How early unprocessed emotion and trauma can affect brain development – and how to heal


The brain is the most complex and beautiful part of the world, but then again…my brain made me say that.

The brain is part of the human nervous system which helps to regulate our body, mind, and emotion. We are only just beginning to understand how the 3-4 pounds of flesh in your noggin helps to create your experience of life. Who would have thought that there are specific areas of the brain that allow you to see such phenomena like motion or faces? And if you were to damage these areas, such as when someone has a stroke, they may develop an inability to see motion or faces, while all other perceptual systems are working as per usual. Science is still trying to grapple with such conditions such as Cotard’s syndrome, this disorder makes people think that they’re dead. Or Capgras delusion: which is when people with this condition think a loved one has been replaced by an imposter. The literature and case studies on these patients are fascinating, and there not all necessarily negative, for example, since 1941 to 2009 there has been 62 reported cases of foreign accent syndrome, in which someone -usually after an accident, or stoke- develop a propensity to speak in a foreign accent. In most cases the person has never travelled to that country of the accent they are now speaking in.

Also at the frontier of neuroscience is mapping what healthy brain development looks like over a lifetime.
A babies brain is about 1/3rd the size of an adults and from birth to age 3 the brain will nearly double in size, and continue to grow and develop well into the 20’s.
Our most basic vital functions and control centers for movement develop early, then our emotional centers come later in our teenage years, and finally our capacity for reason and plan, and other ‘higher faculties’ of being human continue to develop till age 25. The brain may stop growing, but it never loses its capacity to change, a phenomenon termed neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a revolutionary finding that changed how we see the brain and its ability to adapt for better or worse.

The things you do each day, the environment you are in, and the people you surround yourself with is changing your brain, your body, mind, and emotions.

One of the most researched areas in the brain is called the middle prefrontal cortex (MPFC), it is evolutionarily the newest area of the brain to emerge and its responsible for faculties that make us most human. The work of Daniel J. Siegel, MD has mapped 9 functions to the MPC and they are as follows:

1. Body Regulation: Body Regulation is achieved by the Autonomic (automatic) Nervous System. The system generally works without conscious control and regulates functions like heart rate, breathing, digestion, vascular tone, inflammation and immune response, etc. It gives us the ability to come back to base line, homeostasis, peace and ease after stressors.
2. Attuned Communication: is the ability to feel another ones feelings.
3. Emotional Balance/Affect Regulation
4. Response Flexibility
5. Empathy (Mind Sight)
6. Insight or Self-Knowing Awareness
7. Fear Modulation/Fear Extinction
8. Intuition
9. Morality


These 9 functions are vital to our humanness and quality of life.

An approach to healing the brain

The brain is neuroplastic, and thus we know it has the capacity to heal itself.

There is research coming out that trauma and an early unsupportive environmental conditions can delay the development of the MPFC. And an unsupportive environment may not necessarily be abusive or full of neglect. The work of Gabor Mate and others shows that children can pick up on a parent’s stress and thus there is a lot of patterning that can show up in children as they experience the stresses of an adult without the ability to properly deal with the emotions. Especially in the early years when a child is preverbal they are not aware of what is happening, and even as they develop they may not remember, and they will not be able to verbalize their experience. When there is preverbal unprocessed emotion and trauma there needs to a method that is also preverbal to access these layers of emotion. That’s why I work with the breath, because of its capacity to allow for the healing of unprocessed of emotion in the body that is preverbal.

An approach to healing the brain

Daniel K. Siegel works with mindfulness and meditation for its ability to help strengthen and develop these 9 functions, which I agree is an essential part of the process in restoring proper development of the brain and to continue to strength it. From my perspective, the other big piece is releasing unprocessed emotion and trauma. Why? Because brain development, and development of all kinds works like this, we grow as we meet what is coming at us in our environment, if there is a situation such as a trauma, and we are not able to process that event and its associated emotion it will remain in the body. There is in a sense a part of us that is stuck there, and until the experience and the emotion is fully felt and healed the body will hold that lesson until it is learnt and then an individual can continue to grow and develop. This is what is happening when the MPFC is not is not able to properly develop due to trauma or stressful early environments.
Thus, there are two big pieces for an individual to grow and strengthen their MPFC, one is to get complete on the unprocessed emotion and trauma that lives in the body waiting to send its message before we move on, and second, is to apply Daniel K. Siegels Mindfulness and other protocols to continue to strengthening and grow the brain.

Let me know if you have any further questions on any points in the article or for more information on breathwork.

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