January 18, 2018
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Traumatic Memories Print E-mail
Memory Storage Brain Neurons

The medical community is learning more about how we store and retrieve memories and their impact on what we believe and how we feel. Memory is not really a fixed thing. It can be accessed and evaluated at will, and is subject to various conclusions.

Memories of traumatic events can cause fear and anxiety. They tend to trigger strong behavioral and emotional responses that are undesirable or unhealthy.

Normal memories degrade over time as we process them. We have an emotional response such as grieving, sadness, or worry until the memory no longer exercises control over us.

This process is one important part of “mind renewal” by which we are transformed from our past into the likeness of Christ.

Resistance

No one looks forward to experiencing pain, and the human condition is full of avoidance techniques. It is our natural tendency to ignore any memory that might trigger anxiety or fear.

Distraction might be the most common tool for avoiding memories. A person may use entertainment or the focused pursuit of another interest to keep their mind occupied. Some addictive behaviors act similarly; such as pornography, romance novels, video games, work-aholism, and the like. Drugs and alcohol can also be distraction techniques whereby the mind is chemically altered so it is unable to access the offending memory.

Suppression is a different method for avoiding memories. In severe cases it is a subconscious (involuntary) decision that puts the memory out of reach. In other cases it is an act of will to refuse access to the memory. Either way, it is the body’s way of resisting the pain that is associated with the memory of the event.

Although resistance is a natural response, it thwarts the mind renewal process.

Revisiting

Have you ever wondered how to help a grieving friend? Let them tell their story. It is healing to revisit the memories, express the feelings, share the emotions, and receive affirmation from a trusted person. This is how we process “normal memories” even when they evoke strong reactions.

Traumatic memories cause even more anxiousness, and it must be overcome. When avoidance is interrupted and the memory revisted, the person is able to experience the feelings and thoughts they have been avoiding, and this creates an opportunity for a reevaluation (mind renewal.)

The fear of pain would keep someone from seeking mind renewal and being healed. That person must understand that the memory is what is fearful and not the current reality.

Reconsolidation

Recent research at New York University indicates that memories can be reshaped. Reconsolidation involves revisiting an unpleasant memory to create an opportunity to reevaluate it. “Our studies suggest that simply retrieving a memory is enough to trigger the reconsolidation (i.e. re-storage) process,” said Elizabeth Phelps, PhD and professor of psychology at NYU.

“Our research suggests that during the lifetime of a memory there are windows of opportunity where it becomes susceptible to be permanently changed,” wrote researcher Daniela Schiller, PhD, a colleague of Phelps.

It turns out that the brain stores emotional memories differently than episodic (event) memory. Revisiting the memory brings both pieces to the forefront of the mind, putting it into an unstable condition. It is this condition that opens the door for renewal.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

This information isn’t really new. These researchers are just now getting around to documenting what God revealed a long time ago about the transformation process. He asks us to bring our cares to Him by confessing (revisiting), and then receiving His truth in place of our anxiety. We can trust Him to reconcile the emotions and put the memory back where it belongs.

But we must face the fear.

Example

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after exposure to a horrendous traumatic experience, perhaps involving death or the threat of death. It happens when a person experiences an event that is so emotionally overwhelming that the memory of it cannot be processed and grieved normally. It can lead to the emotional system shutting down like an overloaded circuit breaker.

PTSD sufferers use avoidance strategies to keep the memory at bay. They may abuse alcohol or drugs. They may experience emotional repression, or the episodic memory may be completely suppressed. They are likely to have flashbacks or irrational responses when triggered by an event that is similar to the memory. The fear of feeling the pain again holds them in bondage.

Healing, through mind renewal, will replace the current fear as it processes the event. Peace and calm comes to the memory as God replaces the anxiety with His presence and truth. There may still be historical fear or anxiety associated with the event, but the present sense of that fear is dispelled. The bondage will be broken and the person transformed.

Exercise

If you are dealing with PTSD, there is hope for you. If you are dealing with traumatic memories, there is hope for you. If you have anxiety or unresolved emotions seemingly without cause, there is hope for you.

Take an inventory of your present life. Are you triggered by some events so that your response is out of proportion to that event itself? Do you experience wildly fluctuating emotions? Are you unable to feel emotions? Are you chronically anxious or fearful? These emotions come from things you believe to be true, often based on your experience.

Make a habit of revisiting your memories. Check for “hot” ones that bring a lump to your throat. Go back to the ones you know you are avoiding. Look deep inside for memories associated with your strong beliefs. Test for them by asking “why” about things you feel or believe.

Remember that when you revisit the memory it creates a window of opportunity. Reconsolidate the memory by asking God to renew your mind. He will take away your anxiety and replace it with peace.

Feel free to report your successes; we would love to rejoice with you.

 
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