Memories are perceptions of one’s actual experiences. These perceptions include sensory information, such as sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Powerful experiences can also provoke strong physiological reactions in the body at the moment the experience is happening. In extreme situations where one experienced shock or terror, the strong emotions and the sensation of adrenalin rushing through one’s body can also be imprinted in the neuro pathways of the brain.
While this is a simplified explanation of how trauma can impact one’s emotional and physical experiences, it is important to realize that reactions to the traumatic event are learned experiences. That provides hope that one impacted by trauma can also learn to moderate the thoughts and physical sensations that are flood the mind and body when memories of the traumatic event are triggered by external cues.
When memories or sensations of the traumatic event persist for more than a short time after the situation is over, trauma responses can interfere with one’s efforts to move beyond the past, disrupting current daily life. When that happens, it is time to seek professional help from a trauma specialist. Trauma responses that remain unaddressed can contribute to serious problems in relationships, satisfaction with life, and even impact one’s physical health.
Today, if I recall times from my past that were shocking or terrifying, I will step back and take a deep breath. I will say, out loud, “That is just a memory, and memories cannot hurt me anymore than they already have.