Published on September 9th, 2013 | by Carrie Ann Barrette
The Most Important Filing System for Trauma Healing
Often clients come into my counseling office and hope for a quick fix for trauma. I wish I could just flip a switch and make all their pain and bad memories go away.
You can’t either. If you could, you would have by now.
This is the most important message I try to give my clients: it is not your fault if you can’t “get over it.” There is no such thing as getting over it. There is only healthy coping with it.
Thankfully, your innate coping can be effective in trauma healing.
Your brain was built to help you. During trauma, your brain tells your body to fight, flee, or freeze. You may initially freeze, but soon another response may kick in. You might have chosen to flee or fight in whatever way was possible. These are the first level attempts to obtain safety.
Your brain then has a secondary coping mechanism. It will systematically review and store memory of all incoming detail. When something traumatic occurs, your brain attempts to determine what you will need to remember as well as what you are capable of dealing with. It chooses how to store memories based on these factors.
We can compare this system of categorization and storage to your office. In your office, you may have a desk, a filing cabinet, and a vault.
The memories you need to have easy access to stay on the desk. You never know when you might need these.
Trauma does not usually stay on the desk. Your brain knows better. Trauma memories may be on the desk at first, but after a bit of time goes by, the memories are put into a file for access later on.
Unfortunately, soon after trauma, your brain may lag in filing. This is why it can be so hard to make the memories go away at first. But, slowly, the details will go from the desk into the files.
The files are accessible but aren’t always seen. This is good, because you really don’t need that access every day, all day. You might, however, want to access these things for legal reasons or with a counselor to process and heal. It is usually safe to do this slowly with a licensed trauma counselor.
The last bit of storage, well, that is the vault. This is the place where the dark, ugly, scary details go. If you have seen the Harry Potter movies, you might picture one of the scenes when they open a Gringotts vault.
Your brain is smart. It knows that you can’t handle everything. What you can’t handle, your brain files in the vault.
Many clients have been scared to receive trauma counseling because they believed I would be attempting to open the vault. I assure them that although I will help them open and process the files, I will never ever make them open the vault.
You can and should process and file memories in order to feel safe, improve self esteem, and attempt forgiveness. These are essential. But some memories just need to go away. They go in the vault.
The vault is there, and it is inaccessible for good reason. It keeps the survivor safe and sane. Memories that go in the vault aren’t supposed to come out.
Why Flashbacks Happen
Flashbacks happen when there is a filing problem. These are not supposed to happen. Anyone who has them knows it. I am not talking about general memories; it is normal for trauma to leave vague memories, and these are hard enough to cope with. But vivid flashbacks are not welcome, and specialized trauma counseling might be required to deal with them.
Trauma is messy. It is not supposed to happen, so you can’t just “get over” it. Have grace for yourself when you feel like you can’t cope. Your brain is already beginning the trauma healing process for you by categorizing and storing your memories. You ARE coping.
If you are struggling with persistent memories, a licensed trauma counselor might be able to help you find further healthy ways to process, file, and heal.
Photo by Bob Smith via Stock.Xchng