• jess

Over-stimulation and Trauma Brains

I have to tell you guys, I’ve been having a rough time in one regard lately.


I’m not feeling emotionally-off balance or down and out… but I am feeling very unsettled, pressured, and overly-responsive every day. I’m just a bit agitated. Frustrated. Anxious and restless.


Even though nothing is really happening in my small pandemic world, it feels like I’m dealing with a lot. It’s felt a bit like living under a microscope lately. And I haven’t been able to place the sensations with my mental processes… until today. Suddenly, I’m feeling relieved, free, happy. My mind feels sharp. My interest in writing, drawing, and recording feels genuine and free-flowing. I feel relaxed for the first time in a long time.


What’s different about this morning? Well, A) I am significantly hungover, so maybe I'm just too worn out for emotions... B) I actually saw other humans last night - ones I really like, too!


But C) My mom is outside of the house, dealing with some morning obligations.


This means, I actually have some space and silence for myself. I can do whatever I want, and no one is going to be commenting on my every activity. No one is watching the fucking news at an inappropriate volume and talking at the screen. No one is pacing around my environment, moving things around and banging doors. No one is talking into the air. No one is letting out loud, exasperated sighs.


It’s just me, the dogs, my computer, and fucking SILENCE. I’m in control of my environment, and my brain feels peaceful, calm, and focused, as a result.


Now, were any of the things that I mentioned earlier overtly upsetting or directly stress-inducing? No, not really. At best, I think we could agree that I just described a slightly annoying environment, but not one where I have the right to be upset or angry.


And yet, every day I have been. I’ve been pissy, pissed off, and ready to start a war. I’ve been challenged to focus and get my work done. I’ve been unable to go above and beyond. Hell, half the time I’ve been incapable of even seeing straight; dizzied by the amount of internal activation I’ve been experiencing.


What the fuck? This isn’t a new sensation by any means, but you know, I haven’t always been good at paying attention to what I’m feeling or trying to understand it.


Today, I am. Because I have the time, space, and conditions necessary to actually notice my experiences and think about them logically, rather than being halfway to fight/flight or freeze.


Today, I’m getting self-educated on over stimulation.





Highly Sensitive Persons


First of all, I'm just learning about a new personality trait - one that I definitely would have laughed at in my pissier years, but today I can shut down my inner asshole and acknowledge that it truly explains so much about me. It's called being a Highly Sensitive Person. And, I know, that sounds like some flouncy bullshit.


"Oh, highly sensitive...? So you're a little bitch," younger Jess would have said. Well, fuckit, maybe I am. But I'm not the only one.


It's believed that 15-20% of the population is comprised of Highly Sensitive Persons - folks with a common trait of "increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli".[2] The trait is characterized by "a tendency to 'pause to check' in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative"


And yeah, I just stole that from Wikipedia. Don't get too impressed.


But, does that sound like someone I know? It sure fucking does. In fact, the more I dig into HSP's, the more I feel like I'm reading my own journal... one of the pages where I'm listing everything that I perceive to be wrong with me and harassing myself for being so strange compared to the ways my peers can function.


Here, just read this and see if you relate: https://www.expansiveheart.com/highly-sensitive-person And/or, take this quiz to see how you rank: https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/


Just briefly skimming this information miiiiight make you feel like you're looking in a mirror for the first time. For me, it's like all the most annoying and disempowering parts of my life experience have been collected together for my own review. "Oh, there's a REAL reason why I can't stand running errands or being in large crowds? It's not just me being an anxious mess?" Well that's a motherfucking relief.


This Highly Sensitive Persons discovery (and a big shoutout to community member Itsmerrydeath who pointed me in this direction after hearing about my sensitivity) has really been a game changer. I feel less like a weak freak and more like a different class of human - one who has been programmed to notice.


Why are some of us more astute than others when it comes to environmental stimuli? Well, you know I'm about to start talking about things in trauma terms. Now that we all have a new personality label to research, time to think about why this might be linked to personal or generational T-word.




Over stimulation


Going hand in hand with the distress intolerance episode… and really, I should have reversed the order of these bitches to talk about stimulation first (live, laugh, love)… WHY are we so sensitive to stimuli that we get overwhelmed in daily life and need avoidance behaviors to cope?


I can say, without any pause, that I’m a tightly-wound, nervous, easily upset human. I’m very sensitive to my environment and my brain easily overloads into a state of agitation, nervousness, and frustration in situations that wouldn’t bother most other people. I’m not known to be patient or tolerant, if you really want to break it down into my personal shortcomings. I know how to project a different image for a while, but deep down, I know it’s true. I’m not proud or ignorant of my high-strung character flaws. Here they are!


But, what’s up with those unfortunate, unattractive pieces of my personality? I’ve always just considered myself to be an easily-riled up butthole, but in reality - like most other things that challenge me about myself - this shit miiiiight go back to Trauma more than my inherent temperament.


Talking about brains on fire; what happens when your head is always looking out for danger and your internal processing system is a bit wonky with short circuiting wiring?


I’m digging into Over stimulation in relation to Childhood Trauma and the myriad effects it has on our lives.


Why are we so sensitive? What’s the physiological basis? What’s the practical outcome? And what happens when the stimulation is coming from inside yourself?





Learned Hypervigilance and Heightened states of arousal


I don’t need to tell you, we Traumatized Motherfuckers are always on the lookout. Hyperaware. Hypervigilant. Hypersensitive.


When you grow up in an unpredictable and unsafe environment, you learn to be on the ready. To get the fuck out of the way before it’s too late. To detect the energy in a room and remove yourself in case things are about to explode. To pick up external signals and make rapid adjustments to your own behaviors to pacify unavoidable individuals.


It’s the same effect that war has on soldiers. No time to relax; you never know when the next bomb is going to go off. We often hear about soldiers with PTSD being highly sensitive to sounds and external stimuli after experiencing the horrors of combat. That’s easy to understand - when you need to be on the lookout for bombshells, roadside traps, and enemy fire to survive, it’s probably pretty difficult to just flip that switch off when you get back to normal life.


And, if acute trauma causes us to be on high alert with rapid responses to overstimulation, why wouldn’t Complex Trauma?


Instead of learning that we need to be ready for war on the battlefield, we adapt to war in our family homes. Every moment has the potential for a skirmish to break out. Everyone is an enemy, or, at least, a fairly-unreliable ally. Every part of our daily lives is in danger of exploding. And, like some soldiers, we were drafted into this conflict without any choice of our own.

Instead of learning that we need to be ready for war on the battlefield, we adapt to war in our family homes. Every moment has the potential for a skirmish to break out. Everyone is an enemy, or, at least, a fairly-unreliable ally. Every part of our daily lives is in danger of exploding. And, like some soldiers, we were drafted into this conflict without any choice of our own.


In physiology terms, the amygdala is responsible for our feelings of hyper-awareness of our surroundings. It’s our fear-response center. To be clear, this isn’t the neurological component that senses our environment, itself - we have separate areas that are responsible for our senses of smell, sight, sound, and so on. In contrast, the amygdala collects the sensory information and rapidly determines it to be significant, threatening, or ignorable.


It’s like a rapid biological screening process; if you’ll react to the stimuli or you won’t, and to what extent, is controlled by the amygdala. Big surprise! This part of the brain is known to be overly-sensitive and hyper-responsive in trauma survivors. Heightened amygdala activity is correlated with anxiety disorders. Furthermore, it’s believed to be less sensitive to positive stimuli in Trauma sufferers - meaning, you won’t necessarily pay as much attention to the good things happening around you, because you’re more in-tune with the potential risks.


It’s like a rapid biological screening process; if you’ll react to the stimuli or you won’t, and to what extent, is controlled by the amygdala. Big surprise! This part of the brain is known to be overly-sensitive and hyper-responsive in trauma survivors. Heightened amygdala activity is correlated with anxiety disorders. Furthermore, it’s believed to be less sensitive to positive stimuli in Trauma sufferers - meaning, you won’t necessarily pay as much attention to the good things happening around you, because you’re more in-tune with the potential risks.

Ignore the good, wait for the bad? Makes sense, sounds like my life.


From there, following amygdala activation, the thalamus is engaged. The amygdala signals to the thalamus that something is going on in the environment, and the thalamus relays the message to the rest of the brain. It causes the release of your fight or flight hormones and cortisol to engage your entire body in preparation for a rapid escape or conflict.


The thalamus also sends signals to the brain stem and to the analytical parts of your brain. In this way, you react with immediate instinctual reflex to avoid the danger thanks to your survival brain. At the same time, your reasonable brain starts processing the stimuli. You aren’t just aroused, now you’re trying to understand the stimuli and make adjustments.


Unfortunately, our brain stems are quick to pull the fight/flight/freeze/fawn activation trigger, while our cerebral cortex takes longer to do its duty. This is why we react to triggers much more rapidly than we can process what the trigger is even composed of. Our survival processes are rapid and subconscious. They take priority in order to avoid the source of stress and keep ourselves alive before we try to understand the danger in our higher level thinking brains. Must continue breathing to deal with the actual fuckery in front of you.


Unfortunately, our brainstems are quick to pull the fight/flight/freeze/fawn activation trigger, while our cerebral cortex takes longer to do its duty. This is why we react to triggers much more rapidly than we can process what the trigger is even composed of. Our survival processes are rapid and subconscious. They take priority in order to avoid the source of stress and keep ourselves alive before we try to understand the danger in our higher level thinking brains. Must continue breathing to deal with the actual fuckery in front of you.

Since Complex Trauma sufferers started practicing their survival responses early in life, during the developmental stages of our brains, we wind up with hyper-responsive survival pathways. Our wiring is different than our peers who grew up in quiet, safe, supporting environments.


Plus, thanks to the neglect or abuse we experienced, our emotional centers - also part of the limbic system - are different. When we’re talking about having big, unpredictable, confusing emotional responses in trauma… know that it’s thanks to your hypothalamus being activated in response to external stimuli.


This rapid-relay system explains why we’re quick to respond to our environments and also quick to have somewhat explosive emotional responses. It all happens so fast that we’re taking action before our logical brains even get a chance to consider the circumstances.


This rapid-relay system explains why we’re quick to respond to our environments and also quick to have somewhat explosive emotional responses. It all happens so fast that we’re taking action before our logical brains even get a chance to consider the circumstances.

Next time something rapidly causes you to get overwhelmed and emotional - don’t beat yourself up, Motherfucker. It’s just your brain, working with the best rapidly-detected information that it has in that moment to keep you alive. No need for a shame spiral the next time you snap at a loved one or start crying without understanding the reason.


Hey, I’m going to let someone else’s words shine more light on this, so it’s not just my half-assed internet research holding this argument together.


Here’s a nice little blurb from a paper I found, titled Considering sensory processing issues in trauma affected children: The physical environment in children’s residential homes. It comes out of the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, published in 2016.



Children who have been subject to chronic and inescapable abuse may also have general problems with self-regulation, having not been given the safe environment in which to develop any secure sense of self, let alone establish effective internal coping strategies. As such, the child’s more primitive avoidance strategies, such as fight, flight or freeze may have developed into their predominant response modes (Briere, 2002).


Children who have been chronically abused may also have problems re-calibrating their arousal levels contributing to their environmental sensitivity (van der Kolk, 2003). A mechanism that brings these factors together, the Predictive Adaptive Response (PAR), is attracting progressively more research interest, not least because of the long-term pervasive health implications, which have been shown to have lifelong consequences.


The PAR is established during early development, when neural circuitry and peripheral regulatory systems are programmed to achieve optimal fit with ecological demands. The PAR is described as being like an embedded weather forecast that programmes expectation of living conditions. It has survival benefits, but it can be skewed in unhelpful ways by adverse developmental conditions (Evans and Kim, 2012).


Children who have experienced a lack of parental warmth, inconsistent and unresponsive parenting and abuse can be described as suffering from toxic childhood stress (Carroll, Gruenewald, Taylor, Janicki-Deverts, Matthews and Seeman, 2013).


Exposure to toxic childhood stress impacts upon PAR to increase allostatic load. This in short means that these children are more sensitive to environmental stress and have a greater reaction to it, for a longer period of time. This increased sensitivity to environmental stress has been the subject of much interest in terms of epidemiological impact on physical health and Considering sensory processing issues in trauma affected children:


The physical environment in children’s residential homes shapes development, but has been relatively neglected in terms of cognitive and more general psychological development, even though its importance is fairly well established (van Ijezendoorn and Bekermans Kranenburg, 2012).


The physical environment of a children’s residential home is the context in which children who have suffered the most serious forms of toxic childhood stress are often removed to. It is also the context where their established vulnerabilities give rise to behaviours and emotions that challenge carers and often compound earlier traumas. It should be no surprise that a lot of these children are extremely susceptible to environmental pressures, even those that are objectively quite subtle.


It may well be the case that explanations for the way these children present can be found in past events, but those same events have often fundamentally impacted on how they perceive and experience the present day context in which they find themselves.




In less academic terms, when it comes to sensory processing and life adaptation skills, our childhood trauma matters. The context of our trauma - the family home - also matters. We’re taught to be on the lookout for danger, and the danger we’re attuned to occurs in our daily environments.


This is why certain stimuli might not bother anyone in the room, except you. It’s not because you’re dramatic, difficult, or aiming for attention… it’s because you’ve been consciously or subconsciously taught that something terrible is about to follow. Your peers might not get it, but that’s only because they’ve never had to before.


This is why certain stimuli might not bother anyone in the room, except you. It’s not because you’re dramatic, difficult, or aiming for attention… it’s because you’ve been consciously or subconsciously taught that something terrible is about to follow. Your peers might not get it, but that’s only because they’ve never had to before.

And, even more unfortunately, those personal-danger signals that only affect you? They can be as subtle as they are life-interrupting.




Minute triggers, difficulty concentrating, and asshole responses


So, we have rapidly responsive components of our brain contained in the limbic system. They detect stimulation and relay the information to the other parts of our brain boxes, as they perceive danger or safety. I think all of us can understand the connection between feeling unsafe in our early environment and learning to feel unsafe in EVERY environment.


Do you ever get the sense that your head seems way TOO finely tuned to everything? Your brain is always on the lookout and the threshold for responding is very low? You don’t seem to filter out the information that your sensory receptors detect, like everyone else? As such, incredibly subtle events never seem to sneak by. You’re incredibly observative and even the tiniest stimulation is enough to upset your train of thinking or throw you into a state of nervous arousal or agitation?


Do you ever get the sense that your head seems way TOO finely tuned to everything? Your brain is always on the lookout and the threshold for responding is very low? You don’t seem to filter out the information that your sensory receptors detect, like everyone else? As such, incredibly subtle events never seem to sneak by. You’re incredibly observative and even the tiniest stimulation is enough to upset your train of thinking or throw you into a state of nervous arousal or agitation?

For me, this will present as difficulty concentrating and also difficulty not being an asshole.


I notice EVERYTHING. Put me in a room and ask me to find the ten differences since the last time I was present - I bet you anything that I’ll get them all - plus two that you didn’t ask for. Set me in a social situation with folks that I know, and I’ll quickly tell you how their vibe is today based on body language, tiny language cues, and some internal, un-namable detection of energy states.


My brain has been designed to notice the details, because it’s those subtle environmental cues that indicated something was off-kilter in my family home. As such, I’m not particularly good at filtering out noise and concentrating. I’m aware all the time. It can be extremely distracting, and therefore frustrating, to try to compensate for my super sensitivity to tiny details. Pile that on top of dealing with the emergency signals that often throw my entire being into activation… and things happen that I’m not proud of.


My brain has been designed to notice the details, because it’s those subtle environmental cues that indicated something was off-kilter in my family home. As such, I’m not particularly good at filtering out noise and concentrating. I’m aware all the time. It can be extremely distracting, and therefore frustrating, to try to compensate for my super sensitivity to tiny details. Pile that on top of dealing with the emergency signals that often throw my entire being into activation… and things happen that I’m not proud of.

As far as my difficulty concentrating goes, I have a hard time keeping my eye on the prize when I can’t control my environment very tightly. When something is happening around me, my head isn’t immersed in the paper I’m reading or the project I’m trying to complete.


I think (and I know nothing) that this is why many of us Traumatized Motherfuckers are incorrectly or self-diagnosed with ADHD and even autism.


We’re so easily thrown off our game because our heads are busier with detecting danger than the higher-level activities we try to engage.

We’re so easily thrown off our game because our heads are busier with detecting danger than the higher-level activities we try to engage. To us, it seems like we can’t control our thoughts and our heads are always scattered. We’re frustrated by trying to complete basic tasks that - usually, at some point, we’ve been easily capable of - but we just can’t seem to do it anymore. We feel overly-sensitive to such a degree that our Inner Critics prompt us to start looking up everything that could be seriously wrong with us. I suspect that this is where the propositions of, “I’m a bit ADD these days” and, “I think I’m somewhere on the spectrum,” come from.


Sound like anyone you know? Me too.


I try to manage this problematic focus with tight environmental controls. I’ve spoken before about my preference for living and working - locked in my fucking bedroom with very limited sound stimulation and dim lighting. Even then, sounds outside my door or windows will throw me into high alert. And, truly, I’m disturbed to an irrational degree.


Extreme agitation and nervous energy flows through my body every time I hear footsteps or cabinets closing, for example. If there’s conversation or whistling outside my window, I’m geared up to erupt. Even though I’m physically separated from the stimulus, I can’t get my shit together when my brain is so distracted. I now realize, this happens because it’s expecting someone to rush through the door and start something. Peace was always a precursor to rapid aggression.

Extreme agitation and nervous energy flows through my body every time I hear footsteps or cabinets closing, for example. If there’s conversation or whistling outside my window, I’m geared up to erupt. Even though I’m physically separated from the stimulus, I can’t get my shit together when my brain is so distracted. I now realize, this happens because it’s expecting someone to rush through the door and start something. Peace was always a precursor to rapid aggression.


If I can’t even concentrate in a tightly closed environment, I’m sure you can deduce… I’m not the sort of person who can study in a library or write in a crowded cafe. In these circumstances, I’m so distracted by the activities and especially sounds around me, that I can’t accomplish a single thing. As someone who otherwise sits down and hammers out tens of thousands of words in a day, it’s immensely frustrating to be out of my usual working environment and finding that my productivity has been reduced by 90%.


This is also why it was so difficult to hold a full-time job in a loud, chaotic environment where people were regularly having conversations all around me, slamming doors, and banging things around the office. My work history has been hugely impacted by the level of unsafe-feeling stimulation in the immediate environment.


This is also why it was so difficult to hold a full-time job in a loud, chaotic environment where people were regularly having conversations all around me, slamming doors, and banging things around the office. My work history has been hugely impacted by the level of unsafe-feeling stimulation in the immediate environment.

But, outside of things that require deep, purposeful focus… This is ALSO why I hate going places like busy stores, theme parks, and outdoor festivals. There is just too much going on, and my head feels like it’s continually whipping back and forth trying to get a grasp on the environment. It’s why traffic can be so overwhelming. It’s why I have no notifications AND I regularly put my phone on airplane mode before I chuck it across the fucking room the next time it pings. I think it could even be the reason why I’m so ridiculously light-sensitive.


My brain doesn’t filter out unnecessary details of my environment, because it finds everything to be necessary signs of imminent danger. As a result, I feel like I have ADD on a nonsensical basis. I worry that I’m broken in the head when I compare myself to others - or past versions of myself.


My brain doesn’t filter out unnecessary details of my environment, because it finds everything to be necessary signs of imminent danger. As a result, I feel like I have ADD on a nonsensical basis. I worry that I’m broken in the head when I compare myself to others - or past versions of myself.

In my recent living and working environment - hanging at my mom’s house while the world figures itself out - I’ve been crazy-tense and unable to concentrate a lot lately. I’ve been beating myself up over it and trying to fend off this growing agitation for the past several weeks, in particular. It seems like the smallest, stupidest things put my body and brain on high alert and cause an emotional response. This is where my penchant for rapidly slipping into assholish behaviors pops up.


Every time my mom sighs loudly, I feel like an angry explosion is coming. Every instance of her banging around the kitchen or pacing throughout the house makes me incredibly tense and nervous. Every day when I’m trying to work and she starts chattering in the background - at me, at the dog, or at herself - I’m so frustrated that I’m ready to blow. I can’t concentrate and I’m .2 seconds away from saying something shitty.


I can - and do - admit that I’m not the sunniest person to be around. When I’m stressed, which is often, I’m quick to snap and likely to make brash, unnecessary comments to relieve some of my tension. It’s not cute and I’m not proud of it. But at the end of the day, I think my smart mouth and sarcasm is another form of survival mechanism.


When I’m overwhelmed or flooded, the last thing I need is a person trying to carry on a conversation with me. It spells DANGER in my world. I know that I’m not capable of a normal or positive interaction when I’m in a bad place, with my system lit up like a Christmas tree. My brain isn’t sending energy to the logical, thinking compartments that carry on conversations and enjoy socializing, it’s too busy repeatedly sending SOS signals.


When I’m overwhelmed or flooded, the last thing I need is a person trying to carry on a conversation with me. It spells DANGER in my world. I know that I’m not capable of a normal or positive interaction when I’m in a bad place, with my system lit up like a Christmas tree. My brain isn’t sending energy to the logical, thinking compartments that carry on conversations and enjoy socializing, it’s too busy repeatedly sending SOS signals.

My butthole attitude is even worse if that person is the origin of the stimulation that flooded my system in the first place. In other words, if you’ve been ramping up my internal arousal for an hour and now you have the audacity to come over and speak to me about it, I’m going to rip your fucking head off.


At that point, I’m absolutely going to lash out. I will be ornery, negative, shaming, and generally a bitch.... but, somehow try to realize, it’s really in an attempt to protect myself from further discomfort and potential danger.


In my head, when I'm getting snappy or outright shitty, the intention isn’t to hurt the other party or ruin the relationship, it’s self-preservation as my lizard brain blares fire alarms. In short, if I can make the party responsible for the original danger-stimulation go away through minor verbal aggressions, I’ve achieved my goal. I’ve defended myself. My system can calm down a little.


In my head, when I'm getting snappy or outright shitty, the intention isn’t to hurt the other party or ruin the relationship, it’s self-preservation as my lizard brain blares fire alarms. In short, if I can make the party responsible for the original danger-stimulation go away through minor verbal aggressions, I’ve achieved my goal. I’ve defended myself. My system can calm down a little.

For me, this is distress intolerance, at it’s ugliest.


I’m trying to avoid the aversive stimuli, and now that you’re out of the room - albeit, very angry at me - I have succeeded temporarily in loosening my internal stress valve. This is negative reinforcement, if you're wondering. I've escaped the unwanted conditions and my body is rewarding me for it. The risky, anxiety-inducing stimuli is gone. My brain tells me "good job" with a rush of feel-good chemicals.


Oh, the beauty of over stimulation responses.




Continual arousal - from the inside


Lastly, I want to talk about something that deserves its own discussion, but I would be remiss not to mention now because it affects a lot of us. Time to chat about the internal experiences that compound on our reactions to external stimuli. This is where over stimulation, distress intolerance, and inner critics collide.


So, here’s a new question. Why is it that I always feel so tightly wound? Even if there’s no environmental stimuli streaming in, I regularly feel like my system is under pressure and I’m on the verge of imploding.


Sometimes, this stimulation isn’t related to events outside of myself, but feels as though it’s coming from my internal environment, itself. Shit is churning in my environment… but that environment is my body, this time. It’s not easy to slow down and acknowledge it, because I would much rather try to avoid it with my usual shitty behaviors - eating, drinking, smoking, working.


Sometimes, this stimulation isn’t related to events outside of myself, but feels as though it’s coming from my internal environment, itself. Shit is churning in my environment… but that environment is my body, this time. It’s not easy to slow down and acknowledge it, because I would much rather try to avoid it with my usual shitty behaviors - eating, drinking, smoking, working.

When I DO actually sit back and take a look with a fine-toothed comb, the underlying internal stress that I’m feeling is pretty clear. I’m subconsciously working through some time-inappropriate stressors... and I’m judging my experiences.


My evaluation of myself, my history, my future, and my sticky feelings are playing a role in my acute environmental analysis… and, as a result, I’m stimulated. I want to GET. AWAY. from the danger.


I can’t, because I am the danger. Trauma brain problems.


What is the inner stimulation? It’s all those unprocessed memories, ruminating thoughts, and inner critic whisperings, acting as unavoidable stimuli and drumming up the emotional centers that are closely correlated with our survival brains. System, activated. Defenses, up. Afterall, our feelings, our memories, and our perceptions of social unsafety can feel dangerous. We were taught from a young age that they are.


What is the inner stimulation? It’s all those unprocessed memories, ruminating thoughts, and inner critic whisperings, acting as unavoidable stimuli and drumming up the emotional centers that are closely correlated with our survival brains. System, activated. Defenses, up. Afterall, our feelings, our memories, and our perceptions of social unsafety can feel dangerous. We were taught from a young age that they are.

This is where our real or fictionalized perceptions can override our actual surroundings. This is why we can have a totally chill day, but feel like the entire town is burning down for every moment of it. Difficult to explain to ourselves, impossible to explain to others… easy to beat ourselves up even harder for the seemingly-illogical state of agitation.


Here’s another excerpt from the aforementioned paper, Considering sensory processing issues in trauma affected children: The physical environment in children’s residential homes.


Memories of traumatic events can be both explicit and implicit: the former referring to memories that generally stem from what a person consciously thinks about, as in verbal form, whereas the latter is more of an automatic, unconscious memory. During the experience of trauma, biological reactions impact upon sensory processing and the way in which memories are encoded.


Heightened sensory awareness can mean that environmental features, which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, can become powerfully imprinted as associations with traumatic events. For some, this response is encoded as explicit memories where the person can make sense of their responses and understand it through narrative (Briere, 2002; Rothschild, 2000), whereas for others, the traumatic memories can become fragmented into visual, sensory and emotional pieces causing implicit memories and drives.


Such fragmentation can mean that memories appear as disjointed images, physical sensations and intense emotional reactions (van der Kolk, 2014). The dissociative experiences that often accompany traumatic events can themselves disrupt memory encoding at an explicit level, leading to sensory associations with no accessible verbal narrative. It has been suggested that this is due in part to the reduced activity in Broca’s area during trauma, leaving the memories devoid of any narrative and left in the limbic structures ‘like a somatosensory photograph’ (Koomar, 2009, p. 1) (van der Kolk, 1996b; Ogden, Minton, and Pain, 2006; Rauch et al., 1996; Rothschild, 2000).



In other words - my own now - our stimulation centers and tendency to feel like we’re drowning in significant events are further complicated by the processes that underlie the actual formation of trauma brains in the first place. Our inability to cope with an event in the moment and subversion to filing the memory away for attention at a later time.


When you have a head full of incomplete, unprocessed memories flying around, it’s no surprise that you’re already feeling highly activated. The internal distress of confusing memories and painful emotions that they dredge up isn’t helping your brain to declutter itself or your body to calm down. You’re already on a mission of avoiding both uncomfortable events.


So, it really doesn’t take much from your outside world to sprinkle just a little additional stress and stimulation on the pile and cause that final structural breakdown. All you want to do is escape the negative thoughts and feelings that are coming from deep inside you, deep inside your life history. Instead, you’re trapped with them every day. Now, throw in some outside stimuli to activate your danger signals and cause instantaneous emotional responses… and, boom, you’re ready to combust.


So, it really doesn’t take much from your outside world to sprinkle just a little additional stress and stimulation on the pile and cause that final structural breakdown. All you want to do is escape the negative thoughts and feelings that are coming from deep inside you, deep inside your life history. Instead, you’re trapped with them every day. Now, throw in some outside stimuli to activate your danger signals and cause instantaneous emotional responses… and, boom, you’re ready to combust.

It’s not your fault. It’s not easy to control. It’s not an indicator of your real personality.


It’s all a function of trauma, of learned adaptive responses to the environment that shaped you, and of your brain’s attempts at survival.





Wrap up


Alright, Motherfuckers, this has been an introspective and outrospective look at over stimulation. Why do we feel like loaded guns? Why is it so hard to concentrate? Why are we so sensitive?


It’s just a Trauma Brain, doing what it does best. Trying its hardest to predict the future and keep you alive based on your history of past experiences.


Maybe those experiences seem subtle and unimportant from an objective perspective, but your head has wisely correlated seemingly-inert stimuli with the events that immediately followed. It’s animal behavior, at its most basic level. And it’s actually incredibly cool.


Just… not when you can’t concentrate enough to get through 2 pages of a book or explode at your significant other like a fucking asshat for chewing the wrong way.


The next time you’re feeling irrationally frustrated, flooded, or agitated, try not to beat the shit out of yourself, if you can. You’re only adding more fuel to the fire with additional negative thoughts.


Just try to take a pause, calm your lizard brain with any grounding techniques you may have, and make time to process or remove any accessible stimuli. Lighten your system’s load. Create a better environment for your hyperaware brain.


And try to enjoy the quiet, peaceful moments when no one is trying your last nerve - quite literally.


I'm going to go sit in some fucking SILENCE now.


Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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