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6 Ways Trauma is Affecting Your Memories

How Traumatic Events from Your Past Can Impact Memory and Brain Function

If you have a history of trauma and feel like your memory is spotty, the two may share a strong connection. Goodtherapy author Fabiana Franco, PhD, explains the phenomenon well :

“People who experience a devastating event such as a car accident, natural disaster, or terror attack often cannot remember the incident. It's also common not to remember what took place right before or right after the incident. In a similar way, many adults who suffered child abuse have difficulty recalling large chunks of time from childhood. In these cases, problems with memory can continue into adulthood as well, particularly when faced with emotional distress.

Learning how trauma impacts the mind can give you a new perspective on the past so that you can heal and move forward — here are 6 ways trauma messes with memories.

1. Memory loss is a survival skill

When someone endures ongoing trauma they can develop a condition called dissociative amnesia. It's a type of temporary memory loss that causes a person to forget specific details about their traumatic experiences.

In this way, memory loss can be viewed as a survival skill that offers you protection from painful psychological distress.

2. Trauma and stress can reshape your brain

In a study on how traumatic stress affects the brain , researchers wrote that, “Traumatic stress has a broad range of effects on brain function and structure, as well as on neuropsychological components of memory.”

3. Chronic stress makes it harder to learn new things

Do you ever feel like it's impossible to retain information and learn new skills? The chronic stress that results from living through trauma could be to blame. Stress hormones can wreak havoc on the hippocampus, the area of the brain that's responsible for making and keeping memories.

4. Acute and sustained trauma can be equally damaging to memory

Researchers continue to gather evidence that shows all trauma victims can develop memory distortion, whether it was a one-time, single event or an ongoing and multifaceted experience.

5. Traumatic memory distortion follows a pattern

Studies have also found that the average person's response to traumatic stress grows and intensifies over time, almost as if the symptoms are feeding themselves. As a result, trauma sufferers tend to “over remember” more details of trauma than what actually occurred.

6. There are effective treatments for trauma recovery and PTSD

If you've suffered trauma in your life, know that you can learn how to process the past for a healthier future. There are a number of therapies that can help repair your mind and body, too. One example is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EDMR) , an approach that draws from psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.

EDMR has changed the lives of many PTSD sufferers at Foundations Counseling, but it isn't the only type of trauma therapy. Click here to learn more about trauma counseling , including details about what to expect and how to tell when it's time to seek help.