Posttraumatic reactions are controlled from the emotional brain.

Unlike the rational brain, which expresses itself through thoughts, the emotional brain expresses itself through physical reactions: nauseating feelings, a pounding heart, rapid and shallow breathing, heartache, a tense and shrill voice, and the characteristic body movements that indicate slump, rigidity, anger or a repulsive attitude.

Why can’t we just be reasonable?

And why doesn’t understanding the source of these phenomena help? The rational, executive brain is good at helping us understand where feelings come from. For example: ‘I get scared when I get too close to a man because my father abused me’ or ‘I have trouble showing my love to my son because I feel guilty about killing a child in Iraq’. However, the rational brain cannot undo emotions, feelings or thoughts.

If you live with a constant sense of threat in the background, or the belief that you are essentially a terrible person, it doesn’t help much if you know it’s not your fault you were raped.

Understanding why you feel a certain way does not change how you feel. It may prevent you from giving in to extreme reactions (such as attacking your boss because he reminds you of a perpetrator, breaking up with your lover at the very first argument or falling into the arms of a stranger), but the more frenzied we feel, the more the rational brain gives way to our emotions