What are Traumatic Memories?

Our most powerful memories have associated feelings. Sometimes these are positive, and sometimes negative. Traumatic memories are often very painful, intense, overwhelming, and usually negative.

What else do we know about traumatic memories, and how are they different from more ordinary ones? In summary:

1. These memories are carved deeply into the person’s brain. Thus, they leave frozen imprints which do not get updated. This is very different from our non-traumatic memories which are fluid and dynamic, and tend to change with time

3. Traumatic memories are resistant to new evidence. This is true even when the individual can agree with the new information being presented to them.

Although it logically makes sense, it still cannot overpower and change the old, entrenched reactions and beliefs. The reason is these deeply ingrained memories are believed, and the brain is trying to protect us from real harm.

4. That is, the body and the brain are being triggered and react in old instinctive ways (which may be inappropriate).

5. Thus, the person’s past lives on; it is never truly dead. It’s as if there is no present, and there is no future, too. (How can there be a future if we’re still stuck in the past?)

6. Being triggered usually happens very unexpectedly. These flashbacks are unbidden, and they haunt and terrorize. They come out of left field, and they replay endlessly.

7. Once this activation has occurred in the brain, the person will respond with a fight or flight response. This will tend to escalate until they’re now in “over-drive”.  

If flight or flight are unsuccessful (which is usually the case), the person will then freeze; they’ll feel completely paralyzed.

These are emergency responses by the body and the brain.

8. After this, they will collapse; the threat is inescapable. There’s nothing they can do, so they might as well give up.

9. This pattern of events is repeated constantly, and these types of trauma memories don’t resolve themselves alone. They’re frozen and they’re static. They’re hardwired in the brain.

Unfortunately: “Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core.” – Bessel A. van der Kolk   

10. However, there are proven therapies that trauma therapists can use. So please reach out for help. Please don’t suffer on your own.     

12 thoughts on “What are Traumatic Memories?

  1. Trauma is stored in the body, cellular I think and as implicit memory in the right amygdala

    These memories have our emotional maturity or lack of it stored at the time of the trauma

    My childhood abuse is stored with the abilities of an 8 or 9 or 10 etc. year old

    You may integrate this with work but new stuff will not replace this trauma

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think so many misunderstand as so much gets laid down in the limbic system not even accessible to neo-cortical memory.. Which makes the lie of being told ‘to just get over it’ until you can know what happened it does not make much sense and some sadly never get to know the real reason why they or others react at they do. only understanding will break the negative cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

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