By Grace Kim, Resident in Counseling
When we recall memories from our past, some might elicit feelings of happiness and others might involve less pleasant emotions. We are able to consciously conjure up these memories and remember the feelings associated with them. Sometimes, we make a conscious effort to avoid thinking about these memories because perhaps they bring about negative feelings. On the other hand, repressed memories are those you unconsciously forget. These kinds of memories are generally more associated with some sort of trauma or deeply distressing event.
When we directly experience or witness a “traumatic event” and our brain registers that event as too distressing, that particular memory is stored into some realm in our mind that remains untouched and unprocessed. The idea of memory repression is a controversial topic that dates back to the founder of psychoanalysis (one of my favorite theoretical orientations!), Sigmund Freud, in the late 1800s. Freud believed memory repression occurred as a defense mechanism against traumatic events. Symptoms that can’t be traced to a clear root cause, must be stemmed from repressed memories—at least that’s what he believed. Your conscious mind is unable to remember what happened, but your body remembers and is able to feel it. Many leading psychologists and researchers question the concept of repressed memories because memories are typically subject to our biases—how we feel in the moment and how we felt emotionally at the
time of the event. Freud later found out that many of the memories his clients remembered were, in fact, not even real memories.
Many practicing psychologists offer various treatment approaches to access and recover repressed memories in an effort to provide the client with some clarity, relief and better understanding of their symptoms. These treatment approaches include hypnosis, guided imagery, brainspotting, sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic transformation therapy, neurolinguistic programming, and more. It is important to note that scientific evidence generally doesn’t support the effectiveness of these approaches because there is a chance that repressed memories are, namely, false memories—memories created through suggestion and coaching. They are not real. However, the symptoms that you may experience as a result of the repressed memories are very real. These symptoms include sleep issues, feelings of doom, low self-esteem, mood symptoms, confusion or problems with concentration or memory, or physical symptoms (e.g. tense or aching muscles, unexplained pain, stomach issues).
The link between memory and trauma is still something that is being researched so we can better understand the connection between the two. If you have trouble recalling an early memory or don’t remember a traumatic event despite people telling you about it, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Trauma can have very real effects on the brain and body but treating the symptoms may be more beneficial than searching for the memories that may not actually exist.
About Grace Kim:
Grace Kim is a Resident in Counseling providing services at the Woodbridge location and is a Qualified Mental Health Professional for Children (QMHP-C) and a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Grace received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Master of Arts Degree with high honors in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from South University.
With extensive experience in providing outpatient counseling services to children, adolescents and young adults, she also has sufficient experience working with adult clients with longstanding substance abuse issues. She is an individual who has had her own share of mental health challenges and with the help of those around her, she has been able to overcome obstacles and barriers in her life. Grace believes she is still growing, learning and in some ways, healing and wants to work with individuals to provide the hope and support she was given in her darkest times. Grace recognizes the barriers and restrictions that minority cultures often face when dealing with mental health issues. It is Grace’s passion to work with such individuals of various minority backgrounds to confront these challenges and experience breakthrough and acceptance. Grace is ready and willing to work with you or your child to explore any latent issues and improve your daily functioning in a healthy way. To learn more about Grace, visit HERE.