The article “What Your Child Remembers–New Discoveries about Early Memory and How it Affects Us” by Robin Grille, psychologist, educator, and author, is chock full of information everyone should know, regardless of whether one has experienced trauma or not. Here are some samples from the essay.
Most of us have been told at one time or another that children aren’t supposed to remember anything that happens to them before–roughly–the age of two. Emotionally painful experiences during infancy will therefore have no lasting impact. These words might have been reassuring, if they didn’t also imply that our infants don’t remember the love we have given them, and so our love at this time has no lasting impact.
‘Implicit’ memory is available from birth or earlier, it is unconscious, and is encoded in emotional, sensory and visceral recall. . . . What we don’t remember with our minds, we remember with our bodies, with our hearts and our ‘guts’–with lasting implications for our thinking, feeling, and behaviour.
If we are unlucky enough to face a situation of panic or terror which we feel helpless to escape, the brain secretes endogenous opioids in order to numb us to overwhelming emotional or physical pain. These brain chemicals also interfere with the storage of explicit memory [memory that is conscious and enables us to tell a story that makes sense of what happened], though implicit memory of the trauma remains available.
It is intrinsically human to re-enact defensive reactions to forgotten trauma, though our reactions are no longer relevant.
And here lies some rocky territory. Many of us are living re-enactment after re-enactment. In fact, often the choices we make are in unconscious reaction to events that are “no longer relevant.” How do we free ourselves from post-traumatic stress prison? The first step is to realize that we have PTSD and to accept it. To study ourselves and acknowledge our symptoms.
As the author noted above: Just because you don’t remember what happened does not mean it didn’t happen. Just because you don’t remember does not mean that you aren’t still affected by it. And just because you are still affected by it does not mean you cannot heal. That’s what my blog is all about–sharing strategies we can use to free ourselves. PTSD can be our teacher–if we let it.