Why are we afraid after trauma?

Why are we afraid after trauma?

In this article, we will try to understand the biological and psychological reasons that make us remain afraid after trauma.

Exploring the mysteries of post-traumatic fear

The experience of fear is a universal and innate phenomenon that occurs in response to dangerous or threatening situations. However, when dealing with trauma, fear takes on a different dimension, often persistent and debilitating. In this article we will explore the scientific reasons behind PTSD, including its biological and psychological foundations.


Fear is a basic emotion that has an important adaptive function in everyday life. When we sense danger, our body reacts instinctively, preparing us to fight or flee. This survival response is known as the “fight or flight response,” and is driven by a complex series of physiological and neurological reactions. However, when an individual experiences trauma, these responses can become chronic and lead to psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Science of fear

To fully understand why we experience fear after trauma, it is necessary to examine the biological and psychological processes involved.

The role of the brainOur brain is the hub of emotions and reactions to fear. The amygdala, a small structure in the brain, is essential for perceiving and regulating fear. When trauma occurs, the amygdala can become overactive, leading to increased reactivity to fearful stimuli.

Autonomic nervous system: The autonomic nervous system controls many of the physical responses associated with fear, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and pupil dilation. This system is divided into two branches: the sympathetic system, which prepares the body to “fight or flight,” and the parasympathetic system, which helps the body relax after the threat has passed. In PTSD, the sympathetic system may remain constantly activated, causing persistent anxiety.

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The role of neurotransmitters: Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters play a key role in regulating mood and emotions. In people with PTSD, the balance of neurotransmitters may be altered, contributing to symptoms of chronic fear.

Why does fear persist after trauma?

While it is normal to feel fear during and after a traumatic event, why can this fear become persistent and debilitating? The answer to this question involves a number of interrelated factors.

Intrusive memories: People with PTSD often experience “intrusive flashbacks,” where the memory of the same traumatic event suddenly enters their mind. These memories are often vivid and accompanied by intense feelings of fear.

Negative reinforcement: In some cases, fear can be reinforced by negative thoughts or avoidant behaviors. For example, a person who has been in a car accident may begin to avoid driving, which can keep their fear high.

Neurological changes: The brain is very plastic, meaning it can adapt and change over time. In the case of PTSD, this can lead to long-term changes in the areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotion and fear.

Why are we afraid after trauma? Conclusion

Post-traumatic fear is a normal reaction, but it can become a problem when it persists over time and hinders well-being. Understanding the biological and psychological mechanisms behind this fear can be the first step in treating it effectively. Research continues to provide new information about how to treat PTSD and relieve the persistent fear that can result from it.

In conclusion, post-traumatic fear is a complex phenomenon that affects the brain, nervous system, and cognitive processes. Its persistence can be affected by a number of factors, but scientific understanding of these processes is helping to develop increasingly effective treatments.

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source: American Psychological Association – Understanding PTSD

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