I’m in Germany where I have been teaching the participants at the annual International Focusing Conference how our brains protect us from whatever is too terrible to assimilate into consciousness.
I explained that normal memory, like the memory of being in my workshop, is an explicit memory. That is, it has details. They will remember much of what I said, who was there and so on.
On the other hand, implicit memory, as in traumatic memory, is carried in the body. It lacks a narrative and details.
A normal event is first registered by the thalamus of the brain, then goes to the amygdala and then to the hippocampus for storage. However, if the event is traumatic, the amygdala acts as a watchdog and doesn’t pass it on to the hippocampus for storage. That means that maybe there never was a whole memory. The memory might fragment into pieces that are visual or olfactory, but lack a context.
The mind doesn’t know about the terrible event, but the body does. Fear is the major emotion of trauma. Anxiety and depression result, even though the person cannot attach a reason for the disturbance.
Time does not heal traumatic memory. The feelings are in the present. It seems as if something terrible or threatening is happening in the present – or is about to happen. The task for psychotherapy or any type of healing is to put the past into the past. This means changing the way the brain experiences your existence.