How does the brain store trauma?
This article seeks to explain the way the brain stores trauma.
Under normal conditions, the mind does not reproduce exact memories of past events. Instead, it recalls old impressions to which it attaches new information. Traumatised minds re-experience their trauma as if in the present and rationalise their irrational behaviours and feelings.
War veterans were interviewed decades after experiencing the horrors of war. Those with PTSD experienced very sharp recollections. For those without PTSD, it is a sanitised blur.
People with PTSD dissociate. They fail to integrate the experience within the autobiographical memory system. Dissociation needs to be treated by a process of association to integrate the dissociated part memories where they reside disconnected.
Traumatic memories are not stored as a narrative of the past but by emotional and sensory elements. When activated, the person relives the event in the present.
Trauma treatment largely consists in helping clients overcome their traumatic imprints.
That’s where EMDR can help.
How does the mind process overwhelming memories?
Typical responses to a traumatic event if fight-flight-freeze, but it does not resolve the residual fear and pain responses.
The intensity of a traumatic event causes memory failure and makes it challenging to integrate the experience into a satisfactory narrative.
The brain stores trauma. Two memory systems are involved in the process: the limbic system responsible for managing emotions and sensations and the sub-cortical areas that manage reasoning, beliefs, and attitudes. The two systems are usually in synch, but trauma often presents contradicting information.
High levels of arousal interfere with the processing of cognition.
Generally, the memories of past events are not recalled by activation senses and emotions. It is usually done by re-creating a custom narrative informed by the present time, place, and situation. In contrast, irrational senses and emotions are activated when traumatised individuals recall challenging memories.
Traumatised people may have difficulty retelling the event in a narrative format. Traditional talk therapy has had limited success treating trauma, a presentation that clients have difficulty putting into words.
People with trauma may not be aware of the physical triggers that lead to fear and actions. They do not know they are reacting to old triggers from the past. However, they make sense of the reaction by finding the present fearful and dangerous, making the current situation unsafe while it may not be.