How Can You Forget Something So Terrible?

I’m in Germany at the International Focusing Conference. Today I gave a workshop on traumatic memory. The theme was why it’s possible to have no memory of terrifying events.

First, I wanted the participants to be clear on the definition of “traumatic.” Often people use the term to describe a memory that is merely bad or painful. A traumatic event has to be (1) inescapable and (2) intolerable.

Our natural impulse when something threatens us is to go into a state of fight or flight. If we can’t fight and we can’t flee, we freeze or dissociate.

Normal children are capable of dissociating in order to survive. Dissociation is learned at an early age and is a highly developed skill. I tell my clients that yogis go into a cave for years to learn this skill.

What does it feel like to dissociate? Some people describe it as looking at the world through a pane of glass while feeling nothing. Others float on the ceiling and look down at what seems to be happening to somebody else. Yet another common form of dissociation involves simply leaving the body and feeling nothing.

At one time, dissociation spared us from feeling the full impact of a situation we couldn’t tolerate. Otherwise we wouldn’t be capable of this advanced mind/body control. It allowed us to participate in some parts of normal childhood, such as going to school.

In a nutshell, our brains are designed to assure the survival of our species. Dissociation deserves our respect.

One comment

  1. Dominika says:

    is all friends and fiamly were no support. So I just want to leave you with I do understand your grief, emptiness; however the extent of it I can not, but I have prayed for you, your boys, hubby and fiamly; because that’s all I have to give to anyone I knew or in my future. I am sorry for your passing, your Mom’s photos which you have placed on your FB was awesome. I hope for you and your fiamly especially your little one be consoled with all the wonderful memories and photos, and numerous stories from everyone who knew her, they do warm up the heart and soul. I never in a million years thought I would be a candidate for a Prodical Son. Not after living with a man, his dad for 20 years who would not give up the booze for his wife or wonderful son. TJ learned first hand what happens and was educated, but crumbled due to more medical issues, which once he turned 18 I ran out of the legal stated time in which as his Mother I know longer had any control to find him the proper medical help he still needs to this day. Grief yes I know this; I have not seen or heard from him for over 8 months the longest yet.This is a living nightmare, from my mother’s point of view. I am trying to not let go ever of Jesus, but my Faith is definitely not anywhere to what it had been. So, I may never respond again, but just know, I do recall our association and do feel your lost. As for me, there can never be closure since I have no way of visiting him, even at a grave site. The Whys, and OH LORD will never be stopped from my thoughts or heart. It is what it is, God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle, ok, but my heart and head will never let go of TJ, as you surely understand being a Mother yourself.God Bless you all, Mama C aka Caroline

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