Trauma’s Relationship with Memory


Your memories help to shape who you are and how you behave. Sometimes memory loss or difficult memories can leave you in a state of anxiety, stress, anger and depression. Living in these states can make for an uninspired and even scary recovery journey, especially if your memories stem from traumatic events. Research shows a relationship between occurrences of emotional, psychological or physical trauma and memory. Lapses, blocking or avoiding specific memories might be a temporary way to help you cope with the trauma, though if not treated, some of it can become permanent. Understanding how trauma can affect your memory can guide you in choosing appropriate treatment and even help you gain control over your anger, anxiety, stress and depression. 

Trauma and the Brain

Trauma can create stress in both the short and long term. Stress responses can also impact different brain regions, such as the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Studies show that traumatic events can cause those areas of the brain to change in shape and volume and experience diminished function. Not coincidentally, these areas of the brain are strongly associated with memory function. The prefrontal cortex helps process working memory; this is the information you need to remember daily. The left hippocampus involves memorizing facts and recognition, while the right hippocampus is associated with spatial memory, for example, where you put the car keys the night before. The hippocampus also helps you compare memories with present experiences. Lastly, the amygdala processes fear-based memories, such as burning your hand on a hot stove and learning not to touch hot surfaces again. The amygdala also helps with long-term memory.

Trauma and PTSD

A traumatic event can spark post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Such experiences are often linked to war-based scenarios but also occur from various events, including accidents, attacks, natural disasters and even the current pandemic. Symptoms of PTSD could include acute, chronic and delayed onset in which symptoms don’t present themselves until well after the traumatic event. During an episode of PTSD, people may experience angry outbursts, irrational behavior, isolation, guilt and shame. When it comes to trauma and memory, different types of trauma can cause temporary or permanent problems.

Physical Trauma and Memory

Physical trauma can diminish your memory. Physical trauma that involves an accident or a harsh blow to the head can impair your brain’s ability to process and store information. Chronic alcohol and substance abuse can also contribute to the diminishing of brain function, including memory. Suppose you exhibit signs of alcoholism or substance use disorder. In that case, you could be damaging your nerves in both the central and peripheral nervous system, which can impair memory, problem-solving skills and learning abilities. Severe injuries of chronic substance use can further trigger PTSD, which can cause temporary memory loss while you cope. However, the duration of memory loss depends upon how severe the injury or how severe your addiction.

Emotional or Psychological Trauma

Memory loss is a survival skill and defense mechanism that humans use to protect themselves from psychological damage. Violence, sexual abuse and other emotionally traumatic events can lead to dissociative amnesia, helping a person cope by allowing them to forget the details of the event. If you struggle with this type of PTSD, you may suppress your memories until you feel ready to handle them. However, without taking the steps needed to confront them, you may never face them. 

Suppressing of specific memories does block the traumatic event; however, it might cause you to forget who you are for a brief period or experience depression or confusion. The episodes might range from mild to severe, and it could lead to the deterioration of relationships and daily activities associated with everyday life. PTSD can manifest in various ways, including flashbacks, unwanted thoughts or repressed memories. If left untreated, the memory might resurface at any time, causing your brain to experience the trauma anew each time. 

How to Heal

Recovering from a traumatic event can take days, weeks or months. However, memory loss can come back suddenly, therefore the underlying trauma must be addressed for authentic healing. Everyone heals at their own pace, though if you are trying to manage it by yourself and there is little to no change, it is time to seek professional help. An indication that you might need help includes trouble functioning at work or home, feelings of severe anxiety or depression, night terrors or flashbacks, avoidance, or using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Each of these is a good indicator that you are likely to benefit from seeking professional help. A certified specialist can help you process your trauma using therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 


Restoring your memory to attain harmony and balance takes work. If you notice signs of anger problems or signs of alcoholism and think they connect to underlying trauma, it is time to seek professional help. At DiscoveryMD, you will work with qualified specialists that will help you process your trauma-related feelings to stop your flight or fight response. We accomplish this by utilizing a regimen of both conventional and alternative therapies to help you manage your emotions and your addictions. Our therapies include CBT, DBT and mindfulness. DiscoveryMD has multiple facilities. We are also here as a reference if you need to call and talk to someone. Our reputable dual-diagnosis facilities are among the top when it comes to providing diagnosis and treatment for individuals. To learn more, contact us today.

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