Tag Archives: Intrusive Memories

What Is The Difference Between Flashbacks And Intrusive Memories?

flashbacks

If, as adults, we are suffering from complex posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of our childhood experiences we may, in the absence of effective therapy, be very prone to experiencing both distressing intrusive memories and frightening flashbacks. But what is the actual difference between intrusive memories and flashbacks? I briefly explain this difference below:

INTRUSIVE MEMORIES :

Intrusive memories enter conscious awareness against the individual’s will (often, the person experiencing them will try to block them out‘) and are very similar to the original traumatic event that is being recalled ; however, the individual having these memories is aware they they are, indeed, just that – i.e. memories / recollections – and that the incident being recalled is NOT actually happening in the ‘here and now.’ However, they can still be extremely distressing and may produce unpleasant physiological symptoms such as rapid, shallow breathing (hyperventilation) and increased heart rate.

FLASHBACKS :

In contrast, when an individual has a flashback s/he re-experiences the traumatic event as if it IS actually happening in the present. FLASHBACKS seem so real because sensory information (which can include sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile information) that has been stored in memory (albeit in an only partially processed and fragmented way) can be replayed in the mind extremely vividly ; to the person having the flashback, it is as if s/he is reliving aspects / fragments of the original trauma all over again and this can be quite terrifying.

flashbacks

3 STAGES :

Meichenbaum (1994), who alikened flashbacks to ‘waking nightmares‘, identified three typical stages that the flashback experience can be broken down into. The three stages are as follows :

  • TRIGGER
  • SURFACING OF MEMORIES
  • AFTERMATH

Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn :

STAGE 1  – TRIGGER :

Triggers can include anything perceived by the five senses (vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch), thoughts, events, incidents etc that have something in common with the original, traumatic event. Triggers may remind one of such events on either a conscious or unconscious level. If the flashback is initiated by a sub-conscious / unconscious trigger then, disturbingly, the flashback may seem to ‘come out of nowhere.’

STAGE 2 – SURFACING OF MEMORIES :

This is the stage during which the (potentially terrifying) experience of ‘reliving’ the original trauma in one’s mind occurs. This stage can include the illusion of ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, or, even, ‘smelling’, ‘tasting’ or ‘physically feeling’ things that occurred at the time of the original trauma. Indeed, as already alluded to, it feels to the individual as if s/he is going through the trauma all over again, in the PRESENT, even though his/her rational mind may be aware, on another level, that this is illogical ; the confusion that comes about as a result can torment person experiencing the flashback further by inducing in him/her the fear that s/he is ‘going mad.’

Frequently, too, this stage involves considerably increased physiological arousal (racing heart, sweating etc.).

Furthermore, during this second phase one may become very emotionally dysregulated (e.g. one may become deeply distressed or extremely angry).

STAGE 3AFTERMATH :

After the experience of reliving the original trauma has passed, physiological arousal (such as increased heart rate etc.) may still be high but gradually abates. Because one enters a dissociative state during the flashback, once it is over the individual is likely to feel highly confused and disoriented.

Despite the highly disturbing nature of flashbacks, it is important to remember that they are the brain’s way of trying to process / ‘make as of’ one’s, as yet not fully processed, traumatic memories and ‘heal itself’ from the deep, psychic wound incurred from the experiencing of the original trauma.

FOR COMPREHENSIVE INFORMATION ABOUT HOW TO COPE WITH FLASHBACKS, YOU MAY WISH TO CLICK ON THIS LINK : Mental-Health-Matters.com (dealing with flashbacks).

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

PTSD, Self-Hypnosis And Positive Recontextualizing Of Intrusive Memories

 

 

According to the psychologist, Spiegel, self-hypnosis can be a useful tool to help individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) overcome problems associated with the troubling symptom of disturbing, intrusive memories of the original trauma.

Spiegel states that self-hypnosis may be particularly useful because certain qualities of the hypnotic experience have much in common with qualities of the experience of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), examples of which include :

– a feeling of reliving the traumatic event

– feelings of dissociation (detachment from reality)

– hypersensitivity to stimuli

– a disconnection between cognitive and emotional experience

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Spiegel argues that this similarity between hypnotic phenomena and the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) make sufferers of this most serious and disturbing disorder more hypnotizable than the average member of any given randomly selected population.

It follows from this that those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be particularly likely to be helped by the utilization of hypnotic techniques and procedures, particularly ‘coupling access to dissociative traumatic memories with positive restructuring of those memories’ (Spiegel et al., 1990). By this statement, Spiegel is suggesting that hypnosis could help bring traumatic memories more fully into conscious awareness and alter the way in which they are stored in memory by associating / pairing / linking them with feelings of safety (such as the feeling of being safe and protected in the therapist’s consulting room) rather than, as had previously been the case, high levels of distress.

pack-beat-fear-anxiety

In this way, Spiegel suggests, when these previously disturbing memories are recalled in the future, because they are now associated / paired / linked with feelings of safety, they cease to induce distress.

In effect, then, the traumatic memories have become positively recontextualized  and deprived of their previous power to induce feelings of fear, anxiety and terror.

Therapies other than hypnosis and self-hypnosis that are related to the above theoretical ideas include :

1) Eye Movement Desensitization And Restructuring

2) The Rewind Technique

3) Exposure Therapy

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

 

 

Adverse Effects Of Trauma On Memory

 

effects of trauma on memory

What Are The Effects Of Trauma On Memory?

New memories are stored in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus. However, not all memories that enter the hippocampus are stored by the brain permanently.

Only some are transferred to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage; the rest fade away. The more important the memory, and, in particular, the more intense the emotions connected to the memory are, the more likely it is to be permanently stored. This process in called memory consolidation.

When an event occurs that is very threatening or damaging to us, the stress of this causes stress hormones ADRENALIN and CORTISOL to be released into the brain.

The effect of these stress hormones is to strengthen the memory of this threatening or damaging event.

The stress hormones released into the brain (in particular, the amygdala) also ensure the memory of the negative event becomes strongly associated with the emotions (such as fear and terror) that it originally evoked.

intrusive_memories

So, for example, if we are viciously attacked and maimed by a savage and demented Rottweiler, cortisol and adrenaline will be released into our brain to ensure that the memory is indelibly stored. These same stress hormones will also ensure that the emotions we felt at the time of the attack, such as fear and terror, also become strongly associated with the memory of our unfortunate encounter with the less than friendly canine miscreant.

This way of storing such memories evolved for the survival value it confers on our genes.

Also, when extremely traumatic events occur, the hippocampus can become so excessively flooded by stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that it incurs damage.

This damage can then alter the way that the traumatic event is stored. Because of this the memory may become:

fragmented

‘foggy’ / ‘blurry’

distorted

inaccessible to conscious awareness

Furthermore, the memory of the extremely traumatic event may become highly invasive – especially when the person in possession of the memory is reminded of the traumatic event (even tangentially) – and constantly break through into consciousness wholly unbidden, re-triggering the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones into the brain ; this can lead to:

flashbacks

nightmares

obsessive rumination about the traumatic event

 

Resources:

For advice about dealing with intrusive memories, click here.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Childhood Trauma Leading To Traumatic Memories.

childhood trauma and traumatic memories

Traumatic Memories

Remembering traumatic events is in some ways beneficial. For example, it allows us to review the experience and learn from it. Also, by replaying the event/s, its/their emotional charge is diminished.

However, sometimes the process breaks down and the memories remain powerful and frightening. Sometimes they seem to appear at random, and at other times they can be TRIGGERED by a particular event such as a film with a scene that shows a person suffering from a similar trauma to that suffered by the person watching it.

Traumatic memories can manifest themselves in any of the 3 ways listed below:

FLASHBACKS
INTRUSIVE MEMORIES
NIGHTMARES

1) FLASHBACKS

These are often intense, vivid and frightening. They can be difficult to control, especially at night.

Sometimes a flashback may be very detailed, but at other times it may be a more nebulous ‘sense’ of the trauma.

Sometimes the person experiencing the flashback feels that they are going mad or are about to completely lose control, but THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

Traumatic_memories

2) INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

These are more likely to occur when the mind is not occupied. They are more a recollection of the event rather than a reliving of it. When they do intrude, they can be painful. Often, the more we try to banish them from memory the more tenaciously they maintain their grip.

3)NIGHTMARES

These can replay the traumatic events in a similar way to how they originally happened or occur as distorted REPRESENTATIONS of the event.

HOW RELIABLE ARE MEMORIES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS?

There used to be concern that some memories of trauma may be false memories. However, the latest research suggests that memories of trauma tend to be quite accurate but may be distorted or embellished.

However, false memories CAN occasionally occur. This is most likely to happen when someone we trust, such as a therapist, keeps suggesting some trauma (eg sexual abuse) must have happened.

It is important to remember, though, that parents or carers will sometimes DENY or DOWNPLAY and MINIMIZE our traumatic experiences due to a sense of their own guilt. In other words, they may claim our traumatic memories are false when in fact they are not.

REPRESSION :

Very traumatic memories may sometimes be REPRESSED (buried in the unconscious with no conscious access to them). In other words, we may forget that a trauma has happened. As I suggested in PART 1, this is a defense mechanism. Sometimes the buried memories can be brought back into consciousness (eg through psychotherapy) so that the brain may be allowed to process and work through the memories allowing a recovery process to get underway.

RESOURCES :

eBook :

Childhood_trauma

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download : click here

Further Information:

An excellent link to read more about traumatic memories can be found by clicking here.

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).