It is a common reaction to trauma to enter a dissociative state where we disconnect from our experience as a way to protect ourselves from emotional and physical pain. In this state, memories of our experience can get pushed to the periphery of our conscious retrievable memory.
It is not uncommon for people who experience trauma in childhood such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse start to reconnect with or confront these childhood experiences decades later — in their late 30s and 40s. As you can imagine, people feel confused by this process. Why are these things emerging now? Are they really true? Our memories are malleable and evolve over time so it is challenging to get clarity around the content and meaning of something that occurred decades ago. It must be noted that research shows that these memories are not completely blocked out and that completely “suppressed” or “forgotten” memories recalled through “memory recovery” therapies should be treated with great skepticism since those therapies have been completely debunked.
It Could Be a Sign of Strength and Healing
Dealing with traumatic memories requires strength and vulnerability. If these memories are coming to the fore — via flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, etc. — you might be ready to process them now. For some people, these memories often arise because the individual is in a place in their life where they can deal with them.
You’ve found more stability in your life but you have some unfinished work to tackle. You may also have established a level of predictability, e.g. a clear career path, more stable relationships, living situation, etc. You may be in a place where you can deal with them and hopefully process them. To process the reemergent memories is to incorporate them and create a greater and more cohesive and complete sense of self. This may be an opportunity to create a more complete narrative for these events in your life.
Some things to keep in mind when connecting with old memories:
- The emotions must be felt: They’re uncomfortable and complicated but something from your past that can no longer hurt you. When you move through them (rather than push them aside or bury them), you incorporate these memories in a more complete way into the story of your life and you learn some valuable new coping skills.
- Don’t fear “regression”: Trauma recovery occurs on its own timeline. The emergence of these memories from your past is not a sign of weakness or failure. It’s a natural part of the process.
- Be patient: This is probably a lot to handle. You are under no obligation to go faster than you can handle. Working with a therapist is crucial in terms of pacing and getting the support you need.
- Take a bow: It would be easy and understandable if you feel bad about yourself at first. Ypu might tell yourself, “I thought I was past this”. In reality, you are making incredible progress and showing a ton of courage by taking these memories head on.
3 More Reasons Why These Memories Are Coming Back Now
Another Step Must Be Taken
These memories are “coming back” because they were never “gone.” However, they’re emerging because you have work to do and in a place in your life where you can.
By nature, humans desire to complete the loop and finish the unfinished task. This can be a reflection of an unconscious need for closure or an outgrowth of our primal need for safety. Either way, mastering these feelings, processing these memories further, and incorporating all of them into our conscious identity is a task yet to be completed.
Recalibrating the Self
The trauma endured as children often takes place at the hands of the people they should trust the most and upon whom their existence depends. This could mean parents and/or other family members, which makes the experience even more confusing and disorienting. As an adult, you can feel as if you have a fractured sense of self (memories, cognitions, experiences, and more) because of this.
You present a relatively stable consistent façade to the world which belies an internal world of insecurity, self-doubt, uncertainty, and disconnectedness. To address this “double life” requires you to face and resolve the past. Your mind and body know this and are pushing for such healing to happen.
Ask For Help
Others have walked this path and found resolution through therapy. Let’s talk soon about getting you on the road to recovery.
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