What Are Traumatic Memories?
Memories are usually stored in distributed brain networks including the cortex, and can thus be readily accessed to consciously remember an event. Some stressful experiences – such as chronic childhood abuse – are so overwhelming and traumatic, the memories hide like a shadow in the brain. These hidden memories that can’t be consciously accessed may protect the individual from the emotional pain of recalling the event. But eventually those suppressed memories can cause debilitating psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorders. It’s difficult for therapists to help these patients because the patients themselves can’t remember their traumatic experiences that are the root cause of their symptoms. A process known as state-dependent learning is believed to contribute to the formation of memories that are inaccessible to normal consciousness, when in response to traumatic stress, some individuals, instead of activating the glutamate system to store memories, activate the extra-synaptic GABA system and form inaccessible traumatic memories. This article by Sidran Institute does not handle the chemical processes that brings about traumatic memories, but provides us with some psychological understanding about trauma memories.
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