How does the body and brain respond to trauma and sexual abuse? Dr. Dan Allender says that there are three separate things that happen to our brain and our body when we experience trauma.

“There’s a portion of our brain in the frontal lobe that manages language. What we find with trauma is that our brain literally goes offline with regard to language. This means that our memory is going to be fragmented, we’re not going to be able to remember all that occurred in the beginning, middle, end of storytelling that we would have for most other memories.”

Not only does the person suffering from trauma have a difficult time remembering the past, they can also struggle to regulate emotions, especially fear.

“There’s a portion of our brain in our Limbic System called our Amygdala that simply pumps out cortisol, adrenaline and that portion of our brain grows and another part of our brain called the Hippocampus shrinks. That’s a part of our brain that in many ways regulates what we feel.”

Dan says that those who have suffered from trauma often feel like they’ve been able to put their past behind them. However, he says that the past has a way of climbing back into the present in the most inopportune times. These instances of the past interrupting the present are called triggers.

“They have a very hard time containing it because there’s a leakage of the past into the present.”

“They get triggered from a slight touch by an appropriate person and it somehow generates this deep sense of disgust, fear, or shame from our past. So when all those things are happening we’ve got to know what’s really happening in our own body and brain.”

Dan says it’s important to understand these symptoms of trauma so that we don’t have to be left wondering what’s wrong with us which only serves to increase fear and confusion. When we suspect that we may be suffering from trauma that we’ve buried we can seek help from a Christian counselor.


Dr. Dan Allender serves as the founding President and Professor of Counseling Psychology at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology in Seattle, Washington. He and his wife, Rebecca, live in the Puget Sound area of Washington and have three adult children and four grandchildren.

Key Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-3

Featured Songs: How He Loves – Crowder; We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music; Jesus King of Angels – Fernando Ortega

Healing the wounded heart

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