What happens to our brains during trauma

From “Telling Stories in the Dark: Finding healing and hope in sharing our sadness, grief, trauma, and pain” by Jeffrey Munroe

I asked Dan to help me understand what happens to our brains during trauma. He told me that there are stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline flowing through our bodies during trauma, which mobilize us for fight or flight. This happens involuntarily – the stress hormones knock logically weighing options offline. Moments before Clarence Hayes shot Ron Nelson, Roger’s brain was operating at a rational level, as he thought about how he was going to make the robbery “all right” to his parents and future in-laws. But when the gun was fired, Roger’s body mobilized into fight or flight mode and his body – led by his nervous system instead of his brain – reacted. There’s simply no way he would have been able to calmly figure out the best option.

There are other points in the story where strong emotions surfaced for Roger. He felt fear in the police station when he was in close proximity to Clarence Hayes and anger in the courtroom when Hayes said,”I’m not an evil man,” the same words he’s said while threatening Ron Nelson with a gun.
“The very emotions Roger identifies – fear and anger – are what Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, identifies as the basis of much of our justice system,” Dan told me. “If we base justice solely on fear and anger, we’re basing it on reactions from our nervous systems that don’t represent our full capacities. We have to find a way to breathe and slow down enough for those higher systems to come back online.”