Memory and Trauma

Trauma (and, more precisely, the stress that usually accompanies trauma) has identifiable effects on the hippocampus, impairing both the neuronal structure and the function of this brain region. As a direct consequence, stress (especially uncontrollable stressors) impairs various forms of memory. Experience of stress (through its impact on the hippocampus) causes stressful events to be recorded in a “fragmented” manner, with the elements of the event not woven into a coherent remembered episode. At the same time, emotion works (via the amygdala) to promote memory for the gist of an event, leading to well-encoded memories for the thematic content of an emotion event, but, again, without the coherent spatio-temporal framework needed to organize the memory (because this framework relies on hippocampal circuits disrupted by stress).

Let us first look at the four types of memory :

  • Semantic – General knowledge and facts. If you were in a car accident, you would remember the colour of the other person’s car, the time of day it was, and that there was an ambulance team on site.
  • Episodic – Autobiographical memory. If you were in a car accident, you would remember how the road looked as your spun out of control and the look on the other driver’s face as they ran into you.
  • Emotional – Remembering feelings. If you were in a car accident, you would remember the fear you felt when you wondered if you were going to survive and the rage you felt when you found out the other driver was drunk.
  • Procedural – Order of events. If you were in a car accident, you would remember the ambulance team got there first, then the police and the fire department.

When people experience a trauma, they may not remember the colour of the other person’s car from the accident or who arrived to the scene first. So what happens in the brain to make this so difficult? Let us look at how trauma affects your memory :

  • Semantic – Controlled by the temporal lobe and inferior parietal cortex. PTSD has an impact on communication between the temporal and parietal regions of the brain. This can make certain parts of your memory like words or images not combine to make a cohesive semantic memory.
  • Episodic – Controlled by the hippocampus. Constant stress may damage the hippocampus because of the hormone called cortisol that is released which can cause these memories to become a blur.
  • Emotional – Controlled by the amygdala. After experiencing trauma, your amygdala can become overactive sending fear signals when there is no perceivable threat present. This is why many people experience flashbacks or relive events from triggers.
  • Procedural – Controlled by the striatum. People who have PTSD have hyperactivity between the hippocampus and the stratum and the activity is very difficult to reduce which can lead to habit like responses to triggers.

Reference : https://cbdinstead.com/blogs/cbd-and-mental-health/why-does-trauma-change-your-memories

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Deepender says:

    Hi Garima
    Thanks for the beautifully written article. Let us also know the right blend of psychiatric and psychological help that’s needed to come out of a trauma or a crushing loss or social anxiety issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GS says:

      You need to visit a psychologist or psychiatrist for further help. A detailed assessment is important before coming to a right method for treatment.

      Like

  2. Good stuff as usual 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GS says:

      We’re living through an important moment where people who have been through traumatic experiences are feeling more comfortable coming forward with their stories. Trauma can have a profound impact on every area of person’s life. Because studies have shown that traumatic experiences, for example, physical and sexual abuse, are so common, it is important for people to be familiar with the different ways that trauma can cause distress. Glad you liked the article.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It amazes me that some people have suffered traumatic experiences and do not realize it because life itself has become so vastly different that traumatic experiences are almost the norm.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. GS says:

        True. Sad but true.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I learned much from this well-written discussion on the relationship between memory and trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GS says:

      When an individual experiences a traumatic event, whether physical or psychological, their memory can be affected in many ways. For example, trauma might affect their memory for that event, memory of previous or subsequent events, or thoughts in general.

      Like

  4. gpavants says:

    Garima,

    In all of the aftermath of COVID, there is trauma in so many aspects of people’s lives. I thought of the need for more mental health and social workers, emotional and fitness coaches, dieticians, etc. I pray the right people( who have experience these traumas) can help others.

    What do you think?

    Gary

    Like

    1. GS says:

      The real need is to build community-based capacity in order to handle local issues long after the acute phase of the epidemic. A small team of peer counslelors working under a local administrator and trained on established models might be the way forward. This will require a close partnership between civil society, local administration, and a standardized training and technology backbone, if it is to deliver consistent quality support. Local anchors will build accountability and ownership, and contextualize it for their own surroundings. Unless the community is empowered to take care of itself, we are staring at an ever-growing shadow of mental distress which will last much longer than the pandemic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. gpavants says:

        I prayed an army of folks who maybe have special gifting in mental, emotional, health, spiritual areas would take on those roles or many feel its time to shift careers into these needful roles.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. GS says:

        Yes Amen to That.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. gpavants says:

        Great plans you laid out. I hope your government entities will work well with the local ones.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. GS says:

        Yes 🙂
        Fingers crossed. Let’s see how it goes.

        Liked by 1 person

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