Impact of traumatic childhood experience on my memory

by Portia
(South Africa)

I have had a traumatic childhood and growing up I managed to suppress the memory about the incidents in my subconscious. Consequently today I struggle to recall events that have happened and daily life experiences.

memory problems story
I have started hypnotherapy to deal with the traumatic experiences and I hold out the hope that the therapy will also help with my memory recall.

I am a successful accountant with an Honours degree so I could never understand why I struggled to recall events and life experiences.

Between my therapy and various websites (including yours), I have learnt that there are various types of memory and that the process of retaining and ultimately recalling a memory is a complicated one.

I am currently working with my therapist on being present in the moment, experiencing life and integrating the feelings, the sensations into my cognitive thoughts. Through reading I have realized that by being aware of the sensations I am experiencing in relation to an event, helps the strengthen the memories.

Are there however any other activities you would suggest I do, to help me with this journey. At this point in time I feel like my life is a blank canvas because I can't recall experiences I have.

I would feel so blessed if one day I could dive into the treasure chest of memories I have suppressed. Any help would be appreciated and many thanks for your website.

Doug's Reply. Memory of experiences past does shape our view of life. As you have so poignantly found, gaps of missing memories may leave a hole in our sense of self, the feeling that something important is lost.

As writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez expressed it,
Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.
Our memories are often imperfect, as detectives who separately interrogate witnesses to the same crime well know. Our brain sifts perceptions through the filter of our world view, which is unique for every individual and varies widely between cultures.

But we do need some recollection to work with in the first place. Though suppressed, your memories may linger, seemingly inaccessible, yet still recorded in long-term memory.

Evidence from brain scans suggests memories may exist even when the person denies it. Most everyone has experienced forgetting some things now yet recalling them later.

Aids to Remembering

Here are some practical steps you might try to recover lost memories from your youth:
  • Read stories from newspapers archives for your area. Focus on time periods aligned with gaps in your memory. Details of "current events" back then may trigger your own memories of those times.

  • Reconnect with former classmates and friends. Get them chatting, if possible, about school or social events from past days.

  • Review family photo albums. Pictures of places you visited as a child and other experiences may trigger memories.

  • Physically visit your old haunts. On a trip a few years ago, I happened to pass through the town where I grew up. I stopped by my old neighborhood and former home. Much had changed over the years, but standing on that street brought a flood a memories. If you cannot travel, visit virtually though Google Earth.
There was a reason you suppressed the older memories, though, so be careful. Be sure to consult your therapist or physician, as some things are perhaps better off forgotten.

To better recall daily experiences, you might:
  • Write in a daily journal. Literally record your life in the written word. At the end of each day, write down important events from the day. Each time you make an entry, review the previous few entries to refresh your memory of recent events.

  • Begin a daily mindfulness meditation practice. Among many benefits, meditation strengthens one's "muscle of attention", specifically the ability to stay focused and aware in the present moment.

  • Take photos during your day, when practicable. Today's smart phones make this easy. Then, at the end of day or end of week, review the photos as reminders of places you visited and other experiences.
If you do have success using these techniques or other methods, I would be very interested to hear about it. And so would the readers of my site.

You may be able in this way to indirectly help a great many who, like you, search for their memories - one of the keys to who we are.

Best regards,
This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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