Healing Trauma: To Forget or to Remember?

The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth. — Alice Miller
There are two main approaches to healing psychological and emotional trauma.

Forgetting

The first approach to trauma is forgetting it. Fundamentally, this means denying and ignoring the cause of your inner pain and the root of your fundamental problems. This is something that is frequently advocated by most people, including many professional helpers like psychotherapists, coaches, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and so on.

Since trauma and its consequences are complex and complicated, most people don’t want to examine it. It’s understandable because it can be incredibly painful. So, in order to deal with their inner pain, people look for quick and easy solutions. Solutions that don’t really exist.

Moreover, many professionals are neither trauma-informed nor resolved themselves, so they are unwilling or unable to actually help their clients resolve their deeply rooted psychological and emotional problems. However, the pain is still there because the initial trauma is still unaddressed. So, to cope with it, people try to forget it or convince themselves—and others—that it’s not really there, that it didn’t happen, that it wasn’t’ so bad, and that they should just forget it. Forgetting, however, is not really possible.

It’s as possible to ignore deep psychoemotional trauma as it is possible to ignore that you’re bleeding after being stabbed. You can pretend that everything is okay, but you can’t make the pain, damage, and the consequences go away.

Furthermore, the unresolved trauma that we carry around is transferred to the next generation, which is sometimes referred to intergenerational trauma or the cycle of abuse. It means that, even if we are unaware of our trauma, we act it out regardless, especially in our relationship with our own children.

Remembering

The second approach to trauma is remembering it and trying to resolve it.

As Alice Miller puts it:
The sole explanation I can advance for this fact is that information on the cruelty suffered in childhood remains stored in the brain in the form of unconscious memories. For a child, conscious experience of such treatment is impossible. If children are not to break down completely under the pain and the fear, they must repress that knowledge. But the unconscious memories drive them to reproduce those repressed scenes over and over again in the vain attempt to liberate themselves from the fears that cruelty and abuse have left with them. Some victims create situations in which they can assume the active role in order to master the feeling of helplessness and escape the unconscious anxieties.
Since we can’t escape or truly forget our trauma, the only way to deal with it is to face it. By acknowledging it, we can make it visible. By making it visible, we can make it understandable, which provides clarity to us. By making it understandable, we can make it bearable, which empowers us. By making it bearable, we can feel more safety and security, which makes us feel less emotionally overwhelmed. By learning to deal with our painful and overwhelming emotions better, we act out less, have more awareness, and make better decisions.

Bottom Line

Trauma leaves us with complex inner wounds that haunt us long into adulthood and manifest themselves in various psychological, emotional, social, and behavioral problems. Many people, including mental health professionals, encourage and prescribe “solutions” that lead to more denial and dissociation, which leaves the person with poor or even harmful options for dealing with their inner pain that stems from their unresolved trauma.

There are no quick or easy solutions to complex psychoemotional issues. The only way to actually resolve it is to eventually face it and work on it. It takes a lot of time, effort, and other resources, but the result is invaluable.


This blog is ad-free, so consider supporting my work with a Patreon subscription or PayPal donation, and check out my book Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults. Thanks!

Comments

  1. It took me more than 40 years to truly/fully 'remember' the abuse I endured from my mother since childhood till the day she died in 2003.
    It was in 2013 when I got traumatized in my work by some people. I had PTSS symptoms and went in therapy for it.
    During this therapy those memories from childhood surfaced and I didn't dare to share with that therapeut. Some I really 'forgot' and were terribly frighting and confusing.

    Like that occasion in the kitchen as ~6 years old where she stood high above me yelling at me at the top of her lungs; 'I wished you never were born!!!'. I remember staring at her right in the eyes when she yelled this looking up for she was so high above me. Then she continued; 'Look at you!! You have the Devil in your eyes!!! I kept staring at her, completely frozen.
    I did/could not react otherwise.
    Seeing this, she yelled at my father in the living-room; 'You loser why don't you do anything about this kid!!!'. My farther stormed in the kitchen and hit me full-fist in the face.
    Both leaving me on the kitchen-floor with a bleeding nose. My farther came back in seconds telling me he was so sorry. My mother never did.

    Or that occasion when I was about ~8 years old. I was alone with her in the living-room and had done something 'wrong'. Cann't remember what I did 'wrong' but remember now very vivid what she went doing. She often had threatened me to send me away to an institution but this were only words. Now she stepped up the game.
    Now she told me she was calling this institution and order them to take me away the next morning. And she did make a phone-call in my presence that afternoon.
    I know now she made a fake phone-call but I was too young to realize this at the time.
    She clearly let me hear the arragement she made over the phone; next morning 9 o'clock a car was going to take me away.
    She always did this kind of things when my father or no-one else was around.
    I got realy scared now. First just unbelieve but she continued this scam all evening and night.
    I didn't dare to say anything in hoping it would just go away.
    I hardly slept that night. Up in the morning at 8 sitting at the window watching if any car would come. My mother was sitting at the table ignoring me and giving me silence and cold looks. At 9 I completely panicked and started to cry loud for I couldn't take it anymore. No car was coming. She left me in this terrible state for another 10 minutes or so.
    Then she told me; 'there is no car coming to get you, let this be a lesson for you'.

    I know now this sounds- and is horrendous. And I have many more examples though.
    I've come to the reality of what happened.
    But I still struggle with the grief and the anger at times. And the final understanding what drove her to hate me so much and act so sadistically.
    She did the same to my father who killed himself when I was 19 (he 48).
    She took my live also in a way and those of my siblings.

    Just based on reading this what would your 'diagnosis/opinion' be?

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

MOST POPULAR POSTS

8 Reasons Why People Deny Childhood Trauma and Its Results

Character Assassination—and How to Handle It

Narcissism (Part 3): How Narcissists Act When Feeling Upset or Threatened