Neuroplasticity: the most influential discovery of our time?

Electricity, the wheel, heliocentric thought…all paradigm-altering shifts. For us, the new earth-shattering discovery just might be neuroplasticity.

Neuroscience is the recent scientific research into how the brain is not static, but, in fact, dynamic.

For decades brain scientists believed the human brain was relatively fixed after it developed in childhood. They believed personality was fully set around age 30, and that after that you were stuck with whatever brain patterns you landed with.

New research on personality, brain health, and trauma is showing how the brain can build new neural pathways at any time of life, even after severe illness or debilitating traumatic experiences.

Indeed, the brain is surprisingly resilient, for being such a delicate organ.

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The reason neuroplasticity can be so influential, though, is not just because it blasts open decades of psychological research and practice.

More significantly, neuroplasticity means that we can literally alter our realities by altering our minds.

In the same way that knowing that lightning can be harnessed to power small devices and entire civilizations, knowing that we can harness the power of thought alters the way we view ourselves, the planet, and everything on it.

Our brains mark the doorways where our bodies interact with the outside world. Our internal world is a place where we interpret and sort out the external world so we can respond in appropriate ways.

It also influences how we interact in the world.

In other words, our brain’s state of flow directly influences how we experience the world.

Neuroplasticity, as a concept, allows us to think about our brains as in development, all the time. We can always develop in any direction. In fact, we are developing at all times, even if we are not aware of it.

Indeed, the brain is surprisingly resilient, for being such a delicate organ.

Becoming aware that your brain is constantly shifting is like discovering, suddenly, that nothing you believe or think or experience has to stay “true” for you. Now that you know, there is so much you can do with that information. You can build new neural pathways for success, love, abundance, whatever. And you can do it with a simple, fundamental shift that’s available to us all.

Naturally, some are resistant to this idea. It forces us to re-think most of what we’ve assumed for a long time.

Like heliocentric thought, we are still wrestling with the ins and outs of how to use neuroplasticity to our advantage. Although the sun’s real position was discovered multiple times by multiple people, it took a long time to catch on, mostly due to the resistance of establishment of the time. Back then, the idea that earth was not the center of the universe–let alone the solar system–was a deeply unpopular opinion. Once accepted, though, heliocentrism launched incredible scientific advancements in the exploration of space. In the same way, we are just beginning to discover the power of the unseen world hidden in the human mind.

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Even though neuroplasticity is taking time to catch on, it is rapidly becoming mainstream. Once it does, more of us will be able to benefit from the knowledge that changing your brain can, in fact, change your life.

Similarly, neuroplasticity is a scientific discovery that can spark the creation of tools and techniques, which we can then use for the benefit of those who hope to increase their brain’s flexibility in coping with life.

Specifically, researchers are looking into how neuroplasticity can assist with trauma healing. Since we now know that mental health is directly tied to brain health, how can we use what we know about neural pathways to assist trauma survivors?

Bessel van der Kolk, in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, recounts several instances of trauma survivors who get “stuck” in trauma. He also recounts some trauma survivors who committed atrocities as a reaction to their trauma.

van der Kolk’s work is controversial, partly because noting that crimes are a trauma reaction seems to condone violent and anti-social behavior. To suggest that trauma “makes” you commit crimes suggests that your subconscious activity dictates your conscious behavior.

This is problematic for several reasons, not least of which is because those examples do not take neuroplasticity into account. Beyond the blatant wrongness of harming another person, this perspective also assumes that trauma turns you into a robot, a machine, a less-than-human.

A good comparison is technological determinism, the belief that technology creates certain states or perspectives in the world. Anytime you hear someone say, “cell phones are running the world,” or “texting is ruining the youth,” or “this device will solve all disease,” that’s technological determinism.

The problem with technological determinism is that it does not account for human agency. If instead we look at technology as a tool that we may use for good or for ill (more often, something in between), we see that technology has not “caused” anything. We can choose to allow it to do so, if we wish, but the choice is ultimately in our hands.

On the other hand, van der Kolk gives several examples of traumatized people who felt an urge to commit violence against others, but then sought help instead. Those who sought help avoided committing any crimes, accepted treatment, and began to see themselves as something other than their trauma. This is the difference between saying, “my trauma defines me,” and “my trauma influences how I see the world.”

So, while trauma colors our experience, it does not determine it.

True, when we carry trauma, the resources available to us are severely limited. If you are a survivor, you know how trauma influences how you breathe, how you eat, how you sleep. Every part of your day is hindered by the struggle of keeping yourself alive. When you have trauma, your viewpoint of the world is directly influenced by what happened to you. You believe, do, and say things from that trauma perspective, because your brain is doing the necessary work of keeping you safe.

That’s why neuroplasticity is so critically important.

You get the choice as to what new neural pathways you build, since the process is constantly happening, anyway.

Recent neuroscience demonstrates that your brain is still shifting every moment, creating new neural pathways, growing and adapting and overcoming. We all do this. We do it to survive. And, no matter whether your life has been easy or hard, your brain is still building new neural pathways every moment.

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In the words of Harry Granison Hill, “the world within modifies the world without. Anyone who desires to change his environment and outer conditions may do so by changing his inner attitude.”

And, since we now know about neuroplasticity, we know that even our brains can be re-wired. Trauma can be released, and our brains can heal, perhaps in part or completely.

To realize that our brains are under the influence of our own intentions is to realize that our own lives are in our own hands—or rather, in our own brains.

Just like the invention of the wheel, the discovery of electricity, and the shift to heliocentric thinking changed the very fabric of the reality we now operate from, neuroplasticity can be a tool that launches us into an entirely new era.

What would your life look like if you knew you had significant influence over the inner functioning of your brain, and by extension, the inner workings of your body, too?

The study of neuroscience has given rise to a vast pharmacopeia of ways to influence the neural pathways of the body and mind. Meditation, somatic experiencing, EMDR, Brainspotting, herbal medicine, and all kinds of other neurological techniques have provided healing support for those who want to give their neuroplasticity a boost.

Personally, I use a technique called “Trauma Release Meditation” (or TRM). I’ve noticed across-the-board benefits in my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health after using this technique regularly for several months.

That said, I also notice changes immediately, especially in my mood. Over time these have become more and more permanent as my neural pathways create new patterns. In many cases, my new state of being is better than I remember it being, even before I developed chronic illness and mental health problems after lifelong CPTSD and some one-off events that caused PTSD.

I teach TRM on my sites to help others harness their own neuroplasticity and receive some of the powerful benefits of releasing subconscious blockages. If you store trauma as chronic illness (like I do) you might be particularly benefited. (I also provide one-on-one virtual sessions).

So, let me know what you think. Is neuroplasticity a flash in the pan? Or is it here to alter reality as we know it?

Blessings to you on your trauma healing journey ❤

Trauma Release Meditation Basic Course

Invest 2 hours and $5 into learning the fundamentals of the Trauma Release Meditation (TRM). The lifelong benefits are priceless.

Trauma Release Meditation Basic Course

Invest 2 hours and $5 into learning the fundamentals of the Trauma Release Meditation (TRM). The lifelong benefits are priceless.

Published by Sarah Beach

Born and raised in rural Kentucky, Sarah Beach finds that healing is both a hobby and a passion. When she's not writing books or recording meditations, you will find her reading anything she can get her hands on, taking long walks in nature, or gulping large quantities of herbal tea.

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