The root of Complex-post-traumatic stress disorder ( C-PTSD) is inescapable fear. As children, the only option in dealing with dangerous predators aka abusive parents/caregivers is freezing – numbing out, dissociating not reacting. Becoming frozen zombies is the best option or the repercussions could be disastrous.
And guess, which part of your brain is responsible for our freezing response – not the amygdala, it’s the cerebellum, part of the reptilian brain or primitive brain. By virtue of its anatomical position, the cerebellum is the intermediate link between the brain and the spinal column. It is the mind-body link coordinating movement and behavior. The cerebellum serves as a kind of regulator and coordinator of nerve impulses between the brain and the muscles.
What’s more, the vagus nerve connects to the brain through the cerebellum and brainstem
Not surprisingly, recent research suggests that the cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) plays a big role in both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fear-evoked freezing. Thus it makes sense that in order to release trauma we have to hack our cerebellum first – get ourselves out of the fear-based freeze state.
The bottom-up approach, releasing trauma somatically makes more sense rather than a top-down approach – talk therapy. We can talk till the cows come home but will find no resolution to our trauma until we get out of the freeze bodily response. Cognitive therapies only work when we can actually viscerally feel the repressed feeling and then release them.
However, feeling safe, secure, and supported are prerequisites to become unfrozen. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to heal from trauma. Finding a safe place and trustworthy people is like finding a needle in hay-stack
I Am Not Safe State of Mind
Survivors of trauma have an imprinted fear of not feeling safe. This means our reptilian brain is in a state of chronic fear. According to neuroscientist Paul MacLean who introduced the ‘triune brain’ concept, our brains function from the bottom-up. First, the reptilian brain how can I survive; then the limbic brain love is what I need and the top is the neocortex I think I am…
By understanding these three divisions of the brain complex one can begin to fathom how trauma impacted us. What most people don’t understand about trauma particularly protracted childhood trauma is that it is not all in your head it is physiological. Your neurobiology has been wired for dysregulation. Even though we may no longer be physically in danger we continue to remain paralyzed by fear. We cannot think rationally when our brain is in survival mode.
Nonetheless, a sense of safety is a prerequisite for healing from C-PTSD. We need to somatically calm our stress response and widen our window of tolerance. Building on feelings of safety even for a few minutes at a time allows our brain systems to relax. When we feel safe (survival brain) we can trust and connect (emotional brain) only then we can rationally contemplate (thinking brain).
And that’s where the cerebellum plays a vital role in integrating our broken brain.
Why The Cerebellum is Important?
The cerebellum is the seat of your subconscious mind. It stores habitual thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. It is part of our reptilian that is responsible for our fight-flight-freeze response. When we are stressed or anticipating danger, we are in the thrall of our reptilian brain.
Furthermore, the cerebellum plays an important role in posture, balance, vision, proprioception, coordination of movement, motor learning-automated actions, language, and humor. According to the latest research, the cerebellum is also critical for memory consolidation, learning, language, and cognition.
The cerebellum has reciprocal connections with key forebrain areas, including the somatosensory cortex and vestibular system.
Though the cerebellum only represents 10% of the total brain volume, it contains more than 50% of the total number of neurons of the central nervous system. Plus, it is one of two major brain regions that are currently believed to have the ability to continually give birth to new neurons via neurogenesis in adults. Neuroplasticity of the brain is dependent on this.
Where is My Little Brain?
The cerebellum located between the brainstem (where the spinal cord meets the brain)and the back of the cerebrum. It consists 0f two hemispheres which are connected by the vermis, a narrow midline area.
At the top of the brainstem is the pons—literally, a bridge— between the lower brainstem and the midbrain. Nerve impulses traversing the pons pass on to the cerebellum (or “little brain”), which is concerned primarily with the coordination of complex muscular movement. In addition, nerve fibers running through the pons relay sensations of touch from the spinal cord to the upper brain centers via the cerebellum.
How To Hack Your Cerebellum?
New neural pathways are created whenever we learn or memorize something novel. Particularly, activities that engage the motor, auditory and visual parts of your brain.
Start with small actions, new activities that require focus and attention. Mindful action is more effective than motionless mindfulness.
Doing one new action daily can slowly trigger our brain to fire in new neural patterns. Thus unwiring faulty connections and wiring our brain to new ways of thinking. Rather than trying to forcibly push traumatic memories, we nudge our brain to focus on something else, By forcing ourselves to participate in novel activities that require focus and attention we can gently shift our cerebellum out of freeze state.
Activities That Engage The Cerebellum
There is yoga, T’ai chi, Qigong, martial art training, dancing, singing, playing basketball, or table-tennis. Any activity that requires focussed attention and movement. It does not have to be high-intensity. Even fine-intricate hand-eye activities like knitting, painting, quilting, baking, or even journaling engage the cerebellum.
Music has a positive impact on the cerebellum since it helps with rhythm and timing. Listening to music and dancing a few steps on your own daily can improve your mood immensely. Who knows you it can become your life-passion changing the trajectory of your life. One never knows unless one gets moving. Act, feel, and think. Working bottom-up is the best strategy. Watching comedy and enjoying a few good laughs help activate the cerebellum.
According to, Professor Rod Nicolson author of Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain, if you do anything regularly enough you will eventually change the cerebellum.
Unfreezing My Cerebellum
A recent addition is investing in a wobble-cushion (really worth it) which I use to stand on while doing my chores like peeling vegetables, washing, talking on the phone, and even working on the computer. Alternately, you could get a balance board.
Trying to balance while washing utensils, does take my focus from that traumatizing period when I was used as the maid-servant by a devious aunt. Balance and coordination compel the cerebellum to move out of the neurobiological grip of fear and allows us to “unfreeze” and release stuck emotional energy.
Nature’s Lessons in Healing Trauma: An Introduction to Somatic Experiencing®
Consistent Action Creates Permanent Changes
We cannot logically override or convince our reptilian brain to get out of frozen helplessness. The brain-body is one interconnected, complex system. We have to gently prod it to move into a state of being calm by shifting our attention.
Furthermore, how we move and how we think are two sides of the same coin. Our movement capability determines our cognitive ability. Consistent repetition creates neuroplastic changes to form new ways of feeling and thinking.
Repeated action = skill/habit = improved feelings (calm confidence) = better thinking = New You
Mindful action shifts our focus from fear I am in danger to I can deal with that. Competency increases confidence and self-esteem.
As our motor abilities and body functions improve, our mood shifts and we become better-regulated. Body organization is necessary for brain organization. The cerebellum is the conduit between the two since it connects to every part of the brain.
As novelist Charles Reade said:
Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.
Small actions become new habits, this in turn changes how we feel and think. We are no longer frozen, fearful, helpless children we are now powerful human beings in control of our lives and destiny.
Ref: Chasing “fear memories” to the cerebellum
Role of the cerebellum in survival circuits activated by fear
Image Source: Pixabay
The Fear Reflex: 5 Ways to Overcome It and Trust Your Imperfect Self – Joseph Shrand, Leigh Devine
The Biology of Transcendence – Joseph Chilton Pearce
Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear – Eva Holland