Childhood stress can affect mental health in adulthood. The stress can be due to experiences of intense emotional or physical pain that occurred during childhood.
Many of these traumatic memories get buried in the unconscious mind as a coping mechanism in the child.
However, these memories can resurface later in life and cause significant distress and dysfunction in adult life.
What childhood trauma memories are most likely to get forgotten?
Any kind of childhood trauma can potentially be repressed and forgotten, as the mind uses this coping mechanism as a defense mechanism.
However, some of the most common types of childhood trauma that are likely to be forgotten include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence or parental conflict, and experiencing natural disasters or accidents.
These experiences can be overwhelming for a child and the brain may push them out of conscious memory to protect them from pain and trauma.
Why do the traumatic memories get repressed?
Most scientists agree that memories from infancy and early childhood, under the age of two or three, are unlikely to be remembered.
That said, here are some possible reasons why traumatic memories are repressed in a child:
- Memories of childhood trauma may be forgotten or repressed due to the overwhelming emotions they evoke, as being too excessive to handle for the child’s brain.
- Traumatic experiences that occur during early childhood when the brain is still developing may be more likely to be forgotten, as later experiences make stronger connections.
- Trauma that was ongoing, rather than a one-time event, may be more difficult to remember as a whole, as the child may have developed a wall of tolerance and acclimatization.
- Memories of trauma may also be fragmented or incomplete, making it difficult to recall the entire experience.
- Other factors, such as substance abuse or dissociation, may also contribute to forgetting or repressing traumatic memories.
How to remember repressed childhood trauma as an adult?
Recounting memories of actual childhood maltreatment in a therapy situation is most likely an important part of the healing process.
Repressed childhood trauma can be difficult to recall as an adult, but it is possible with the right techniques. Here are some tips to help you remember:
- Start with the present: Trauma can manifest in various ways, including physical symptoms, nightmares, and flashbacks. Pay attention to how your body reacts to certain triggers in the present, and try to connect those triggers to events from your childhood.
- Use visual aids: Draw pictures or create a timeline of your life events. This can help trigger memories and emotions associated with your childhood.
- Explore your emotions: Repressed childhood trauma often manifests as feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression. Try to identify when these feelings started and connect them to past events.
- Be patient and kind to yourself: Remembering repressed childhood trauma can be a painful and lengthy process. Take your time and be gentle with yourself throughout the journey.
- Seek the help of a professional: A therapist or counselor trained in trauma can guide you through the process of remembering repressed childhood trauma. They can create a safe space for you to explore your past and provide you with tools to help you cope.
Mindfulness For Remembering Repressed Childhood Trauma
Mindfulness can be a helpful tool to help remember repressed childhood trauma, but it should be practiced with care and under the guidance of a trained therapist.
Here is a step-by-step mindfulness exercise that can be used to support the process of remembering repressed childhood trauma memories:
- Find a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed.
- Begin by focusing on your breath, noticing the sensation of air moving in and out of your body.
- Allow your thoughts and emotions to arise without judgment or attachment. Simply observe them as they come and go, like clouds in the sky.
- As you continue to focus on your breath, bring to mind any feelings or sensations that you associate with your childhood. This might include memories of people, places, or events.
- If memories or emotions begin to surface, acknowledge them without judgment. Allow them to be present, but also recognize that you are safe in this moment and that you have the power to regulate your responses.
- If at any point during the exercise you begin to feel overwhelmed or distressed, return to focusing on your breath and seek the support of a trained therapist.
Be aware that remembering repressed childhood trauma memories can be traumatic. So, it must be practiced under expert guidance and the support of a trained mindfulness therapist.
Research Findings On Remembering Childhood Trauma Memories
There are several scientific studies on the topic of remembering childhood trauma memories.
This article suggests that recovered memories, including recovered memories of childhood trauma, are not always accurate. When people remember childhood trauma and later say their memory was wrong, there is no way to know which memory was accurate, the one that claims the trauma happened or the one that claims it did not.
A report on the current scientific knowledge on childhood trauma memories found scientific evidence for the forgetting of childhood traumatic events, for the delayed recall of traumatic events after a period of forgetting, and for “false memories” of childhood trauma.
This study found that, overall, the greater the traumatic impact experienced, the more accurate the later memory, although factors related to development, individual differences, and interviews moderate the effects of childhood trauma on the accuracy of adults’ memory.
This study found that traumatic memories are stored in different parts of the brain, and can be accessed by consciously remembering the event. But when put in a different brain state, the memories are rerouted and hidden away. This means that they can’t be remembered consciously. The study was done with mice, and scientists used a drug called gaboxadol to change the brain state of the mice.
Here are three takeaways on remembering childhood trauma:
- Journaling can be an effective tool for processing childhood trauma and accessing your uncensored voice. Try writing about your experiences to empower yourself and work through your emotions.
- If you’ve experienced a traumatic event in childhood, your later memories of it are likely to be more accurate if the impact was big. However, factors like development, individual differences, and interviews can affect the accuracy of your memories.
- If you’ve recovered memories of childhood trauma, do keep in mind that they may not always be accurate.
It’s a good idea to seek professional help to process these memories for healing yourself.
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Author Bio: Written and researched by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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