Remaining on high alert produces mental rigidity, which results in a loss of imagination and creativity. The ability to imagine is what makes problem solving possible. Without imagination, the brain is stuck with repeating strategies that have been tried before. The traumatized individual may find themselves repeating the same unsuccessful behaviors, even though they are consciously aware those responses did not work in the past, simply because they cannot think of anything else to try. Their brain gets stuck in “ruts” like car tracks on old dirt roads that are dug out by repetitive driving over the same ground day after day. Neuroplasticity and flexibility, which are signs of mental health, are lost, and coping skills are limited. They may even feel compelled to revisit experiences that remind them of the trauma, although it may be terrifying to do so, because their brain is saying it must drive in the “ruts” on the road.
At the same time, the brain remains attached to the trauma, repetitively recreating the traumatic experience, and is unable to successfully integrate the trauma with new experiences or into their life story, resulting in being rigidly stuck in the developmental stage where the trauma occurred. A slow and steady decline in the ability to function in the here-and-now of life is the result.
Dr. Donna E. Lane is a Christian Counselor who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss, along with the depression and anxiety often resulting from these experiences. She has been a counselor since 1979, and has owned her practice since 1993. She is co-author of the internationally-acclaimed trauma treatment resource, Trauma Narrative Treatment, and the accompanying story, Gold Stone. She is also the co-author of Strength in Adversity, a Biblical study on walking through difficulty with Christ.