Posted on: May 6, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Carolyn A Thill, Editor-in-Chief

All the lights in the house have been turned off for the evening. Shadows of branches cast through your bedroom window, appearing as long arms about to grab you. The window is cracked for fresh air, so the curtain waves around like a ghost. As you try to close your eyes, you can’t stop seeing the monster from the scary movie your family watched earlier that night.

You lie there, scared, as you hold on tightly to your stuffed animal. What can you do to escape? Maybe if you hide under all of the blankets you’ll be able to avoid seeing and being seen by the ghastly images in your room. Avoidance such as this allows you to cope with the monsters as you fall fast asleep.

The things that frighten us will ultimately free us

Dr. Julia DiGangi

This week, Moraine Valley Community College hosted part two of the panel titled: “Healing from Trauma and Adversity” with Dr. Julia DiGangi, Ph.D. and neuropsychologist. As a well-respected neuropsychologist and founder of NeuroHealth Partners, she is known for her engaging and relatable communication style which allows her to effectively teach people how to use their brains to lead a better and more emotionally intelligent life. In the panel, she discussed the effects our brains have on our daily lives when dealing with pain in maladaptive ways like in the scene above.

DiGangi mentioned in the panel that situations like early trauma may evolve into adulthood; facing unresolved conflicts as a person searches for an escape as a means to avoid. These types of conflicts dysregulate the brain and become demons that you tend to want to run away from.

In order to understand how to tackle our demons, DiGangi shows the relationship between how our brain manages situations. First, an area of the brain called the amygdala, which deals with emotions and anxieties, receives a message that you’re about to encounter something dangerous. This message is sent to the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that resides as a memory bank.

It then processes how large or little the possible threat is: If the last memory of dealing with a similar situation was bad, it may agree that this is going to be dangerous and, therefore, retreat to avoid pain. If it was calm and comfortable, it will send a message back to the amygdala to stand down.

Dr. Julia DiGangi

The brain’s number one job is to keep you alive. Exposure to adversity affects the outcomes our behavior will have in the future.

“If there is a pain inside of you, and you don’t know how to handle it, you will transfer it onto others”, says DiGangi.

When our brain is out of balance, it begins to feel pain such as being burned out or numb, or even on edge, jumpy, and irritable. After a while, our brain’s reaction to pain is immediate avoidance, because it thinks this will solve problems (like an “If you don’t think about it, it goes away” mentality). However, avoidance comes with costs, and as DiGangi says, “The best treatment is to not avoid- face it”.

She explains that in order to be truly happy we have to confront our pain, then rise from it. This leads to a form of transformation. Instead of avoiding pain, push through it. This transformation from pain leads to power. The more you talk about it, the more you face it. Eventually, after facing it multiple times, the demon has less power over you, and you transform out of the trauma and into the healing.

“The most difficult person to lead is ourselves,” says DiGangi. “If we can’t lead ourselves properly, we cannot lead others.”

When you take a step back to understand how the brain works, thinks, and processes, you begin to better understand how to tackle pain.

“The things that frighten us will ultimately free us”, continues DiGangi.

She explains that hiding from the pain is keeping the pain alive. Exploring our fears instead of avoiding them will give us the strength to rise above the trauma and become stronger, happier, and ready to lead others.

Interested in more of Dr. DiGangi’s work? Click here for her TEDxDePaulUniversity talk