If you were traumatized in childhood, you probably have trouble managing your fight, flight or freeze response, your body’s reflexive reaction to perceived threat. We share a limbic system with the rest of the animal kingdom and the racing heart of the panic attack is meant to help us survive physical danger. We are getting prepared to run or to fight. The animal strategy is not very effective management in the 21st century when we are seldom in physical danger. Read more
Archive for Dissociation
Believe it or not, “you” are not a steady state. “You” are made up of many different ego states. Normal people, like nations, need their children, their creative types, their farmers, their business types and their organizers. You are different when you’re at work than when you’re at home. And you are different playing with little children, than with authority figures. You can be serious and, hopefully, playful. But you recognize all these states as being “you.” Read more
Remember Linda? I wrote about her in “Confessions.” Harvey and I took this disturbed teenager into our home because Harvey believed that with a stable environment, she could flourish.
Before she came to live at our house, Linda had been living in a lean-to she built for herself in a ravine. Winter was coming and she had nowhere to live. Her mother had died, she told us. (Later we found out there had been no funeral.) She smoked and drank and with her dissociative identity disorder, and we never knew whether we would meet the sweet seductive part or the tough guy part of her personality.
If you’ve read my book, you know that the rescue operation pretty well drove me crazy. I didn’t have my own memories of child sexual abuse at the time and her anguish stirred my own unresolved depression. I finally said she had to leave.
This same Linda stayed with us last weekend. She lives in Thunder Bay, is married and has two adopted sons. She’s a wise and loving mother. Linda devotes a lot of energy to telling her story to high school children and anyone whose life she can positively influence with her own experience in overcoming numerous addictions. She is, to say the least, mentally stable.
We spent a lot of time, she and I, reviewing those terrible teenage years. She told me she figured she’d touched off some awful stuff inside me when I got so mad at her and told her she had to leave. She told me that she’d met up with her mother and had seen her with her compassionate adult eyes as a helpless, defeated woman. Linda’s children now have a grandmother.
Where did this disturbed, antisocial kid get so much wisdom and understanding?
There’s got to be a moral to the story. Never underestimate the power of the human spirit?
Want a fast and easy way to gain accurate, up-to-date information about traumatic memory and dissociation? Go to www.isst-d.org/education/trauma-info.htm. Then click on students and public.
Next, click on dissociative disorder information or trauma information or frequently asked questions.
The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is a society of clinicians, researchers and academics that exists to train professionals and educate the public about psychological trauma.
Or you might Google traumatic memory. I did and I found solid, informative papers by leaders in the field of psychological trauma. Under Scholarly Articles for Traumatic Memory, click on van der Kolk and you’ll find this expert’s paper explaining the following:
“Trauma is an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people’s coping mechanisms.” He describes “the differences between the recollections of stressful and traumatic events.”
A study of 46 subjects with PTSD indicates that “traumatic memories are retrieved, at least initially, in the form of dissociated mental imprints of sensory and affective elements of the traumatic experience: as visual, olfactory, affective, auditory and kinesthetic experiences. Over time, subjects reported the gradual emergence of a personal narrative that can be properly referred to as “explicit memory.”
In my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist you can follow my personal process as my “traumatic memories were retrieved at least initially in the form of dissociated mental imprints.” I was in my late 40s before I had a personal narrative that made sense of my life and was a clear memory of incest.
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.