Do you have difficulty remembering large chunks of your childhood?
Are there patchy areas in your memory?
Or maybe you don’t remember your childhood at all.
Believe it or not all of the above is unfortunately common for people who grew up in toxic, chaotic and abuse filled home environments.
And I’m one of those people who can’t remember big parts of my childhood.
There are huge blank spots in my memory beginning when I was four years old all the way up until I turned 18. And the biggest pieces of my memory puzzle that have gone missing are definitely between the ages of four to eight years. This was precisely the time period I lived with my alcoholic and incredibly violent mom and stepdad.
Science tells us that our brains hide or suppress traumatic memories from our conscious minds to protect us.
But when we can’t access those memories, as adults, our emotional lives suffer and those repressed memories can become fertile ground for depression, anxiety and PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.
We can also experience frustration and anxiety over not being able to remember our pasts. We can begin to believe that there’s something wrong with us and we feel incredibly lost as a result. We don’t know ourselves and without that connection to our past we lose hope that we ever will.
Now, I’m certainly no expert when it comes to understanding trauma or the brain (although at one point I thought I wanted to be a neuroscientist.) But I’ve found it helpful in my own recovery to learn the how and the why behind my brain and my suppressed traumatic memories.
This understanding puts my experiences in a context that normalizes my experiences. And through that process I see that I’m not alone, that there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s not my fault and with the right support and guidance I can grow beyond it.
So that’s why I wanted to share with you an interesting bit of research I found that not only explains how the brain hides traumatic memories but also how we can retrieve them.
After you’re finished reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have difficulty remembering large chunks of your childhood? If so, tell me about it in the comment section. And also share what you understand about how the brain hides or suppresses traumatic memories. Any additional insights or experiences you can share?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
As always, thanks for commenting and reading!
Until next Tuesday,
How The Brain Hides Traumatic Memories
Scientists agree that our brains hide traumatic experiences from our conscious minds in, the short term, in order to protect us. But in the long term this protective measure, to keep certain memories suppressed, can weigh heavily on our emotional and mental well being.
Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD, Dunbar Professor in Bipolar Disease in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine conducted the research that revealed how our brains “decide and hide” these painful memories from our conscious awareness.
To put it simply, this “decide and hide process” is carried out by a select group of receptors in our brain. When we experience a traumatic or stress-inducing event these receptors detect the stress and then hide the details of the event away in our brains so that we can’t recall the events or memories in our regular day to day consciousness.
So, as I understand it, it’s as if regular, everyday memories get stored in one bin in the brain and traumatic, stress-induced memories get routed to a completely separate bin in the brain.
If you want to get specific and learn more about Dr. Radulovic’s research, CLICK HERE.
How To Retrieve Traumatic Memories
So if our brain, as I’ve simply described it, has a bin for our traumatic memories then wouldn’t make sense that if we could access that bin that we’d also be able to access those memories?
Well, as it turns out, Dr. Radulovic’s research discovered that yes, there is a way to recover those memories. It happens when the receptors that originally detected the stress and concealed the traumatic memories are reactivated.
To describe this process Dr. Radulovic used this analogy,
“The brain functions in different states, much like a radio operates at AM and FM frequency bands,” Dr. Radulovic said. “It’s as if the brain is normally tuned to FM stations to access memories, but needs to be tuned to AM stations to access subconscious memories. If a traumatic event occurs when these receptors are activated, the memory of this event cannot be accessed unless these receptors are activated once again, essentially tuning the brain into the AM stations.”
If you want to dive deeper and learn more about this part of Dr. Radulovic’s research, you can CLICK HERE.
What Does This Mean For You?
The good news, thanks to Dr. Radulovic’s research, is all about knowing that we can recover and work through our traumatic memories and piece together those bits from our life that are missing.
The not so good news (although it’s not really bad news) is that you do need the help and guidance of a professional or therapist to access those memories.
Remember, even though our brains do us a huge favor by hiding away those hard-to-handle memories, in the long run that trauma, if not properly processed and dealt with can impact every corner of our lives.
Which leads me another article, not related to the research we discussed here, that I wanted to share with you. It’s from Psychology Today’s blog and it’s called, Six Ways Developmental Trauma Shapes Adult Identity.
If you experienced trauma in childhood and you are struggling in your life today, whether in your relationships, in your career or anywhere else in your life, it is absolutely necessary that you begin to understand why.
Just because we can’t remember the trauma doesn’t mean that those moments aren’t influencing our behaviors and reactions today. Even if it’s not possible for you, right now, to find a therapist who can help you recover your suppressed memories, you can still develop an understanding of how your traumatic past could be shaping your life today.
Don’t make the mistake of believing or giving in to the idea that there’s just something wrong with you. Always remember that your behavior and what you struggle with makes sense within the context of the trauma you experienced.
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