Archive for September 28, 2010

Why traumatic memories are different

Traumatic memories are different from “bad memories.” Traumatic memories are those memories which the brain recognized as intolerable and inescapable. When we cannot live with a memory most of us are capable of dissociating. That is, the terrible event is not something we remember. This is a survival mechanism. Our brains don’t store what is too terrible to remember.

Soldiers experience this when they have witnessed what’s too horrible to endure. Survivors of torture and imprisonment in repressive regimes describe “forgetting” the terror they experienced until later. Children who are being abused by the adults who should be protecting them have to dissociate the memories in order to survive the betrayal.

Not everyone is capable of dissociating. My hunch is that children who are not able to dissociate and who live with unbearable suffering are those children who suicide or die in “accidents.”

The point is that the brain doesn’t store traumatic memory the way it stores other memories. It takes a little effort to learn about how the brain deals with events that are too awful to store and which we cannot escape.

You can go online to learn about traumatic memories if you don’t have that knowledge now. If you choose not to learn, then please do not say, “But how can you forget something so awful? I remember everything….” That’s really hurtful and insensitive to those of us who have lived with dissociation. If you don’t make the effort to understand, please don’t pretend you have a valid opinion.

Is your mind racing?

Is your mind racing, planning, worrying, relentlessly reviewing the past or agitating over the future? This is a useless waste of energy and a misuse of the mind. (see my blog post of July 25/10, How To Take Control of Your Mind).

It’s important to ask yourself why your mind is racing. Why does your frantically busy mind think it’s important to keep you in an agitated state? What’s it keeping your from paying attention to? What would you be thinking about if your mind weren’t racing? What’s the real problem here?

Ask yourself: If I weren’t worrying about all that, what would I be thinking about?

Often the racing mind is just a cover up for the real problem. To get at the real stuff, we have to quiet the buzz and the static of the racing mind. We need to get quiet and ask ourselves what we’re really upset about.

Most often it isn’t about the seemingly endless list of chores to be done. Rather it’s about the relationship we’re in or the disappointment we’re experiencing in our own lives. Sometimes memories are trying to surface in our consciousness: memories that the mind doesn’t want us to know about.

All the worrying in the world about the past, the future or the jobs to be done, won’t address the real problem, whatever it is.

Recognize the racing mind for what it is. A distraction. A red herring meant to keep us from dealing with what really matters.

Do you have experience with a racing mind? Perhaps you’d leave a comment below to help others. I promise to reply to your comment.

The Globe and Mail tells my story

What an amazing feeling to waken this morning and find my story in The Globe and Mail! Sarah Hampson interviewed me about my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist and there was my photo and her description of our meeting right on the front page of the Life Section.

Then I went to the Internet and found it on the Globe’s webpage. But wait a minute, it had just come out and already people were commenting on it. They sure weren’t wasting any time. Let’s see…what were they saying?

Oh! They were all saying with a tone of authority that the issue of recovered memories was dead: that it was all in my imagination. They, of course, didn’t identify themselves or state their credentials for making such a statement and clearly they had not read my book.

“They” are ready to pounce on any information that might inform the public of our society’s endemic child sexual abuse. “They” are usually perpetrators who are waiting in fear for the children they once abused and who are now grown up, to sue them for their retirement savings. It’s an all too common event in the fight against child sexual abuse.

Anyway, since you’re reading my blog, you no doubt know differently. Please go to the Globe and Mail link given below and – if you feel comfortable doing so – leave a comment.

Read The Globe and Mail story by clicking this link: HERE

Old messages that hold us back

We all carry old messages, sometimes called implicit memories, from our early life. They’re messages we picked up from the world we were born into. They’re so much a part of us we barely know they exist.

What are your old messages? Maybe you learned:
-that you weren’t lovable
-that you weren’t smart enough
-that the world was a really scary place
-that you had to build a wall around yourself to be safe

Whatever your message, it’s probably not true in your present day world. It’s important to take a good hard look at these old tapes. They can be self-fulfilling.

-If you’re convinced you’re stupid, you likely avoid trying to get more education or a better job.

-If you consider yourself unlovable, maybe you don’t let people get to know you. Maybe you keep others at a distance so they won’t see how defective you are.

-If you think the world is such a scary place, you probably don’t take advantage of opportunities that come your way.

-Ask yourself if you really need to stay so hidden from others.

Once we identify our old messages, we need to take a good hard look at our current reality. What is the evidence for my stupidity? Are there signs that I’m not so stupid, like a graduation certificate? Or a good evaluation at work?

I’m unlovable? Is there somebody who loves me in spite of my faults?

When was the last time I was actually threatened by the world?

Are the people in my current world really dangerous to me?

It’s really important to learn what your old messages are and begin to change them.