How to stop the involuntary recall of PTSD
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Imagine a library. Full of DVDs. With information on just about every subject you could possibly imagine. If you take out one DVD, you have access to the information contained in that DVD. All the other DVDs still contain the information they hold, but you are only looking at the information in the DVD you have in your hands.
The memories of everything you've ever experienced are stored in your own internal library of DVDs, your subconscious mind. You can access any of those films whenever you wish. But if you took out all the DVDs at one time you simply couldn't deal with them all at once, could you? So, your subconscious mind files all the DVDs away for access only when required.
Some of the DVDs are fantastic, enjoyable films that you like to watch often so they are filed on the easiest to reach shelves at the front. Some DVDs are really heavy going documentaries that you are not so keen on, so they are filed on the back shelves that you only access if necessary. However, sometimes there are DVDs that are horror stories so awful that you put them in a box and tape it up before putting it down in the basement. And you choose when, and how often, you go and get any of these DVDs out of your library.
That's how I like to see the way our brains store memories.
Sometimes something triggers a memory and you go running to your library to get out the DVD. Your senses often remind you of memories. You might smell a perfume, or hear a song, or see a particular scene and you rush to the library to get the DVD out which tells the story of the time when a sense was connected to a pleasurable activity. But sometimes it's connected to a time you're not quite so keen to remember. If it's a really bad memory it will have been placed in the basement and locked away to protect you from going back there.
However, perhaps something happened to you and you can make no sense of it. It is just too awful to comprehend. You can't figure out how to file this film, so it sits there in the DVD player on the front desk. Always right in reach. Or perhaps, someone unlocks the basement and an awful DVD is brought back up to the front desk for sorting. You see the images in those films whether you want to or not because they are not filed away. Many things might trigger you to watch clips from those films at all sorts of times. You really wish you could just file them away on a shelf and be able to choose if, and when, you watch them.
This is what it can be like for people who have experienced trauma. For some it gets easier after a while and they can categorise and file the DVD. Perhaps they have support to decide upon the category and help in getting the DVD put away on the appropriate shelf. But for others it just seems impossible. No-one seems able to help them. This awful film doesn't fit any category. So it's always there.
We're supposed to recall memories voluntarily. When appropriate. That's why we have a 'library' in our subconscious mind.
But if the DVD is always right in front of you the recall is involuntary. You can't escape it. You can't get on with the rest of your life if you keep being made to watch that film, can you? Going back to a place or seeing the person can be very triggering. But it's not just things which are obviously related to the trauma. It might seem random. But if you experienced something as traumatic during a rain storm you might find that you have flashbacks when it rains. It happens when you least suspect it and are unprepared for it.
Involuntary recall is commonly referred to as Flashbacks. And it's one criteria included in a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Every time you are taken back to the traumatic memory you might see, hear, feel, smell or taste everything just as though it was happening right now.
Do you want to file that film away on to a shelf, anywhere you wish, in your library? You will still have access to it, if needed. Sometimes you might still be reminded of it. It could still make you sad, or feel bad, for a bit but you can quickly put it back on the shelf and get on with living your life, doing things that you enjoy.
You will not need to tell me anything about the trauma. I will just need to know how it is impacting on your life on a daily basis through a simple form and we should only need 2 or maybe 3 sessions. Don't let the flashbacks rule your life any longer.