When someone experiences trauma, their mind might resort to one of many protective mechanisms. One of these is dissociation – detaching from the experience as a way to shield themselves from what is happening. This can lead to gaps in memory, resulting in amnesia for the traumatic event as a whole or specific parts of it.
Amnesia related to trauma can manifest in many different ways. In some cases, people might have only partial memory loss, in others it may be the whole event. They may be unable to recall specific details (the sequence of events, the people who were involved, etc). This type of amnesia is known as Retrograde Amnesia.
It’s important to remember that while amnesia resulting from trauma can be a frustrating and disorienting experience (especially if it is coupled with a disorder like DID/OSDD that adds a new level of complexity to it of other alters in your system knowing knowledge and acting on it that you do not have access to), the amnesia is there for a reason and it serves as a coping mechanism during the traumatic event. It exists to keep you safe and can be worked on gently, patiently, and with great care with a trained professional.
Emotional amnesia refers to when you know what happened but feel as if it happened to someone else – having no personal emotional connection to it. It feels similar to how you’d feel if an event happened to a friend or a character in a tv show or a stranger. You know what happened but it doesn’t feel that it happened to you.
Reasons to Take Your Time Before Uncovering Memories (Especially for systems!)
Your memories are locked away for a reason. Trauma holders hold on to their memories and do not share them with others for a reason. Going through hypnotherapy or forcibly unlocking trauma memories in other ways before you’re really and truly ready for them can be incredibly dangerous for multiple reasons. Firstly, you have to consider how many people in your system are going to be exposed to those memories. Are you going to be unlocking those memories for your whole system? Do you really have control over that?
*Trigger Warning – talks of suicide*
When you’re a system, the hard truth is that system members can and will take control of your body and have the capacity to do what they want with it. When you’re dealing with intense and traumatic memories and mental health issues and deep traumas, the hard reality is that you may also be dealing with suicidal thoughts/feelings. Whether you are dealing with that, others in your system might, so if you are unlocking those memories without control of who those memories are unlocked for, that could be very dangerous. That’s why it’s incredibly important to be careful in the process and it’s advised to take things slowly and to not force memory unlocks and to take it step by step and let it happen at a more natural pace and take safety as a number one priority. 72% of systems attempt suicide at some point in their lives. This is not a statistic to ignore. This is a serious thing to consider and to be aware of and take measures to avoid and be careful around because we’re dealing with serious trauma and mental illness and that comes with dangers and while it’s not comfortable to talk about, this isn’t fear-mongering to discuss, it’s reality and it’s important.
*End Trigger Warning section*
Traumatic Memories Resurfacing Suddenly
It can be incredibly intense when you very suddenly remember something traumatic that happened to you that you had no recollection of before. You went your whole life not knowing this thing happened to you and then suddenly that memory is just there and you’re forced to confront it and once it’s there, there’s no putting it back, no pretending like you didn’t see it, like you don’t know it happened now. More often than not when traumatic memories resurface they do happen suddenly and it is a shock. In these moments, it’s important to remember your very basic grounding techniques. Breathing, connecting to your senses, sitting down. It’s important to connect to your support system and reach out to get professional help if you’re able to – uncovering repressed trauma is a complex and delicate process and professional guidance is always a good tool to give yourself.
Struggling With Not Knowing
It can be very hard to accept not knowing something that happened to you. It is your body and your life, after all. In many ways you do deserve that information. However, there are serious reasons as to why it may not be safe for you to know that information. Also when you’re a system unfortunately those are also someone else’s personal memories and it might feel very invasive to them to have to share those with anyone. Working on acceptance is a very difficult thing but it’s something you simply have to work towards when you’re part of a system – whether it’s acceptance of not knowing memories from your own history, whether it’s acceptance of a lack of autonomy over your life, whether it’s acceptance of letting go of things you wanted for your life. It’s hard and it’s not someone anyone should have to do – but when you’re a system your life doesn’t belong to only you anymore and the best thing you can do is do the internal work to come to terms with that and work on acceptance and moving through the big emotions that will come with those challenges (because big emotions will come up with these things – because they’re not normal and no one should have to deal with them). The more you can move through those smoothly and quickly, though, the less they’ll consume you and the less they’ll control your life.
“Did (insert loved/trusted person) know/do something to me?”
One thing that can be very difficult especially early on when you start discovering you are missing memories from your childhood is starting to wonder where that trauma may have come from and who may have been involved. Suddenly everyone you know and love can feel like a potential threat. Don’t let yourself fall down that rabbit hole of paranoia. Chances are that if someone was an abuser of yours that you would at least have some sort of awareness of discomfort connected to them. Additionally you don’t need to figure everything out immediately. It can feel so immediate and so urgent when you’re getting all this new information all at once but remembering you survived until now not knowing and you’ll continue to survive and it’s okay to take your time to figure things out in a slower and healthier way rather than cutting contact with all your loved ones on the off chance that something happened because you no longer trust your memories and therefore no longer trust them.
All that being said, the paranoia and the fear surrounding that thought is so deeply valid and something many survivors deal with especially those of us who experience amnesia from trauma, and you’re not alone. Slowing down and remembering that not everything needs to be figured out or solved right away is almost always healthier, however, and so long as you’re safe now, that’s the number one priority.