Why Explore Repressed Memories...

A popular YouTube personality is currently advising people to “forget about memories” and “not talk about memories.”

Is this healthy, especially when someone has been traumatized?

Every event we’ve ever been exposed to or have been a part of in our lives is cataloged within us.  Our body knows and neuroscience has shown that the terror and isolation at the core of trauma literally reshapes both our brains and bodies. New insights into our survival instincts explain why traumatized people experience incomprehensible anxiety and numbing and intolerable rage, and how trauma affects their capacity to concentrate, to remember, to form trusting relationships, and even to feel at home in their own bodies (Bessel Van der Kolk, MD.)

Significant events in life tend to linger in your conscious memory and there are those that may spark happiness when you recall them. Other events may involve less pleasant emotions.  When trauma is involved, these memories may be repressed.

Repressed memories are those you unconsciously forget. These memories generally revolve around some kind of trauma or a deeply distressing event.

Maury Joseph, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., explains that when your brain registers something too distressing, “it drops the memory into a ‘nonconscious’ zone, a realm of the mind you don’t think about.”

It sounds simple enough, yet the concept of memory repression is one that experts have long debated.

The idea of memory repression dates back to Sigmund Freud in the late 1800s. Freud believed that memory repression served as a defense mechanism against traumatic events. Symptoms that couldn’t be traced to a clear cause, he concluded, stemmed from repressed memories.

Neuroscience has shown that while you may not remember what happened, you will likely feel it in your body anyway.  And repressed memories may lead to various expressions that could mimic other illnesses.

If you’re seeking counseling, make sure to mention anything unusual you’re experiencing, both physically and mentally. While some symptoms of trauma are easy to identify, others can be more subtle.

Some of these lesser-known symptoms include:

  • sleep issues, including insomnia, fatigue, or nightmares

  • feelings of doom

  • low self-esteem

  • mood symptoms, such as anger, anxiety, and depression

  • confusion or problems with concentration and memory

  • physical symptoms, such as tense or aching muscles, unexplained pain, or stomach distress

So, should we ‘forget’ memories or not talk about them? 

The real question is this:  How can we heal those issues that are driving our current, not-so-preferred challenges and behaviors if we keep those memories repressed?