The Truth About Trauma: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

The Truth About Trauma: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

The sad truth be told: we live in a much more traumatized population than we might expect. 70% of adults in the USA report having undergone a traumatic event at some point of their life. But despite its pertinence, you’re probably familiar with the stereotype that traumatized people are a lost cause – but is that fact or faux? 

What’s Memory Control & Trauma?
Traumatic events are deep, intrusive events that could be of physical or emotional nature – but what might define an event as traumatic? These experiences are subjective, much like pain, so what’s traumatic to one person might not be to another. 

The role trauma plays on building resilience to intrusive thoughts has been researched repeatedly. Resilience or vulnerability to certain intrusive thoughts is a form of memory control. However, the broader definition for memory control refers to the ability to actively suppress or excite a memory, ultimately leading to its forgettance or maintenance. So if you find yourself able to withstand the effect of a memory on your mood and behavior, you’ve grown resilient to your memory. This is not a conscious skill, but when measured indirectly by cognitive tasks, people that have undergone trauma exhibit improved performance. (And they say there’s no upside of experiencing trauma).  

The Benefits of Trauma
Researchers in 2018 found that experiencing moderate amounts of trauma makes it easier to live through tough future life events because of how our cognitive skills adapt, improving our resilience. But don’t get too excited, they also found that extensive trauma can lead to brain discrepancies like PTSD, which inhibits the ability to suppress intrusions and unwanted memories. So try to stay within the workable range of trauma next time. In addition, people that experienced trauma earlier in life showed better dismissiveness than people that have undergone trauma later in life, which might be because the brain is in its most formative years and can adjust to the deprivation. 

How Does Our Biology Play a Role? 
The brain areas most affected by trauma are those generally responsible for memory consolidation – the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex in fancy terms. So, decreased activation of those brain areas from traumatic events inhibit the formation of memories. On the other hand, those brain areas become hyper-receptive during happier experiences, allowing them to be remembered better. 

Future Benefits
Studying the effects of trauma on memory control could provide insight regarding the detrimental effects of trauma, as well as challenge the stereotype of being “traumatized and damaged.” Today’s view on trauma tends to be misconceptualized – since it’s not only about maladaptive coping techniques, but also about memory control / suppression. Learning how to enhance positive memory consolidation and defer negative ones might assist the recovery progress of those struggling with disorders with intrusive thoughts like OCD and PTSD. 

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