Understanding the Left and Right Brain: The Impact of Childhood Trauma and the Journey Towards Wholeness : Future Focus Counselling & Consulting

As a therapist and clinical counselor, I frequently interact with individuals who struggle to balance their emotional and logical selves. This challenge is particularly pronounced among tech, law, and medicine professionals, who often lean heavily towards logic, sometimes aspiring to a stoic disconnection from emotions.

The Formative Years: Emotional Brain Development

The period between ages 0-10 is critical for emotional brain development. During these formative years, children primarily rely on their emotional brain to navigate the world. Ideally, the adults and the community around them should foster a sense of safety, predominantly a function of the right brain. This time is meant for children to experience and learn to navigate a full spectrum of emotions – anger, love, shyness, fear, happiness, joy and everything else.

However, the reality for many is far from this ideal. Instead of nurturing environments, they face violence, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, rejection, and societal vitriol. Rather than building a sense of safety and security, they become hypervigilant, mistrustful, and overwhelmed by negative emotions like self-loathing, shame, and depression. This period, instead of fostering growth, seeds both big T and little t traumas, leaving a ‘living legacy’ of symptoms (Fisher, 2017).

The Cognitive Brain’s Late Entry

As children cross the 10-year ish mark, their cognitive brain begins to develop at an accelerated rate, often unaware of the emotional turmoil that has preceded. The cognitive brain, small yet developing, is built upon the extensive foundation of the emotional brain. Triggers, which are omnipresent due to the hypervigilance learned from past traumas, easily activate the emotional brain. Since trauma is encoded as body and emotional responses, these implicit memories often manifest in various forms – intrusive emotions, contradictory thoughts, impulsive actions, and somatic sensations (Fisher, 2017)

The Consequences of Imbalance

This imbalance limits the Window of Tolerance (Seigel, 2001). Many fear their emotional brain and its array of emotions, seeking refuge behind their logical brain. But emotions lurk beneath, waiting to be triggered. In trying to suppress one emotion, often all emotions get suppressed, leading to a state where individuals stop feeling or feeling everything intensely.

Living predominantly in the right brain without integrating left-brain functions limits life experiences. Emotional dysregulation becomes a frequent issue as individuals struggle to analyze their emotions logically.

The Path Towards Integration

The true potential lies in using both brain hemispheres effectively. A person who can listen to the emotional brain’s wisdom and integrate it with the cognitive brain’s knowledge can create a multidimensional life, transcending mere reactive responses.

Addressing Left-Brain Dominance

Left-brain dominance, while a defense mechanism, often results in emotional disconnect, rigid thinking, and heightened stress in adulthood. Moving towards balance requires:

  • Recognizing the Trauma: Acknowledging the impact of childhood experience is the first step towards healing.
  • Emotional Literacy Training: Therapy can help in developing emotional awareness and expression skills.
  • Integrative Techniques: Mindfulness, art therapy, somatic experiencing, and narrative therapy are a few modalities that can help balance left and right-brain functions.

Conclusion: Embracing Wholeness

Understanding how left-brain dominance links to childhood trauma is vital in the healing process. Addressing these deep-seated issues enables individuals to lead more balanced and fulfilling lives, where logic harmonizes with emotion, and structure accompanies creativity. Guiding clients through this journey of integration and wholeness is a deeply rewarding aspect of our work as therapists.


Siegel, D. J. (2001). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. Guilford Press.

Fisher, J. (2017). Healing the fragmented selves of trauma survivors: Overcoming internal self-alienation. Routledge.

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I am licensed to practice in Washington State and the following Canadian Provinces: Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland.