When I talk to people about this, they often dismiss it, because they cannot understand how the memory of an event can affect them in the here and now. They often say, they are over it, they have dealt with it. Even that they don't remember the event.
If only it were that easy.
The brain is very complex and here is an explanation of what of what it does and why traumatic events make such an impart on us.
" The brain is an amazing three-pound organ that controls all functions of the body,. interprets information from the outside world,, and embodies the essence of the mind and soul. Intelligence, creativity, emotion, and memory are a few of the many things governed by the brain. Protected within the skull, the brain is composed of the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem.
The brain receives information through our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing - often many at one time. It assembles the messages in a way that has meaning for us, and can store that information in our memory. The brain controls our thoughts, memory and speech, movement of the arms and legs, and the function of many organs within our body.Our brains are amazing and complex expecially when you consider something traumatic, adrenalin and other neurochemicals rush to the brain and print the picture there. The traumatic memory loops in the emotional side of the brain, disconnecting from the part of the brain that does reasoning and cognitive processing. The reasonable part of the brain is unable to help the emotionally loaded part of the brain get away from the trauma." I borrowed this from a website. If you want to learn more- here is the link - https://mayfieldclinic.com/pe-anatbrain.htm
You believe these events or traumas are dead and buried in the past where they belong.
So even though we think that the event is in the past, it can have a real impact on us.
A word, a phrase, colour, person, sound can trigger the memories of the trauma, or sometimes you may experience an emotion, or our body reacts as though it senses danger. It doesn't always bring back memories of the event - just the sensations we felt at the time.
It triggers our survival system to prepare our bodies for what it perceives as a real danger. I'm sure you have all heard of the Flight of Flight response, where the Limbic System sends the adrenalin and other neurochemicals around our body ready to take action. Unfortunately there are times it results in the person having panic attacks, which is extremely frightening.
At other times, you recall unpleasant memories which cause you to believe you will get the same outcome as before.
It could be that you applied for several jobs, but were unsuccessful at the interview stage. If this happens several times, you may hold the belief there is something wrong with you and that you will never get a job. Especially if your teacher or caregiver made comments to that effect.
Maybe in past relationships you were cheated on, so in your current relationship you struggle to trust your partner, perhaps making unreasonable demands on them., or even testing them to see whether they will leave you fro someone else.
Perhaps as a child you were told you weren't very bright, or that you were useless, that you wouldn't amount to anything. This can have the effect of either trying too hard and making unreasonable demands on yourself, or the opposite - where you don't bother trying at all.
Do you recognise any of these behaviours?
You become paralysed, feeling you aren’t good enough, fearful that if you fail will make look stupid and others may ridicule you?
You try to control everything in your life, feeling that will stop the anxiety, but at the same time worried what will happen if you lose control?
You procrastinate, because if you don’t make a decision you can’t get it wrong?
You distract yourself by keeping busy with practical things? By filling all your time up you don’t have time to think, or face what is going on in your head?
You try to numb the pain by turning to alcohol, drugs, retail therapy?
You convince yourself that it doesn’t matter, you argue that you are happy in your comfort bubble that you know so well.
The problem is that these deep seated negative beliefs and feelings relating to a past event or trauma can have a really bad effect on your personal life, relationships as well as your professional life. Unless you learn to deal with them in a positive way.
I am scared of bringing up the past again
I totally understand that talking about past traumas or unpleasant past events can be very distressing. Unless you want to talk about the details the is no need to do that.
In fact talking about a tramautic event actually causes that person to be re-traumatised again.
What is most important is realising how those events are still having an impact on your current life.
At the start of working with me many of my client don't realise the impact it has.
"The child who had to take on the role of carer to her divorced mother and younger siblings because she was disabled from the age of 6 years old, not only missed out on her childhood because she took on the role of a parent, but in her adult life she continued that role, taking over the role in her relationship. This meant she took on all the responsibility, and her partner left her to do everything. Including their children. Eventually, she suffered a bout of depression because she couldn't cope any more. She came to me for help with her depression, where she needed to understand her benaviours were the cause, deep seated in her childhood. One she recognised that she no longer had to take all the resonsility for everyone else, she was able to create healthier behaviours, leading to her depression "
"The child who was beaten by his father for every misdemeanor became angry with his own children when he became a parent. Behaviour he despised himself for. By making the connection to his childhood, he realised he was reacting as that small child. putting his fears unconsciously onto his children. Once he recognised that, and those fears belonged in his childhood. He was able to relax and respond more appropriately towards his own children."
You don't need to carry behaviours from the past into your current lives i you are willing to make positive changes
Awareness is the first step. You can't begin to make positive changes if you aren;t aware of them!
By noticing the behaviours when they happen you have the opportunity to make changes.
Baby Steps are the key. You adopted these ways of being in the world over a number of years, so you can't expect instantaneous results!
Acknowledge your wins, and build on them.
Don't fall back into bad habits of thinking because things didn't happen instantly they never will. It takes time, patience, and compassion for yourself.
Ask for help and support from friends, family and your partner.
Childhood Sexual abuse has far reaching effects
I want to talk about this separately, as this together with other extreme traumas has far reaching effects.
More and more of my clients are sharing with me that they have experienced sexual abuse as a child or young person, even though they may not have brought that as something they want to explore.
There are times when the issues they are currently struggling are a directly related to that abuse. If the client doesn't want to talk about that abuse, I totally respect their wishes. But I will share here some of the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse.
When an adult behaves improperly towards a child they are exploiting their authority. A child looks to an adult to care and protect them. Is it any wonder that as an adult that young person balks at anyone in authority? They are often threatened - that if they tell, bad things will happen to them and others. They are groomed, being offered treats in exchange for sexually gratifying their abuser.
One client told me that he was given a bike by his abuser,something his parents couldn't afford. Others have shared that they offered themselves to protect their siblings.
That small child had no power, totally reliant on adults to care and protect them. They feared by telling they wouldn't be believed. After all who would take the word of a child against an adult?
As a result that child's boundaries are shot. They really cant understand what is ok and what isn't. Their moral compass is not reliable. They are unable to trust, they are often constantly anxious suffering numerous panic attacks, frequent nightmares. As parents they want to protect their own children, scared of them having contact with others, in case the same happens to them.
They often struggle in relationships, often unable to form them or have healthy ones.
They often become controlling, because of fear. Sex can cause difficulties for them. They may become promiscuous, or unable to experience healthy sexual relationships.
Low self-esteem and lack of confidence are common traits, as well as phobias.
They also carry feelings of guilt and shame that they 'allowed' it to happen. But as I said they are children at the time. The guilt and shame lies squarely with the abuser! Many suffer from Post Traumic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Some are so badly emotionally damaged they are unable to cope. Whilst others carry out normal day to day lives.Recovery for those who are severely damaged by this heinous crime against them it can be a long road for them to recovery.
I have worked with many clients whose lives and relationships are affected. However, it takes time and a great deal of care and support.