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Managing Traumatic Memories

Over the last decades our understanding of trauma and its effects has grown enormously. Research shows that when we fail to face and process large and small traumas of our past, we can become stuck in our pain. When traumas are unresolved, present day events can trigger us and we risk getting thrown back into emotional states we experienced at the time of the trauma. Firestone’s article (below) provides sound advice about how to manage traumatic memories. She quotes Dr. Jack Kornfield’s RAINapproach to deal mindfully with triggers. R- Recognise and notice what you’re feeling. A - Acknowledge whatever strong emotion is occurring. I - Investigate your internal experience by SIFTing through it, noting Sensations, Images, Feelings and Thoughts that arise. N - Non identification - don’t allow the thoughts, feelings or experiences to define you. If a memory arises, remember that the memory is not happening now and does not define who you are. So we need to "name it to tame it. We know that one of the most effective ways to separate from our past and take control of our lives involves creating a coherent narrative - telling our story as a means of making sense of the events that shaped us, bringing memories and feelings to the surface to better understand how they inform our present state of being.

Resolving the Trauma You Didn't Know You Had

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.

Most of us wouldn’t use the word trauma when telling our story. We may associate trauma with natural disaster, disease, war, loss or other extreme acts of violence. Unless we’ve suffered sexual or physical abuse, or even if we have, we may tell ourselves that there was no trauma in our early life. Yet, a trauma can be defined as any significant negative event or incident that shaped us. It can emerge from any impactful instance that made us feel bad, scared, hurt or ashamed. By this definition, we have all experienced some degree of trauma in the process of growing up. And how well we cope in our lives today depends, to a large degree, on how much we are willing to recognize and make sense of this trauma.

No matter how often we try to tell you ourselves that the past is in the past or to write off the ways we were hurt as no big deal, our history continues to affect us in countless, unconscious ways. Research shows that when we fail to face and process the large and small traumas of our past, we can become stuck in our pain. We may struggle in our relationships and recreate our past in our present. In order to identify the events that hurt us, we must realize that trauma can exist in many forms. Psychologists often refer to traumatic interpersonal events that were not life-threatening but generated a significant emotional response as little trauma. These can include instances of bullying, rejection, neglect, ridicule, verbal abuse, alarm etc.

Our list of traumatic memories may or may not be long. We may struggle to even think of anything at first. It’s common to discount what happened to us as kids as not that important once we’re adults. Yet, what we have to remember is that it’s not about how we feel about the event now but how we felt as kids that affects us. Many things feel a lot bigger and scarier to a child who has little control or power over their circumstances.

To read the remainder of this article, please proceed to the Psychalive website here.

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