Traumatic Memory- Remembering What We Want to Forget

art collage Sally Edelstein Traumativ Memory

The GOP cite a  “gap” problem in the Kavanaugh scandal, when the real  problem is the GOP.

Both Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez amd Julie Swetnick report gaps in their memory of their traumatic events.

They must therefore be remembering it “wrong” claim their detractors.  Supporters of Brett Kavanaugh are clinging onto that nugget with all their uninformed might convinced it points  to the women’s obvious lying.

All it does is point to their ignorance of traumatic memory.

Trauma is processed by the brain differently than other ordinary events and “gaps” don’t detract from the truth and accuracy of the pieces of memory the victims do have. The central details remain, haunting their victims decades after the event.

I know. I have them

As memory and trauma becomes part of our current national dialogue it is worth another look at a post from the vault :

Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse

My memory leads a double life of knowing and not knowing at the very same time. It is a constant, exhausting  battle. This is a story about memory gone awry; about traumatic memory and its effect on memory functions  and post traumatic stress disorder.

I was sexually abused as a child by a family member. Here’s why I didn’t remember.

Among friends, I am the go to person when it comes to history and trivia, priding myself on my steel trap of a memory.

How then can someone “forget” an event as traumatic as childhood sexual abuse?

Simply put, trauma affects a variety of memory functions and dissociation is one such disruption.

Memory has to do with recording, storage and recall of information perceived from the internal and external environment. Dissociation is an effective defense walling off what cannot be tolerated  and storage and retrieval of memory is affected as the actual memory goes into the deep freeze. Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

Childhood sexual abuse can create negative disturbances of memory such as dissociation and PTSD leading to problems in basic memory encoding, storage, and retrieval.

Being abused by a trusted family member is the perfect opportunity for the victim to create information blockage. Memory blocking is not to avoid suffering, but because not knowing about abuse by a parent is necessary for survival.

But the body remembers.

Art Collage of appropriated images Traumatic memory Sally Edelstein

Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

With PTSD, traumatic memories become dissociated, fragmented, free-floating in time. They pounce into the present unbidden in the form of flashbacks, nightmares intrusive thoughts and images you cannot control.

I search my memory bank for a coherent, narrative filled with nuance and detail but that is not how traumatic memory is.

Those who expect a linear and logical account, seem to think of memory as akin to a Netflix stream; click on a title and sit back for a streaming documentary, a clear-cut representation of what transpired as though a camera had been there filming the whole time. That sadly is far from the reality.

I am missing the explicit narrative of information necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.

Memories of the trauma tend to be predominantly experienced as fragments of the sensory components of the event as visual images, olfactory, auditory, body sensations, out of context feelings and intense waves of feeling.

Implicit and Explicit Memory

For people with PTSD, traumatic events are remembered differently than non traumatic events.

They are not actually remembered in the normal narrative sense. Usually memory implies the relegation of an event into one’s history. “I remember when.” Where explicit memory depends on language, implicit memory bypasses it. Implicit memory is non verbal, unconscious, somatic. I have no words.

Dissociation and Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories

Collage Appropriated vintage images by Sally Edelstein

Detail “Remembering What Was Forgotten-Traumatic Memory, PTSD and Childhood Sexual Abuse” collage by Sally Edelstein

Children and adults who have been abused cope by using a variety of psychological mechanisms.

One effective way to cope with overwhelming trauma is dissociation, the  immediate blanking out of reality so that memories are not stored in the first place, not in a narrative, coherent way. Dissociation is an effective defense walling off what cannot be accommodated and actual memory goes into the deep freeze.

Memory in The Absence of Memory

In dissociation elements of the experience are not integrated into a whole but stored in memory as isolated fragments, sensory perceptions, intrusive images, behavior and body sensations.

With PTSD I am missing the explicit narrative of information necessary to make sense of the distressing body sensations and images.

I am a storyteller without a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

But I now have an opportunity to tell my story.

 

 

 © Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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8 comments

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    I am trying to write a comment conveying my feelings this morning before the 10 am hearings. I don’t think I will be able to watch this courageous woman being humiliated by old men having made up their minds. But then again watching her courage might give me some to watch…

    Like

    • This is a watershed moment and I truly hope and pray we come out on the other side of justice. But I have my deep doubts when it comes to these dinosaurs who as you have pointed out seem to have made their minds up ahead of time. It should be riveting TV

      Like

      • Pierre Lagacé

        One thing for sure they will want to keep their base happy so they can be reelected. Lots of politicians are like that. Keeping their job is their first preoccupation and this is not only in the U.S. I will be watching the hearings Sally.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pierre Lagacé

        Watching…

        Like

  2. John Anderson

    Thank you for telling your truth. Your courage and integrity are inspiring. I enjoy reading your posts, though this one (& the last one) make me feel sad. Much love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Anderson

    Thank you for telling your truth. Your courage and integrity are inspiring. I enjoy reading your posts, though this one (& the last one) make me feel sad. Much love to you.

    Like

  4. John Anderson

    Thank you for telling your truth. Your courage and integrity are inspiring. I enjoy reading your posts, though this one (& the last one) make me feel sad. Much love to you.

    Like

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