"When something reminds us of a traumatic incident in the past, the brain reacts as if the traumatic event is happening in the present."
~ Adapted from Bessel van der Kolk

“When something reminds us of a traumatic incident in the past, the brain reacts as if the traumatic event is happening in the present.”
~ Adapted from Bessel van der Kolk

The Neuroscience of Trauma

I’m now re-reading a wonderful book entitled, “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D., and while it has many excellent lessons and passages, the one that caught my eye today is around the concept of trauma and imagination.

To his credit, the author does an excellent job of describing how important imagination is to our happiness and success. He says, “Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives. It gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities, and is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships.” 

Given this, it’s easy to understand how problematic it can be when worry or trauma hijack this powerful part of who we are, and, as a result, limit our ability to create the life we want.

For those of you who follow my, “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this “hijacking” has a lot to do with how the brain processes information. In other words, the part of the brain that receives data first is the middle brain, or limbic system, and its prime directive is to keep us safe and alive as a specie. This means that it tends to give negative information more importance than positive information, and, as a result, engages the lower brain (the brainstem) which is responsible for fight-or-flight.

In terms of the imagination, when we are worried or have experienced trauma of some sort in the past, the middle brain tends to want to hang on to or keep reminding us of the negative experience, thinking that if we are worried, we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

Unfortunately, given that this negative imagination throws us into the lower, reactive brain (which isn’t very intelligent, and also isn’t capable of purposeful planning or creative solutions), we often just find ourselves feeling more worried and powerless. This powerlessness is then interpreted by the middle brain as more negative information, and we become trapped in a cycle of anxiety, worry, and fear, which is being driven by our imagination.

What is needed is the ability to apply our creative skills to imagining solutions versus problems, and seeing ourselves as capable of bringing these solutions to life. Unfortunately, we will never be able to do this from the lower reactive brain, and, thus, we will need to shift to the clear, confident, creative brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”), in order to direct our imagination to serve our success and happiness versus sabotage it.

I have devoted my life to teaching others. I have created a framework, philosophy, and step-by-step system that shows people how to shift from the reactive brain to the purposeful brain, and how to engage our imagination in a way that allows us to create more solution-focused perspectives and plans.

In other words, our imagination will either trap us in the reactive brain, or empower us to influence the quality of our lives from the “Top of the Mind,” so we will want to learn how to access this clear, confident, creative brain before engaging this powerful tool.

If you would like to know how, feel free to pick up my book, “Life from the Top of the Mind,” or contact me about training you or your organization in the process. Until we take control of this powerful tool, it will be employed by the frightened parts of our brain to keep us safe by keeping us worried… probably not something we would recommend to someone we love.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill