experiencing, EMDR, brain spotting, even some forms of psychoanalysis (such as free-association, Jungian spontaneous writing, and dream analysis) involve a light trance or altered state within which material from the unconscious (unseen) mind becomes much more accessible. Guidance from a skilled practitioner may help one access the sources of the constrictions we wish to heal. These expeditions into our shadow material are essential. If we are to become whole, we must first know all the dark corners where we harbor resentments, pacts of revenge, unmet desires and needs. These skeletons in the closet of the mind are discovered not to be bogey men at all, but just a non-threatening collection of bones. All of these ‘dark energies,’ when accepted and loved, are liberated from their exile where we confined them, into light as aspects of a whole integrated self.
    A healthy expansive self correlates with having a brain whose metabolic desires are whole and integrated as well. An adult having a temper tantrum is literally not using the adult part of the brain (the cortex), as blood flow is shunted to the overworking amygdala and other lower brain areas.
    If we are to succeed in the epic endeavor to grow to our unlimited potential to embody divinity while inhabiting human bodies, we must find a way to love the amygdala.
    This entry was posted in Articles by willvanderveer. Bookmark the permalink.

    Ken Collins, Program Manager
    San Juan Center for Independence-Gallup
    1300 West Maloney
    200 Rio West Mall
    Gallup, New Mexico 87301
    PH: 505-726-2709
    Work Cell: 505-330-1885
    FAX: 505-726-2735

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