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Birth of trauma: The patterns behind fear and fight, flight & freeze

- TRIGGER WARNING -
This article (specifically the first part) contains personal memories about sexual assault, domestic violence and alcoholism, which may be triggering to read for survivors. Furthermore, other news articles and tweets regarding these topics are mentioned and shown throughout the article, including stories about suicide, psychological abuse and CSA. 

From left to right: Noura Hussein, Asia Argento, Kendra Scott, Asifa Bano and Barbara Coombes. Five victims of abuse.

I've felt them throughout my life in many places. First, nurturing and caring: hands that helped me in my growth that guided me and took care of me. I was a lucky one like that.

It wasn't until around the age of 12 that memories and emotions related to hands, started to find new definitions in drawers in my mind never used before, in the library that is my brain.

A new pattern unfolded: hands that came quick, by surprise, in places where I did not expect or want hands. Hands that weren't my own, that is. Hands that used force; violence. Hands that tried to intrude my personal space.

The #MeToo movement which was brought to life in October 2017, taught us that many women - and men - have experienced such abuse. Read a newspaper every day for a month, and you start to realise how deep violence is rooted in our society. Read 6 newspapers every day and by the end of the week, you might wonder just like me and many others: does justice exist at all?

Read the judge's decision in the rape of a 15 year old child here (Dutch).

When a father in the Netherlands rapes his 15 year old child twice while threatening her with a knife only receives 3,5 years in prison, can you really say justice exists and that we are protecting (victims in) our society? When only about 10% of rapists pressed charges against, get convicted? Especially when many victims have been sentenced for life with the aftermath of trauma, can you really say we live in a world where justice happens?

The five victims I chose as a header of this article, were all abused. Asia Argento and Kendra Scott, have been vocal about their abuse publicly. As a result they have been targeted online. Asifa Bano, an 8 year old girl from India, was raped and murdered. Noura Hussein and Barbara Coombes, killed their abusers and are currently serving time in jail.

While sexual violence is finally discussed more, the power dynamics between victims and abusers, and abusers and the law, show us both inside court as well as outside of it, that many abusers still (try to) rule the lives of their victims and their families in many ways.

I spoke out about the public person who abused and raped me myself, 7 months before #MeToo happened. Those months were some of the darkest of my life.

After the movement started I gained support though, which helped me more to deal with the situation. Based on the support I've received, I decided to write this article to give something back to the #MeToo movement, in the shape of an educational call for action blog about psychological and physical violence, fear and trauma, and rape laws.

Through combining my own experiences, the voices and stories of other victims, and by bringing science into it too, I hope this piece will be of use to someone, is hopefully empowering, and will influence others to request better rape laws and more protection and rights for victims of abuse.

I spent two months researching and writing this article. There a red line in it, even though you might not notice it at first. I suggest you keep reading, until the end.


This article is dedicated to you if you are a victim of abuse.



A special dedication goes out to Sandra;

Thank you for supporting my work and activism. I wanted to give you something back that would be of use to you, since you supported me based on an article I wrote you told me you found useful. I figured, maybe writing another in-depth article on a similar topic, might be of interest. I’ve included specific things in the article especially interesting to you. Thank you for supporting me!
— Pieke Roelofs

seed
 

I'm in a bar with friends. They introduce me to a mutual friend. We're only talking for 5 minutes and then I see it happening in front of me: a drunk man grabs a bottle.

He breaks it on the head of a stranger in front of me. I manage to turn my head away the moment I see pieces of glass fly everywhere. I don't know what to do. I'm in a corner. The new guy I just met, pulls my arm and drags me into the toilet a few meters away as people start fighting around us. We fall into the toilet and he quickly locks the door. There's no room. He sits on the toilet, I sit on his lap. We listen to the fight happening outside. After a few minutes, our friends bang on the door; they're glad they found us. The police is here, we need to leave. Outside, I see shrubberies that have been set on fire. Someone tells me my head is bleeding: the glass just missed my face by a few cm.


seeds

I'm in a crowd, during a festival. An old man grabs me and kisses me on the cheek. His hands on my body feel aggressive. I barely know this person. He smells of beer. I say nothing, and walk away.

It's Carnaval in the Netherlands. I'm walking outside, through the crowd, trying to reach someone I know. Two men somewhere in their fifties grab me, force me to dance with them, one grabbing my arse. I try to get away. They're drunk. I see the shattered glass in front of me again. What if this guy pushes his glass in my face? 

I'm fifteen and he's my boyfriend; we've only just started 'dating'. We're sat on the bed. He kisses me. He tries to touch me under my shirt, but I don't want him to. I tell him no. He tells me not to be childish. I tell him to stop. He locks his arms around me while I'm turning away from him. He pulls me towards him, tells me not to be silly, while trying to touch my breasts. I manage to break his locked grip and stand up from the bed, turn around, and say loud: no. 

The mind. A universe within this universe, worth to protect.
Beyond (2014) by Pieke Roelofs.

A guy I considered a friend, pulls my skirt up in front of a crowd of people. People laugh. I slap him. More laughter.

A guy, pinches my breast on a local village feast after which his friends high-five him and laugh. The same evening, another guy from the same group tries to kiss me out of nowhere. His friends laugh, again. Touching my body has become a game, apparently.

A stranger pulls my dress over my breasts in a dance club. I slap him in the face with a flat hand. People laugh.

Someone grabs me roughly from behind, between my butt-cheeks. I'm in a dance-club. This is why I don't go to dance-clubs. I turn around; a guy almost a head shorter than me looks at me with an intimidating gaze: Anything to say? He raises his chin and comes closer. I see he has a drink in his hand. 

I'm sixteen. A car pulls close while I'm walking towards the train station. Window down, a man in his late twenties, tries to talk to me, while driving slowly. He asks me if I have a boyfriend. Oh? Does my boyfriend take good care of me? The man says he could do it so much better.. He asks me to come with him. He offers me a ride to the station. I try to smile and laugh with him and urge him I must go now and start walking away quickly.

We're fighting. I'm sitting on the ground, crying, because I don't know how to stop the situation. He was rude, all night, treating me like I didn't exist, while I met his friend whom he wanted me to meet. He looked really jealous when his friend was polite to me and we laughed and seemed to get along. From there on, it got worse. He started dominating the conversation, ignoring me completely. I don't understand why he's behaving like this. He wanted me to get along with his best friend and told me it was important to him. I tried to address it just now. I told him he was acting like a dick. I shouldn't have said it. Now he's furious and screaming. I probably deserve it. I'm scared. He's drunk and mean and verbally aggressive. He's telling me to stop screaming while I'm sobbing on the floor and am not screaming at all. I have no idea how to respond anymore, because apparently me crying means I'm screaming. I start to apologise. For everything. I just acknowledge what he throws at me because I know it will be the only way to stop this. After a while, things seem to calm down finally. His voice starts to change. He hugs me. Kisses me. Touches my body. Make-up sex is about to happen. He puts me on my knees instantly, pulls up my dress and pulls down my underwear, and tries to force his penis in my anus. We've never had anal sex before and neither have we ever talked about doing it. He's drunk. Is it an accident? It doesn't feel like it. I feel sick. I don't want this. I tell him that he's trying for the wrong hole.
'Oops,' he says.
... The next day, he admits he was jealous and afraid I maybe liked his best friend more than him.

* The Final Fuck You describes this story without metaphors. It's a rape story hidden behind metaphors which I wrote days after it happened. I had no idea how to use my words or how to ask for help at the time, so I did it in the way most comfortable to me: layered, through art.

He's drunk*. I left the living room after he assaulted me, to hide upstairs. I'm in a country where I don't speak the language, isolated from help. He's suicidal, downstairs, drinking more booze, playing dramatic music loud, talking to people that aren't there. I can hear it all because the bedroom I'm in has an open wall that looks out over the living room. In the same room I'm in, there's a door leading to the roof. I'm afraid he'll do something stupid. He's been talking about death and how life is pointless. Suicide is a topic he's brought up a lot. What if he gets up here and goes on the roof? As long as he's downstairs, he won't. I can keep an eye and ear on him. I can try to block him if he tries to go on the roof. I'm praying to whatever god is listening that he'll pass out soon. I'm on the bed, trying to ignore the violent piano tones penetrating my ears. I wish it stopped. Everything is loud and the room is hot and I'm feeling dizzy. I close my eyes and try to hold my tears back. Time passes by slowly. I try to meditate and calm down, but it's impossible with all the noise around me. I open my eyes because I hear stumbling feet. Then, I see him. He crawls on top of me. He's stronger than me, even though he's drunk. He forces his face on mine, kisses me hard, and sticks his drunk tongue in my mouth. It feels disgusting; like an animal is trying to suck my soul out. I turn away and protest and say he's drunk and say no. His smile looks like that of a clown punched in the face. What the fuck? He just put his hands on me, and now he wants to have sex? After everything that happened this week? How do I stop this? He's drunk. He's drunk. HE'S DRUNK. I see flashes of glass in my mind. Then, I feel pain between my legs.

A girl I don't know grabs my skirt and pulls it up at a party. What is it with people trying to undress me in public?

The man grabs my throat and lets go the moment he touches it. 'I wish you were a dude!' he shouts. 'Then... Then.. I could..'
In front of me, he starts acting out how he would punch and hurt me. I run past him, through the living room. He runs after me, screaming. What do I do?
I run into the toilet and close the door, knowing well that I'm trapped now.
Suddenly, silence.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I hear his voice.
"Please darling, come out. I'm so sorry."

I'm out with a girlfriend. She told me she was a 'little bit in love with me' after we kissed a few times. We're together, dancing in a club, occasionally showing each other affection. When she's dancing with a friend for a second, someone in his thirties grabs my teenage-vagina. I'm frozen. Later, another guy turns up in front of me, and urges me I'm not gay. Why do people care that I'm here with a girl?

We're both in our twenties. He's holding a knife against his chest. I didn't want him to touch me. I wasn't in the mood. Now he's threatening me with suicide. How did it get to this point, just because I said no? I feel hopeless, sick, have no idea what to do. Is this my life now?

I feel his spit in my face. I'm crying, begging him to let me go.
"But what does it mean?" He screams at me, covering me in saliva. Few things are as disgusting as the man who says he loves you spitting in your face.
"Wh..what?" I cry.
"What does this all mean? Tell me what it means. What's the meaning of anything?!"
"I don't know!" I cry. "Please let me go. Please. You're hurting me. Please, and I'll answer all your questions. Just let me-"
"Nothing means anything!" he shouts. "You're not listening! You're making it about yourself!"
"That's not true," I cry. What the hell is he going on about?
"Then tell me what it means!" he shouts. "Why are we here when there's no meaning?!"
"U-us. Connecting. That's meaningful. Connecting is meaningful. Please let me go, I'll tell you what it all means."

[Disclaimer: above stories are real experiences I've had throughout my life with different people. Only in the specific situation 'The Final Fuck you' and in the situation below I'm linking the situation to one specific person - some of the above experiences are about this person too however. If you know my story, you maybe can guess which ones.]

He's my boyfriend. He never believes he becomes abusive when drunk. He denies it and refuses to talk about it. What do I need to do to make him accept reality? He calls me a dick, for telling him I feel he doesn't really care about my emotions. He's drunk again. I'm afraid he may get violent. What if he denies it again, the next day? I click record on my cellphone.

Someone grabs my breast. Another person grabs my butt. My vagina, my throat.. Why do these people think it's okay?

The Pattern

The more you become exposed to something, the more your brain will normalise it, especially if you don't look at it with a conscious perspective and with awareness of the normalisation process that is in fact, happening. Your brain normalising something, doesn't mean you are 'okay' with whatever is happening though.

The first time you are presented with a new situation or 'thing', your brain will both consciously and subconsciously start mapping a pattern of it. The more you are exposed to similar situations or things, the more patterns are created, intertwining and linking to each other, because they are connected in some way.

How this pattern works, is complex to explain, especially because we don't really understand it exactly (yet). Scientists, psychiatrists and psychologists who research the mind have made huge steps in trying to explain and understand it. Still, much of what the brain does and how it works, is a mystery.

Many people not educated about it, don't take the brain serious for the entity it is. The law for example, still does not treat the mind and its complexity and depth with the respect it deserves: an entity as important to protect, as much as the body it resides in.

Psychological abuse of that entity, such as verbal abuse, forcing someone to see traumatic things, gaslighting, and pushing someone to die by suicide, is something very difficult to prove, and prosecute, in a court of law. The law needs to prove something happened while the law wasn't there while it happened, and there is 1 person who tries to deceive the law. This makes it challenging to prove the truth, and in many cases almost impossible. The extra problem with this is that many people in society, see the law as science. Therefore, many victims of abuse are left in the cold, because the law is not able to convict their clever and manipulative abusers, and society therefore believes something didn't happen.

Gaslighting: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

Michelle Carter was found guilty of encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide through a series of text messages; Carter will serve 15 months in prison. Michelle Carter’s conviction was groundbreaking. Due to overwhelming evidence the judge was able to convict her of pushing her boyfriend to die by suicide. Many victims of abusers who push them to die by suicide, never see justice.

The body cannot survive without the mind, as the mind cannot survive without the body.

Damage to one, damages the quality of life for the other. Body and mind are one. So damage to one, affects both, always.

In the long course of a human life, a healthy body and mind are preferred to 'make it through', wherever you believe the end destination is.

Physical or emotional damage to a human being can alter the course of someone's future completely. When it comes to direct physical damage, people, society, the court of law, are accepting in pointing a finger to the abuser and punish the abuser for it, or the situation that caused it. When it comes to emotional damage however? Not so much. 

How many soldiers who've battled in wars get told their PTSD isn't real? How many are told to '(wo)man up'?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event (either through experiencing it or witnessing it).

Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks such as nightmares, disturbing thoughts and feelings, physical and mental stress related to triggers (cues reminding someone of the trauma), attempts to avoid trauma-related triggers, a change in feelings and views, and a change or increase in the fight, flight or freeze response. PTSD may be a symptom related to depression also. It's not unlikely the diagnosis of PTSD and depression go hand in hand.

People with PTSD might consider their brain their greatest enemy, since it responds to external triggers, and haunts their body and mind. I made this picture a few years ago, before suffering acute stress disorder and PTSD. Now I would probably change the text to: I found the door to hell, apparently it's in my own mind. That's what PTSD feels like to me.

How many people with anxiety or panic attacks due to trauma are told they are acting silly? How many are told it 'wasn't that bad' and that they should just 'get over it'? How many rape victims are told to 'just move on'? If only it was that easy, to get over trauma.

This study showed that neonatal circumcision in male infants is associated with increased pain response in vaccination 4-6 months after surgery. The results support our previous finding of a higher pain response in circumcised than uncircumcised male infants during routine vaccination. We postulate that circumcision may induce long-lasting changes in infant pain behaviour because of alterations in the infant's central neural processing of painful stimuli.

(...)
It is, therefore, possible that the greater vaccination response in the infants circumcised without anaesthesia may represent an infant analogue of a post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by a traumatic and painful event and re-experienced under similar circumstances of pain during vaccination.

Source: Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain response during subsequent routine vaccination. By Anna Taddio, Joel Katz, A Lane Ilersich, Gideon Koren.

Considering the patterns, and how our brain works, it shouldn't be too surprising how trauma works, and how destructive it is to human minds, and why it's so difficult to deal with trauma.

I guess few people understand how the patterns work; few have the imagination to look at the mind as a system, which can be damaged. I'm going to try to paint a picture of trauma and what it may cause to an entity, for those interested in understanding minds better.

There are crimes against the SOUL we are rarely able to convict, simply because the mind alone of a human being is not taken serious as a victim of crime, and testimonies and evidence of abuse provided by victims, is ignored.

An example of crimes against the soul rarely taken serious, is witness killing. Witness killing is the elimination of a person victim or witness of a crime, through severe psychological abuse, in order to make the victim or witness die by suicide. In other words: to literally silence them.

Witness killing can happen through stalking, (death) threats and lies being spread about the victim. A well-known tactic also used is gaslighting; this is when the victim is made to doubt their own reality, an driven crazy. If someone would knock on your door every day at 12, and your girlfriend who knows about it and has heard it says it's 'not happening, you're crazy', this would be considered gaslighting. If people try to convince a victim long enough of things that are or aren't there, victims might start to doubt their own sanity, feel helpless and alone, which may result in victims trying to stop the mental torture through death by suicide.

Anthony Bourdain and girlfriend Asia Argento. Asia Argento is an activist in the #MeToo movement who spoke out about sexual assault regarding Harvey Weinstein. The activist is now blamed for Anthony's suicide by misogynistic (and often anonymous) trolls online who try to silence her through online violence. An open letter has been written and signed by other celebrities to support her and condemn the targeted abuse. Image Source: AP

Witness killing is incredibly hard to prove in a court of law. Victims who speak out against abusers, face abusers who often try to silence them by making the victim look like the bad person (victim blaming) or (like an) abuser. This can happen in all kinds of ways. For example, after actress Asia Argento spoke out about Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse, anonymous accounts started to target her and blame her for the death of her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain.

Bombshell Bourdain interview is published one month after his suicide: Celebrity chef unloads on 'rapey, gropey and disgusting Bill Clinton and hopes Weinstein is 'beaten to death in jail'
Source: Daily Mail

While victims of abusers may die by suicide and this should be taken serious (which is what this article is all about!), in this situation, Asia has become a target for abusers who blame her for his death in order to psychologically torture her and harm her character, while there seems no evidence indicating Asia was abusive towards her boyfriend at all. What seems to be happening in this situation is that victim triggering, stalking and a smear-campaign is inflicted on Asia and those who support her, in order to psychologically weaken her and her supporters. Take a guess who might be behind it..

An open letter has been written and signed by other actors and activists to support Asia Agento and condemn the targeted abuse.

Actor and football player Terry Crews spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood executive named Adam Venit. Crews also signed the letter. Image Source: Gage Skidmore

Actress Rose McGowan, who also spoke out against Harvey Weinstein, showed support to Asia Argento too. Image Source: Gdcgraphics

Actress Rosanna Arquette signed the letter to support Asia Argento. Image Source: Frantogian

Actress Rosanna Arquette, who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein as well and is an activist who amplifies the voices of other victims, is a victim of online violence too since she spoke out.

Examples you can find in the tweets below, where people defending Rosanna or the #MeToo movement are called Asia Argento for example. Please note that many of the attacks in this thread (click the tweets to see it completely) have been removed by Twitter.

Read further below.


side-note from the author regarding victim triggering and stalking

I’ve been working on ‘Birth of Trauma’ for 2 months, and tweeted about it regularly. To those who know about my own story and the man (Alex McKechnie, youtuber Exurb1a) who raped me and who’s started an underground hate-campaign against me and who stalks me too, it might not come as a surprise that he created a video about the same topic, weeks after I started tweeting about it.

This is an example of victim triggering, stalking and legal psychological abuse: using your rape victim for topics for your own videos, to trigger her and let her know in a legal way you stalk her and watch her every more.

Furthermore, it makes it look like the victim took the idea from the abuser, if the abuser ‘officially’ publishes something first about the same topic they knew their victim was writing an article about. Again, this is psychological abuse, to give a victim a feeling they can’t share anything online anymore because they are stalked.
— Pieke Roelofs
Youtuber Exurb1a threatened and blackmailed me originally to keep me silent about what happened. Since I spoke out (January 2017), he stalks me and uses his videos to get at me in a very subtle way so most people don’t notice it. An example of the video before this last one he published in which he does it too, and how he tries to get at me, below. This is legal stalking and victim triggering. See the comment section of this video for further explanation.
— Pieke Roelofs

Above, you can see I started writing the article Birth of Trauma on my blog on June 6, 2018. The rapist released his video 'You probably don't exist' on June 30, 2018.


Another example of gaslighting would be people who try to convince a rape victim they weren't raped. People who inflict this lie over and over again on the victim (that he or she wasn't raped), are in fact gaslighting the victim and try to force a false reality on them and through it, inflict psychological abuse.

To understand how insane this really is, that mind's aren't protected more, I'm going to try to give you an example of the patterns regarding trauma I'm speaking of, inside the machinery that is our brain. I don't know if there is a soul or not, all I know is, that what has been happening inside my mind all my life, has been happening due to a pattern I learned. So whatever I am, is a system. A learning system. I prefer to refer to this system as an entity or soul (hence crime against the soul), because it makes the system sound more human. 

I learned at 15 that drunk people can become dangerous (seed). I learned I had to be cautious around them; they can do things you don't expect and Act impulsively. Thus, a subconscious pattern was created relating to drunk people.

In the controversial 'Little Albert experiment' John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner tried to make a child fear a rat to try and prove phobias can be triggered through classical conditioning. Their results were first published in the February 1920 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

All our systems differ. Based on religion (or not), our upbringing, culture, language and history, DNA and that special something that makes us who we are, our systems are formed and shaped, throughout our lives.

When you identify hands with love and nurturing, the moment you are exposed to (sexual) violence, a new pattern is created: your brain may starts mapping certain hand gestures as dangerous. I had seen violence on TV, but experiencing it in person, is different. The code written inside your brain that you have learned as a child, changes faster and stronger, when you actually experience something in real life. When trauma drastically changes important and 'good' patterns inside your brain and expands them and connects them to much 'darker' patterns, this may cause an overlap of so many patterns, it could make it more difficult for your brain to handle a similar situation. When a similar situation happens again, there's information overload, making it difficult to process and respond to the situation.

Information Overload

Trauma. This is when too many loops are created inside your brain: patterns that link to patterns that become active once presented to the situation again that changed the original 'good' patterns. Essentially, your brain follows an algorithm, that's able to change, based on experience.

'Normal' things can become triggers of your trauma, and make you re-experience it. The dead orchids sitting in the corner of the window on the night he assaults you. The smell of her perfume. Denim jackets. People with hats. Anything present during the birth of trauma, might become permanently linked to it. This is not a conscious decision your mind makes. It happens subconsciously. In other words: anyone who makes fun of your trauma triggers, is an uneducated dumbass, that knows very little about the brain.

It's possible that after you were raped, assaulted or mugged, you can't stand certain smells anymore, that were present during the trauma. This goes for anything present during a traumatic event. Daily objects or things, sounds, smells or details, can suddenly become part of a memory to a traumatic pattern (seed): they've nestled inside your brain, and might pop up at random moments to remember you of your trauma, or to affect your behaviour in a new situation, that (unconsciously) reminds you of your trauma.

It's not surprising that my reaction to drunk people since that one time I almost got glassed in my face by a stranger (as described earlier in this article), is fear. Fear of the unknown, and impulsive dangers that could happen. While I turned my head when the glass flew around, I also froze: I had no idea what to do, given I was standing in a corner of the room. It's no surprise that that memory and fear related to the event (Seed), influenced my reactions to other negative experiences later in life (Seeds), such as sexual violence, inflicted by drunk people on me. The element of intoxicated people in a situation where there was sexual violence, influenced my behaviour in those situations, due to a seed planted many years ago, when I was a teenager. 

When trauma is inflicted on your brain, your body will either fight, flight or freeze.

Anxiety triggers the fight, flight or freeze- response.

Fight, flight or freeze? In this video, you can see Kendra Scott’s reaction to a dangerous situation, when ex-NFL player Ray McDonald chases her, while she carries their child in her arms.

Kendra Scott, the ex-fiance of former 49er Ray McDonald, talks to KPIX 5 reporter Emily Turner about her abusive relationship with the onetime NFL player. In the comment section of this video and on Twitter you can see how Scott is targeted for speaking out about the abuse.

The trigger in my personal experiences where I didn't fight those who assaulted me, would be drunk people who do bad things. It's not an unusual trigger.

However, triggers might seem ridiculous at times. Maybe your abuser always played a certain song, which now makes you feel physically ill when you hear it. Maybe he or she liked yellow vests, which you now can't stand anymore. For people who experience triggers, they are very real, because the triggers cause a strong emotional and physical response.

Fight, flight or freeze? After years of abuse, Barbara Coombes killed her father who raped her.

Barbara Coombes snapped and killed her father when she found indecent images of herself, taken by him. She covered up the murder for years and in the end turned herself in when the walls seemed to close in on her. Barbara was a child rape victim and abused for years by her own father, who possibly even fathered a child (who died) with her.

Barbara Coombes was sentenced to 9 years in prison. People have started the hashtag #FreeBarbaraCoombes to express their disgust with the sentence, given she was abused for years, until she finally snapped.

It's difficult to build something like the human brain. It's much easier to destroy it. Changing or destroying the human code that you've been keeping alive inside your mind from the day you were born, the code that makes you who you are, is easy, compared to the years you built creating it. The code that was put together by you, due to your own history with the world, people, and yourself, can be altered and negatively influenced through psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

Mental abuse is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to prove. Few people who use psychological abuse are punished for it, which seems silly, considering our minds are so important for a happy and healthy life. 

The most difficult trauma many victims of abuse suffer, is rarely the trauma they witnessed or experienced, but the mental trauma and seemingly invisible scars the trauma leaves behind.

There are of course traumatic events where the abuse inflicted on the victim results into permanent physical damage or even death. See this article below for an example, by Mirror UK.

Woman raped with broken tree branch in horrific attack by "inhuman monster" loses two-year fight for life.

'Birth of Trauma' however focuses on the emotional damage trauma causes and how it affects both the body and mind, since PTSD in the long course can lead to death by suicide.

Some of those traumatic scars are so thick, they make it difficult for victims to continue living their life as before. Parts of the code inside a trauma-victim's brain have been rewritten. Their code has expanded in such a way, it over-stimulates the victim. Regularly, not in a good way.

A victim of sexual assault in The Netherlands, told doctors that her emotional pain was too much for her to bear. The doctors allowed her to be euthanized, because they believed she was untreatable. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

Trauma triggers are a serious psychological result and real problem for victims of physical-, mental-, and visual violence (seeing or hearing about physical or mental violence as a bystander or secondary victim). 

Fortunately, science has actually found more evidence of how trauma affects the brain, with MRI scans for example, making the position of victims of trauma and evidence of their injuries, slowly stronger, in recent years. 

Neurobiology of TRAUMA
 

The human brain, which is an organ, is the most important part of our nervous system and responsible for the conscious and subconscious decisions you make. 

The nervous system is a system that sends signals around the body. It can be divided again in two main systems:

  • The central nervous system (CNS)

  • The peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The brain and our spinal cord form the central nervous system (CNS) together.

The somatic nervous system (SNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) form the peripheral nervous system (PNS) together.

The SNS sends signals to the central nervous system and is responsible for muscle contraction. It also is responsible for transmitting signals to the CNS (spinal cord and brain) from senses such as touch and taste.

Image source: TheEmirr. This image has been adapted by PhotoandGrime and has been modified for educational purposes. You are free to use this image under this CC license. Please don't forget to credit the original creator (TheEmirr) of the image.

The PNS, which include the somatic and autonomic nervous system, consists of the nerves and ganglia outside the brain and spinal cord.

The autonomic nervous system acts largely unconsciously, regulates bodily functions and is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-flight-or-freeze response.

Nervous System: Central Nervous System + Peripheral Nervous System
CNS: brain + spinal cord
PNS: somatic nervous system + autonomic nervous system

The main processing unit of the nervous system, is the brain.

The brain: white matter and grey/gray matter. Source: A.D.A.M Education

Our brain is made of white matter and grey/gray matter.

White matter is the inner whiter part of the brain. It's the tissue through which messages pass between different areas of grey matter within the central nervous system.

Left: white matter. Right: Grey matter.
Source: Nephron.

Neurons (also called nerve cells) are cells that pass signals to individual target cells in the body; they use synapses as a 'door' to do this. Neurons generate electrical signals that travel along their axons (also called nerve fibers).

Source: Wikipedia

Scientists have estimated that the brain has about 50-100 billion neurons (nerve cells), and about the same number of glial cells, which are support cells of neurons. Glial cells guide blood flow to neurons and provide them with nutrients. It is estimated that each neuron (nerve cell) has between 7000-10.000 synaptic connections to other neurons. 

There are different types of specialized neurons.

Anatomy of a multipolar neuron.
Source: BruceBlaus

Neurons are the basic components (building blocks) of the central nervous system (brain + spinal cord). Neurons can connect to other neurons to form neural circuits.

Neural circuit: a group of neurons interconnected by synapses to carry out a specific function when activated. A neural circuit for example may generate memories, thoughts, actions or sensory perceptions.

Close-up of the brain. Left: white matter. Right: Grey matter, Glial cell and Neurons. Source: Nephron.

White matter refers to areas of the spinal cord and brain (the central nervous system) that are mainly made up of myelinated axons, also called tracts. 

Myelin is a lipid-rich white material that surrounds the axon of some neurons (nerve cells). Myelin is produced by specialised glial cells. It is essential for the nervous system, because it forms an electrically insulating layer around an axon. 

Grey matter refers to areas in the spinal cord and brain, mainly composed of neurons. 

A bundle of axons are called a nerve tract in the central nervous system.

In neuroscience, tractography is a 3D modeling technique used to visually represent neural tracts using data collected by diffusion-weighted images (DWI). The results are presented in two- and three-dimensional images. Tractography is used to research and understand the brain better.

Diffusion tractography produces a dense reconstruction of fiber pathways. The representation of thin slices of transparent streamlines allows new and esthetic insights in a probabilistic reconstruction of the brain connectivity. The video shows a coronal, sagittal and axial slicing of streamlines reconstructed from in vivo high resolution diffusion HARDI measurement at 7 Tesla.

DTI is an MRI-based neuroimaging technique which makes it possible to estimate the location, orientation, and anisotropy of the brain's white matter tracts.

Anisotropic: exhibiting properties with different values when measured in different directions

Source: Merriam Webster

An image of neural pathways in the brain, taken using Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI).
Source: Thomas Schultz

The most notably regions of the brain science has been able to associate with stress and PTSD are the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and the amygdala. 

The prefrontal cortex is the orange part of the brain shown in the picture above. Source: Henry Vandyke Carter

The Prefrontal Cortex plays an important role in the regulation of complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioural functioning.

 

Prefrontal Cortex:
The gray matter of the anterior part of the frontal lobe that is highly developed in humans and plays a role in the regulation of complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning.

Source: Merriam Webster

An introduction to the prefrontal cortex in 60 seconds.

The Hippocampus plays an important part in storing and retrieving memories; both short-term memory to long-term memory and also spatial memory that helps people with navigating things and situations, such as their house, a path to work someone takes, etc.

Damage of the Hyppocampus can be found in Alzheimer's Disease. Shrinkage of the hippocampus results in short-term memory loss that is a symptom of Alzheimer’s.

An introduction to the hippocampus in 60 seconds.

Source: National Institutes of Health

The Amygdala is linked to processing of memory, emotional responses and decision-making.

The amygdala translates changes in autonomic activity such as increased blood pressure and a faster heart rate. It's the part of the brain that reacts to fear and arousal (anger included) and responds to threats.

For example, if you blink because someone suddenly throws something at you, the amygdala processes this autonomic activity, and based on that, activates the fight, flight or freeze response.

If you have PTSD as a result of seeing your mother being abused, a trigger could be angry voices or a certain smell that reminds you of this traumatic experience. The amygdala will pick up the stressful triggers which have been linked in your brain as threatening, and as such, the amygdala will respond to these threatening triggers.

Not every trigger is actually a warning of something life-threatening, and as such, responses from your body based on that trigger, might not be rational. This is a big problem for many people with PTSD: triggers may cause anxiety or stress-responses which seem irrational to others, including the person with PTSD, once the response has faded. The point with triggers is that's it difficult to fight and control the result triggers cause, because people don't consciously choose their triggers. 

When the amygdala recognises something as threatening, it communicates this to other parts of the brain which will respond to the stress signal and will send it around the body to respond to the signal. What exactly happens is quite complex, so I will only mention the most important things that happen when the amygdala responds to a threatening situation. First, the body produces stress hormones such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which activates release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

Hormone: a product of living cells that circulates in body fluids (such as blood) or sap and produces a specific often stimulatory effect on the activity of cells usually remote from its point of origin; also : a synthetic substance that acts like a hormone

Source: Merriam Webster

ACTH in return activates the release of cortisol. At the same time, the body releases adrenaline. Cortisol increases blood pressure and blood sugar among other things, while adrenaline gives you a boost of energy and increases blood flow to muscles for example (very important in case you have to fight).

An introduction to the amygdala in 60 seconds.

Fight, flight or freeze?

Next to the brain, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which belongs to peripheral nervous system, is the most important mechanism in control of the fight, flight or freeze response, that affects how you respond to trauma. 

The ANS also regulates other things in the body, such as:

A Gazelle freezes and plays dead until the predators are distracted. Then, the Gazelle resorts to flight.

  • heart rate

  • digestion

  • respiratory rate

  • pupillary response

  • urnination

  • sexual arousal

Evolutionary psychology thinks early animals didn't have time to prepare themselves for danger. F/F/F response provided the system to respond to threats against survival quickly.

Many animals freeze or play dead when touched or afraid, in the hope that the predator will lose interest, or won't see them.

Are you surprised many human beings freeze when they are sexually assaulted by someone stronger than them, and don't fight their attacker out of fear? Not so strange anymore when you think of the three F's huh?

Noura Hussein murdered the man who raped her.

Not all victims freeze or flight. Noura Hussein was a child-bride forced to marry a man she did not want as a husband. Her husband's brother and two cousins held her down when he raped her the first time. The next day, when he tried to rape her again, Noura killed her 'husband'. She fought back and was sentenced to death due to it.

A petition was started to save Noura, along with the hashtag #JusticeForNoura, eventually leading to the court to no longer sentence her to death. As of today, over 1,647,448 people signed the petition. The Justice for Noura campaign has been supported by many activists in the #MeToo movement and is a result of what can happen if people come together and use their voice against injustice.

Asifa Bano was found raped and murdered, while wearing the same dress she wore on this picture.

If 8-year-old Asifa Bano tried to fight the men who raped and then murdered her, we don't know. Not that it matters. The crimes committed against the Indian girl sparked an outrage in India, after a series of rapes and murders of other Indian girls.

People started the hashtag #JusticeForAsifa to demand action taken against the rapists. India is currently going through a rape crisis, and according to this poll it is the most dangerous country in the world for women and girls. 

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) acts largely unconsciously. Meaning, when your brain has unconsciously chosen a fight, flight or freeze response based on information picked up by your body, there's an automatic process going on that stops you from making other decisions until your conscious mind has caught up and processed everything that's been happening, and can make a new decision based on the information it processed.

Autonomic nervous system (ANS) impairment has been increasingly recognised in people with autism spectrum disorder. Are you surprised an autistic rape victim might not know what to do when she is raped, threatened or blackmailed? I'm not. 

This doesn't just go for autistic rape victims alone however; when the fight, flight or freeze response is activated due to danger, the response automatically chosen by the brain, may not be the most rational or safest choice you later wish you made. 

So, when in danger, your safety depends on unconscious and conscious processes going on in your body:

  • Signals sent to your brain that picks up dangerous events.

  • The automatic response of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) to such a dangerous event, which happens unconsciously.

  • The time it takes for your brain to process the reaction caused by the ANS and the situation you are in.

  • The time it takes for your brain to make a conscious, (hopefully) more rational decision, after processing all this information.

How well and quickly you act in danger, depends a lot on the unconscious response of your ANS and brain, and past traumas you've experienced. If you make an irrational automatic choice (fight, flight or freeze response), it could cause great harm.

The Autonomic Nervous System (part of the peripheral nervous system), can again be divided in two different systems:

  • the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

  • the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)

Specifically, the sympathetic nervous system's foremost job is to trigger the body's fight, flight or freeze response once the amygdala has recognised a threat.  

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for stimulation of "rest-and-digest" or "feed and breed". The PNS is considered complementary of the SNS.

The distribution of nerves in the autonomic nervous system, Source: OpenStax College

The sympathetic nervous system activates physiological changes that happen during the fight, flight or freeze response. It's the system that sets the release of norepinephrine in motion: an organic chemical that functions in the brain as a hormone and neurotransmitter, and is used by the SNS to prepare the body and brain for action.

Skeletal formula of norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline or noradrenalin. Source: PubChem

Neurotransmitter: a substance (such as norepinephrine or acetylcholine) that transmits nerve impulses across a synapse

Source: Merriam Webster

Location of the locus coeruleus in the brain. Source: Diego69

The locus coeruleus is the main place for brain synthesis of norepinephrine.

The locus coeruleus and every part of the body affected by norepinephrine is called the locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system (LC-NA system). Excessive activity in the LC-NA system may cause mental health problems, researchers believe:

(...) the available evidence indicates that under normal physiological conditions even moderate activity of the LC-NE system is incompatible with the state of sleep. Given this, excessive activity of this system may contribute to certain forms of insomnia or other conditions associated with elevated arousal levels, including stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Source: Noradrenergic Modulation of Wakefulness/Arousal

The locus coeruleus input signal may come from different areas in the brain. The output signal of norepinephrine caused by the locus coeruleus can affect different areas in the body, such as:

  • Amygdala & Hippocampus

  • Brain stem & Spinal cord

  • Cerebellum

  • Cerebral cortex

  • Hypothalamus

  • Tectum

  • Thalamus

  • Ventral tegmental area

Norepinephrine affects the body in many ways. For example, it increases arousal and attention (alertness and vigilance) in the brain. It may cause restlessness and anxiety, and studies suggest it affects formation and retrieval of memory too.

Image source: TheEmirr. This image has been adapted by PhotoandGrime and has been modified for educational purposes. You are free to use this image under this CC license. Please don't forget to credit the original creator (TheEmirr) of the image.

Recent studies suggest that in people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may experience heightened arousal and reactivity due to overactivity of the locus coeruleus.
 

Behavioral and autonomic hyperresponsiveness in PTSD may arise from a hyperactive alerting/orienting system in which processes related to attention and motor preparation localized to lateral premotor cortex, intraparietal sulcus, and posterior superior cerebellar cortex are modulated by atypically high phasic noradrenergic influences originating in the locus coeruleus.

Source: Locus Coeruleus Activity Mediates Hyperresponsiveness in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Norephine also increases heart-rate and blood-pressure, and many other other things inside the body not terribly important for this article. Both cortisol and norepinephrine are critical is stress responses. Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, attention problems, are all part of PTSD. 

Symptoms of PTSD are hypothesized to represent the behavioral manifestation of stress-induced changes in brain structure and function. Stress results in acute and chronic changes in neurochemical systems and specific brain regions, which result in longterm changes in brain “circuits,” involved in the stress response.

Brain regions that are felt to play an important role in PTSD include hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex. Cortisol and norepinephrine are two neurochemical systems that are critical in the stress response (Figure below).

Source:
Traumatic stress: effects on the brain by J. Douglas Bremner

Lasting effects of trauma on the brain, showing long-term dysregulation of norepinephrine and Cortisol systems, and vulnerable areas of hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex that are affected by trauma. GC, glucocorticoid; CRF, corticotropin-releasing factor; ACTH, adrenocorticotropin hormone; NE, norepinephrine; HR, heart rate; BP, blood pressure; DA, dopamine; BZ, benzodiazapine; GC, glucocorticoid

Source: Traumatic stress: effects on the brain by J. Douglas Bremner

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic events cause real changes inside the brain which science is proving more every day, step by step.

In this research relating to soldiers, PTSD has been linked to shockwaves from bomb blasts. This other study, has shown brain disruption in children with PTSD.

The road to understanding and curing PTSD and depression caused by PTSD, is slowly becoming less misty. Psychology is focusing on understanding treatments such as Eye-Movement Desensitization And Repocessing (EMDR) better, while psychiatry is looking in the direction of medication. Science is looking in all sorts of areas for explanations and solutions to PTSD, depression and anxiety. Including the unlikely direction of hallucinogens.

Classic tryptamine hallucinogens such as ayahuasca/DMT, psilocybin, and LSD are safely administered in controlled settings and several basic, experimental, and clinical studies suggest that these drugs have anxiolytic, antidepressive, and antiaddictive effects.

(...)

The reviewed studies suggest that the therapeutic use of classic hallucinogens may offer to some patients fast-acting and prolonged beneficial effects after a single dose, producing few adverse effects.

Source: Antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive effects of ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): a systematic review of clinical trials published in the last 25 years

PTSD is difficult to cure, but both science, psychology and psychiatry are trying to help those suffering from it. If you suffer from PTSD, please explore the options and many roads you can take to heal and find a healthcare professional who can guide you in the process.

Keep in mind that the road to recovery might not be easy, but that you deserve it, and that your illness is real. Start talking.


Disclaimer:
This article was written specifically for people suffering from PTSD in general, but especially for survivors of rape and people with autism who have PTSD and/or depression and anxiety, to give an insight inside their own minds. I wrote this article in the hope that it will empower those suffering from traumatic events and their minds, so they will see that the harm done to them is real, and that the result of trauma is not something to be ashamed of, because it literally changes your brain. Please keep in mind this article was written for educational, philosophical and activistic purposes by someone not professionally specialised in these fields but merely interested in these fields, and not to provide specific (mental health) advice. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent doctor's advice from a licensed professional in your area. Any action you take based on the information in this article is strictly at your own risk. 


Livestream interviews covering topics such as mental and physical violence, sexual violence, trauma and/or PTSD.

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Interview with activist Katie.

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