How to Deal with Traumatic Memories
Experiencing trauma can cause complex emotional reactions characterized by various symptoms and mental health concerns. Trauma is usually the result of enduring or witnessing violence, abuse, sexual assault, war, or the sudden death of a loved one but there are many other disturbing experiences that can contribute to traumatic reactions. The way we react to trauma and the symptoms that manifest are unique to each person. Maybe you have experienced a life threatening situation and just can’t seem to shut off your anxious thoughts and intrusive memories of the event. Or maybe you witnessed a loved one encounter a violent attack and you feel on edge and constricted by constant muscle tension and nausea. Can you relate?
Another aspect to keep in mind is that trauma has no timeline and does not discriminate. Maybe you experienced a childhood filled with abandonment and neglect and now you struggle to form healthy relationships as an adult. Or maybe an adult violated a serious boundary in your youth and you are terrified to let others get close. Sound familiar? What is even more confusing is trauma that occurs early in life when individuals are in their preverbal stages. These memories are encoded in the implicit area of your brain resulting in responses and sensations rather than visual memories or experiences that you can recall or describe. Do you have gaps in your childhood memories? Do you believe you were harmed but can’t seem to recall the exact event? If so, you are not alone and are certainly not crazy. Keep reading to discover why trauma affects us in this way and how to cope with your trauma.
Do you struggle to remember details of your traumatic memories or even have gaps in your early recollections of these hurtful experiences? This is a very normal reaction to a not so normal event or experience. What you remember about your trauma and are actually able to verbalize is often only part of the story and here is why. There are various regions of the brain responsible for forming memories and there are several different forms.
Have you ever smelled a scent that took you back to a certain day or time period? Maybe you have seen an item or picture for the first time since you were a child and were not even aware that you had the memory until now. Sometimes we even resonate with a certain time of the year or with a certain song but have no idea why. These are all examples of memories that are not able to be verbalized. We feel them, experience them, are even affected by them, yet still are not able to explain them.
The same principle applies to trauma and this is why we often experience symptoms of trauma, not memories. These symptoms can manifest as irritability, depression, anxiety, fear of intimacy, anger, etc. The reason these manifestations occur are in part due to the way our brains and nervous system function. When we experience trauma or are threatened with danger, the area of the brain responsible for thinking, making decisions, learning, and utilizing logic shuts down, while the brain regions responsible for instinct, emotions, and fear responses goes into overdrive. As these changes happen, the brain encodes these traumatic experiences as sensations, feelings, symptoms, and emotions. Below are some practical ways to help you cope with trauma and decide the next steps for your healing journey.
Stop the Cycle
To help end the control that trauma has over you, it is important to counteract the natural sequence of events that contributes to your triggers. The term “trigger” is used to define the reaction we have to cues that remind our brains and instincts of the traumatic experience we endured. When you encounter these cues and experience the panic, fear, and distress associated with your trauma, your brain is reengaging in the fear cycle mentioned above. To help stop this reaction in its tracks, it is important to activate the region of the brain that controls choices, thinking, and logic.
To begin this process, stop and notice your surroundings. Think back over your day and walk yourself through the steps you took to end up where you currently are. Ask yourself, “What was I doing prior to experiencing this reaction? What is happening right now?”. By doing this, you are activating the area of your brain that is associated with logic and disengaging the area that is responsible for expressing fear. By simply practicing awareness and noticing these things, you can begin to calm yourself down.
Another version of the above exercise is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you to remain in the present moment and focus your mind on your immediate surroundings. A good way to employ this coping skill is to focus on your breathing and heartbeat as you count down from 10. Take deep breaths and remind yourself that you are safe. Triggers are reactions based in the past that bring those fears to the current moment. This is why it is helpful to remind yourself that you are safe and to acknowledge your current surroundings.
Another helpful way to practice grounding is to utilize the 5,4,3,2,1 method. The way to begin this exercise is to count down from 5 using each one of your senses. For example, find 5 things you can see, notice 4 things you can hear, touch 3 things you can feel, notice 2 scents you can smell, and find one thing you can taste. This can be done in any environment or situation to help calm you and bring peace, but is even more effective when you get into nature or step outside. Get some sun and feel the wind on your skin. By practicing this, you are teaching your mind how to emotionally regulate your nervous system and stress levels. This is an important skill to learn to help cope with triggers and traumatic reminders.
Seek Professional Help
Trauma is a serious mental condition that you may not be able to fully heal from on your own. The above lessons and information can help reduce the effects that trauma places on your life, but if you are experiencing continual intense reactions, it is best to seek help from a mental health professional. The resources that you need to heal are already within yourself, but you may need assistance tapping into them. There are various therapeutic modalities available to help access the inner workings of your trauma in a way that you can not do without the help of a trained counselor. The good news is that you are in the right place. At New Vision Counseling and Consulting, we have a unique team of highly trained and compassionate counselors waiting to help you!
We hope you found this message hopeful and inspiring. Should you have any questions or wish to seek counseling services, your next natural step is to reach out to the New Vision Team. We offer a wide range of trauma-focused therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Emotional Transformation Therapy (ETT), among others. Our therapists do not shy away from addressing complex trauma, and they are trained in techniques to heal dissociation, attachment issues, anxiety, and other common symptoms related to traumatic experiences.
Ready to begin your healing journey? If so, we encourage you to take the first step towards healing and building a brighter future by scheduling your first counseling appointment with a counselor who you most connect with. Read each of our individualized testimonies so you can find the right fit. We are waiting for you with open hearts, ready to offer you the help and guidance you need. You are not alone, and there is hope for healing and recovery! Call us today at (405) 921-7776. We can’t wait to hear from you!