Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Traumatic Narrative & Memory

Cumulative developmental trauma (emotional pain experienced in response to breached expectation from ontogenetically social motivational need fulfillment) and both early and later experienced trauma disrupts memory processing and sometimes produces post-traumatic stress disordered (PTSD) symptom expression in the genetically predisposed individual with genetically predisposed vulnerability for later developing the condition. Individuals who go onto to develop PTSD symptom expression typically seek trauma avoidance coping mechanisms due to the perceived intensity of emotional pain experienced with trauma retrieval. Despite the relief with trauma avoidance, the cup runs over so to say (i.e. a response threshold or response constraint is exceeded) and produces symptoms of sleep disturbance, nightmares, abreactions (reexperiencing uncontrollable painful sensory flashbacks of the trauma as if it were happening in the present), diffuse anxiety (reminiscent of constrained fear), and depression (reminiscent of the sense of loss of integrity in response to the trauma), and unintentional identification with the trauma. Freud called the warehouse and storage for avoided memory, the unconscious, and the process mediating its storage, repression. Recent neuroscience research suggests that this memory gets trapped in brain structures relating to encoding and storage and is awaiting retrieval. However, adaptive coping mechanisms of avoidance restrict neural components of the traumatic memory and get trapped within brain structures associated with storage. In order to facilitate symptom relief, the trauma survivor will need to retrieve the trauma and all the personally meaningful emotion and cognition associated with the trauma to facilitate the extinction of chronic traumatic physiological arousal associated with the trapped PTSD memory.