How the brain protects us from traumatic memories

The experiences we have throughout life, especially in childhood, can have a great influence on our development, and even generate negative impacts on our brain, in the form of trauma and intrusive ideas. The “cure” of these can be complex. These memories can present themselves in the form of suffering in adulthood and are an echo of those episodes of great intensity and emotional imprint experienced in childhood.

When a person has suffered episodes of physical or emotional abuse, or has not received the necessary care from their loving characters, they may later suffer from psychological sequelae. However, part of the “fault” for this damage comes from the same mechanism the brain uses to protect us from complicated situations. Let’s see.

    Blocked memories

    Faced with certain harmful and traumatic experiences, at the physiological level, there is an alteration of brain structures, as well as a great emotional impact. There are times when an event pops up and we don’t know how to handle it and we are inundated with a strong and lasting negative emotion.

    In consultation, I like to ask my patients to imagine that the brain is like a computer that contains all the information, experiences and memories of their life collected, organized and processed in files. But, when an event overwhelms us, the lived experiences are stored in other different memory networks. Memories of the overwhelming negative experience were blocked and fragmented, as if frozen, isolated from the rest of the organized files. It happens with these memories that we have not had the opportunity to process, because our brain wanted to help us move away from our daily lives, because otherwise it would generate a very intense emotion and difficult to bear.

    What’s happening? Because for this help that our brain provides us, we pay the price, because at some point, these experiences will be activated by a trigger stimulus, that is, a new experience or situation that makes us relive what previously happened unconsciously., And everything comes to light. Sometimes it’s the little things that we can’t control but that they make us feel like we’re really reliving that moment.

    If most memories end up being forgotten, those which refer to this type of experience are too intense to be forgotten without more, but are not sufficiently contextualized and linked to our predominant beliefs, ideas and values ​​to be part of this network. memories through which we normally move.

      An example of traumatic memory

      Maybe with this example I can understand better. Imagine a child who at the age of 7 had a car accident with his parents. The 3 were very serious but were finally able to move on. At home, we no longer talked about what had happened, not only about the accident, but about the subsequent slow recovery in which their lives were in danger. There was no possibility of explaining to the child what had happened, so that he could understand this experience and integrate it into his perception of reality.

      This event is archived in the brain, but is not associated with the thoughts that accompanied it that day and over the past. In addition, the brain, which is very good for us and always wants to protect us, locks this event deep within itself so that this child can continue his normal life.

      A few years pass and this child is 18 years old. His greatest hope is to get his driver’s license, but on his first day of practical training and once in the car, he begins to feel very anxious and nervous, so much so that he is unable to start. the car and driving, not knowing. Why. That’s when he relives what happened that afternoon when he was 7 years old.

      What happens is that from a painful experience for the person, information is stored in the brain in a dysfunctional way. By archiving in this way, the information cannot be integrated or used by the person.

      For children who have suffered abuse, neglect or neglect, The brain learns to protect itself and can adopt two different modes of operation. It can become a hypervigilant brain, that is, the brain is constantly on alert, even in the face of stimuli that are not dangerous or that endanger the person’s life. Our body reacts as if something bad is happening.

      But this does not end here; our brain can also take a form contrary to hypervigilance, that is, it can be found hypoactivated. In these situations, it gets stuck and many memories related to this disruptive event may not be remembered. This process will allow the individual to count the event in a neutral way without emotional charge, as if separating from it.

      Advantages and disadvantages of this protection

      Protecting our brain in this way can be very beneficial, as it leaves us uncomplicated and allows us to move on with our lives, but the truth is that in the long term, it has multiple and uncomfortable consequences.

      Perhaps the emotions of those who are going through this experience are numbed, or there may be times when you start to feel anxious and are not sure why. He may have experienced something that led him to this hidden memory of the past, so if you don’t work on that, the effect of that memory can show up over and over again.

      Sometimes it is very difficult to detect that the damage from the past is still continuing in the present, because as I explained above, the emotions, and sometimes also the memories, are dissociated or blocked. But it is important to work on these experiences, because in some cases they can lead to the appearance of disorders. Remember that the past cannot be forgotten, but work on it so as not to relive it constantly and continue to harm us.

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