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How does trauma affect us?

Everyone has traumatic experiences during their lives.  The effects can be physical, psychological or a mixture of the two.  Most recover quickly, some do not.  Sometimes the effect of a trauma can stay with us and affect our lives long after the event.  Specialist help may be needed to aid recovery.

Why is traumatic experience special?

This seems to have something to do with the way the brain processes information when traumas occur. Let’s think about how ordinary memories are formed.  Usually, when something happens, your eyes, ears and other senses are the first to respond.  This body information is then stored as memories.  These usually have a story-like quality, and contain your impressions and interpretations as well as facts about what happened.  When something dangerous happens, your body and brain respond in a different way.  Your body recognises the emergency and takes protective action; its messages to the brain seem to be put into an emergency store often without going through the normal memory processing.

These experiences – with the original sound thoughts and feelings – are recorded in your brain in the raw unprocessed form. Sometimes the brain does not process them in the normal way to form ordinary memories.  They are even stored in a different part of the brain.

How are traumatic memories different?

Traumatic memories seem to become locked into the brain in their ‘raw’ form.  When these memories are recalled they can be very upsetting.  Sometimes they can be recalled out of the blue causing flashbacks, nightmares and outbursts.  They can make it very difficult to deal with ordinary stressful situations in the calm and reasonable way that we normally would.



Information taken from the EMDR Association website