Some who have witnessed or been the victim of a traumatic experience can be described as having “trauma brain.”  In this article, we explore the symptoms of trauma and trauma brain. We also share how to help a loved one suffering after a traumatic experience.




Trauma is a buzzword floating around our communities and media. For good reason. According to The National Council, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” The event could be a one-time incident, like a natural disaster, a physical attack, or the sudden loss of a loved one. But it could also be a repeated past experience such as ongoing neglect, emotional or physical abuse, or being bullied at home or school.




Research shows three important areas of the brain often change (or adapt) after trauma and function differently. These areas of the brain become under-active or overactive. This has the potential to significantly impact how one processes, interprets and reacts to their traumatic experience as well as future (even non-threatening) experiences.


There are three areas in the brain that change…


  1. The Prefrontal Cortex (the Thinking Center) becomes under-active. This reduces one’s ability to solve problems, make decisions, and regulate thoughts and negative emotions such as fear.


  1. The Hippocampus (the Memory Center) becomes under-active. This decreases one’s ability to distinguish between past memories (i.e. the traumatic experience) and present circumstances which can greatly increases the possibility of flashbacks and triggered responses, even in non-threatening situations.


  1. The Amygdala (the Emotion Center) becomes overactive. This keeps the brain aroused in “fight or flight,” decreasing one’s stress tolerance and ability to control emotions.





With these changes, the brain remains stuck in the past traumatic experience. This makes it difficult for victims to access healthy coping mechanisms that are wired into the brain.

So, when an event in the present moment triggers the traumatic memory, the brain begins to act as if it is still in the same danger as the original traumatic experience. This brings up feelings of intense horror, fear, and danger that were experienced at the time of the traumatic event.

Symptoms may appear during, immediately after or after some time has passed since the traumatic experience.


Symptoms of Trauma Brain May Include:
  • Extreme stress and overwhelm
  • Hypervigilance
  • Easily irritated
  • Incongruent responses for the circumstance
  • Inability to cope with negative situations
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to make a decision
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Feelings of depression or malaise
  • Inability to feel happiness or gratitude
  • Inability to calm or soothe oneself
  • Memory impairment
  • Difficulty sleeping

As you can see, trauma brain has a significant negative impact on victims. Moreover, these symptoms are mostly out of the victim’s control.





Victims of trauma often don’t understand why they react as they do. Therefore, supporting a loved one through a traumatic experience is invaluable.

1. Understand

Understand that their interpretation of the experience is uniquely their own and acknowledge their reactions and emotions are true for them. Also, understand that that their responses may not be appropriate for a given situation and they may not be able to control their emotions without professional support.

2. Communicate

Open lines of communication and be available if they want to talk (again) about their experience. And, though they may not be able to communicate it well, ask what they need and how you can best support them.

3. Seek Professional Support

Identify and acknowledge that you may not be able to effectively support your loved one through this tough time. Consider scheduling an appointment (for yourself and/or your loved one) with a trauma-informed therapist with specific training to help process trauma and return the brain to its natural functioning


Unresolved trauma can burden someone for years. Learn about the 5 Signs of Unresolved Childhood Trauma in Adults.


Left untreated, trauma can make one feel alone and as if they will never live a happy life. But there is hope. Trauma can be overcome. Returning to a life of peace is possible.





Are you or a loved one struggling with trauma? Request a Free Phone Consultation by completing the brief form below. One of our team members will reach out to learn more about your specific circumstance and discuss whether our practice and which therapist may be a good fit for your needs. We would like to help you live a life you love. We hope to hear from you soon.