Survivors of child sexual abuse may experience a variety of challenges related to the trauma they endured as children. The trauma of child sexual abuse can affect the way your brain and body function and can contribute to a variety of physical, mental, and emotional health problems. Learning how trauma impacts the different parts of your brain can help you understand the connection between your trauma and your challenges.

For our purposes, we will focus on two parts of the brain: the limbic system and the frontal lobe.

The Limbic System Diagram

The Limbic System

The limbic system is where your survival instincts and pleasure centers live. The limbic system’s role is to help you survive by influencing your emotions to avoid pain and seek pleasure.

  • When trauma occurs early in life, this part of the brain can become wired to view the world through the lens of fear. As a result, the limbic system might frequently go into overdrive and dominate a survivor’s life.

  • When the limbic system perceives danger, it reacts by activating a fight, flight, or freeze response in your mind and body as a means to keep you safe.

The Limbic System Diagram

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is responsible for abstract thinking, behavior regulation, and problem solving. The frontal lobe plays a major role in impulse control, social interactions, and complex decision-making.

  • The frontal lobe can be easily overwhelmed by the limbic system if they’re not working together.

  • In survivors of childhood sexual trauma, the frontal lobe may have fewer resources to process information and to soothe the limbic system. This can make it harder for survivors to focus, manage impulses, and make decisions.

Two-Way Communication Within the Two-Part Brain

 
Understanding the connection between the limbic system and frontal lobe is critical to the healing process. The ultimate goal of healing is to strengthen this connection between the two parts of your brain.

When you begin to understand the limbic system’s power to influence your behavior, as well as how easily it can be triggered, your frontal lobe will learn how to communicate more effectively with the limbic system. Eventually, your limbic system and frontal lobe will learn to work together, which can lead to healthier coping and lasting healing.

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