Most of us tend to go to the doctor when symptoms crop up that bother or frustrate us. Have you ever wanted to make an appointment with a medical professional because your memories were robbing you of joy and health? Psychological trauma can cause real difficulties within the memory – sometimes referred to as PTSD or complex developmental trauma.
Traumatic memories can cause some really distressing symptoms. Right now, I may be with someone I love but suddenly I remember a past relationship or some family dynamic. Instead of being able to encounter the person in front of me, my memory pushes me to reconnect to the pain of the past or to that caregiver who was generally kind yet at other moments completely unpredictable, cruel or neglectful. I may want to be present with this person right now but my memory draws me away from what is happening to another moment in time, to another person who hurt me. Painful memories are not just something that flashes up in my mind’s eye. They have a job – to try to keep me safe – and so they trigger a set of physiological reactions. It may happen so quickly that I am not yet aware of what has set off the chain of reactions within me. I may start to feel anxious. I may start to wonder if I am safe. I may start to think about how to run and to take cover either physically or emotionally or maybe even both. I may even start to feel that I need to attack the person who is with me before they attack me!
We are all built to be able to quickly adapt to situations in order to survive and yet surviving may be far from thriving. Besides the immediate reactions of fight or flight discussed in the paragraph above, traumatic memories can also have a profound affect on how I view myself. Perhaps, I start to think that I am nothing more than what happened to me or I am equal to someone’s nasty appraisal. Maybe my memories trick me into thinking that I am one of those people that can never achieve a lasting and loving relationship. Memory is intrinsically linked to identity. Everything that is stored there in my memory – even so many thousands and thousands of things that I am not consciously thinking about right now – comes together to form the sense that I have of who I am.
Quiet, reflective time can allow for a space in my life where old memories can begin to surface. This can be a painful process that brings up sadness or anger. But once the memories are brought into my conscious awareness, I may experience a not only a deeper understanding about how they have affected me but also a greater freedom from them. If I also have opportunities to talk about them with someone who can be supportive and patient, I may begin to see how what has felt isolating or crippling can be a catalyst for new growth, connection and strength. Our brains and bodies are made to adapt in the moment to get us through but they are also made with an ability to heal. When a broken bone is allowed to heal correctly, it will actually be strongest and thickest in the exact spot of the break. If I experience the negative effects of my memories today, perhaps soon those will become sources of light and strength.
I used to secretly wish that there was some way to wipe my memory clean of some of the negative experiences that I have had but little by little, I have begun to rejoice in the fact that some of those painful moments have become a bridge that allows me to connect with others and have granted me a deeper appreciation for every triumph of the human heart.
If you are struggling with your past and want to talk to someone about it please call us at 407-355-7378 to be set up with a free phone consultation with one of our qualified therapists.