Can meditation harm a traumatized person?
If we want to understand what trauma is, we need to look at neuroscience. Neuroscience research has produced an interesting discovery: the rational part of the brain has no direct connections to the part of the brain that is under the influence of emotional reactions . This part of the brain is the limbic , primitive or animal brain that focuses solely on survival.
This means that we can not talk or reason with this part of the brain, for example we can not persuade ourselves to love this person or not to love him since this part is inaccessible to rational reasoning. The only part of the brain that is in contact with the limbic brain isthe frontal media part of the cortex which is just above the eyes and this part is responsible for interoceptive experiences.
The only way to get in touch with the limbic part of the brain is to focus on the experiences we do with ourselves. It is also the only route to traumatic experiences and healing .
The more we can focus on the experiences we do with ourselves, the more we can read our inner experiences and the more we can self-control. Therefore, we must go inside ourselves to transform ourselves and heal ourselves if we are traumatized or if we have mood disorders. Meditation is a promising path for this.
There is a lot of research on the brains of monks today that shows what happens when we meditate.
The size of the medial prefrontal cortex determines our attention span. This part corresponds to what the Hindus call the 3rd eye. If we developed this part of the brain through meditation , instead of panicking in certain situations in which the limbic part is activated, we can say to ourselves: ah that’s what happens in me, calmly think about what you can do to solve the problem .
The less this part of the brain is developed, the more we tend to react instinctively, ie with stress. The size of the medial prefrontal cortex really determines how hostage we are by our emotions and our automatic reactions, or how much we can control ourselves . The only way to enlarge this part of the brain is to do meditation exercises in exactly the same way as to develop our muscles, ie by training.
This is what neuroscience researcher Richard Davidson has studied in contact with Tibetan monks in exile. After thousands of hours of meditation their limbic part of the brain reacts very weakly to aversive stimuli and their body remains calm, focused and caring.
Today there is sufficient evidence that there is a correlation between regular practice of meditation and the ability to calm one’s limbic system. Yoga is also a very interesting practice to achieve the same results. In the case of traumatized people, yoga can sometimes be more appropriate than meditation, because meditation can bring out too strong sensations that are not manageable by the trauma, thus exposing him to re-traumatization.
In one of his lectures, Doctor, trauma specialist, reports the case of a couple who was traumatized in a pileup in which they were trapped in their car until the firefighters managed to release them. They were taken to the hospital and as they had few injuries, they went out quickly and were able to return to their normal lives. Only the days and weeks that followed this event symptoms of post-traumatic stress appeared, ie difficulties of concentration, insomnia, great irritability ect, symptoms that they reacted by drinking alcohol and arguing. If we asked the couple a posteriori to describe their feelings at the time of the accident, they could have a very strong emotional reaction and could even think that they were dying, while sitting quietly in an armchair. Through the story, they could be immersed in the traumatic event, because their rational brain is disconnected under the influence of the limbic brain and when this part is disconnected, there is no moreconcept of time.
The person does not differentiate between what happened at the time of the accident and the present moment. This is exactly how we could produce a so-called flashback (traumatic memory) that aggravates the traumatic disorder, especially because the brains become insensitive by cutting themselves off from all emotional feelings and this anesthesia continues later in life . So the individual becomes a kind of zombie, but to do that is certainly not the goal of a therapeutic treatment.
The therapeutic goal is the integration of traumatic memoryin memory so that the trauma becomes a desensitized element of the past. For this reason, it is necessary to help the patient to keep present the part of the brain that has disconnected and can perceive calmly and with a certain distance what happened, but also what is present now so that the patient can say: yes, it happened to me in the past, but today I am safe, I am present in the here and now, I am alive.
In the treatment of trauma, it is first of all to create an integration of the brain to allow integration of the memory. According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, there is no benefit to reliving the trauma unless the person is in a different state of consciousnessand in possession of all his brain, which is fostered by the ability to stay present and conscious. Meditation can help these patients achieve this desensitization through integration.