Most children over the age of three start to develop memories that they can later recall in adulthood. However, trauma survivors may not be able to access these childhood memories. Some survivors have unconsciously blocked out weeks, months, or even years of their childhoods.
Childish reactions may be a sign that you're dealing with repressed childhood memories. It could be that you throw tantrums, speak in a child-like voice, or are stubborn about small things. These regular regressions are all indicative that you have memories you haven't unlocked.
Some stressful experiences -- such as chronic childhood abuse -- are so traumatic, the memories hide like a shadow in the brain and can't be consciously accessed. Eventually, suppressed memories can cause debilitating psychological problems.
Effects of Unresolved Trauma
Not only can it lead to psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, and flashbacks, but it can also cause physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue. Unfortunately, these concerns often go unrecognized or ignored for long periods of time.
The trauma inflicted in childhood changes the way a person connects with others. It can introduce a sense of shame or lack of self-worth, which can cause you to form relationships in unhealthy ways. For some people, this might take the form of making unhealthy attachments with unsuitable people.
Unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, relationship problems and physical symptoms like headaches or nausea are some of the ways that unresolved trauma can manifest, according to the American Psychological Association.
Not remembering trauma can be a coping mechanism, which is when the brain protects someone from experiencing the intense feelings associated with memory. So instead of a clear, detailed memory, someone may have gaps or only remember vague sensory aspects, like a color or smell.
Trauma is not physically held in the muscles or bones — instead, the need to protect oneself from perceived threats is stored in the memory and emotional centers of the brain, such as the hippocampus and amygdala. This activates the body whenever a situation reminds the person of the traumatic event(s).
What Makes People Remember a Traumatic Event After Such a Long Delay? At the time of a traumatic event, the mind makes many associations with the feelings, sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch connected with the trauma. Later, similar sensations may trigger a memory of the event.
Emotional symptoms can range from depression, hypervigilance, anxiety, fear, anger, feelings of abandonment, and grief – and many others. One of the lasting effects of emotional responses to trauma is negative self-beliefs, or what we call “stuck points”.
Without treatment, repeated childhood exposure to traumatic events can affect the brain and nervous system and increase health-risk behaviors (e.g., smoking, eating disorders, substance use, and high-risk activities).
Adults can generally recall events from 3–4 years old, with those that have primarily experiential memories beginning around 4.7 years old. Adults who experienced traumatic or abusive early childhoods report a longer period of childhood amnesia, ending around 5–7 years old.
While some are unable to recall a small period of time, others are missing entire years of their life. Along with memory loss, other signs of repressed trauma can include low self-esteem, substance abuse disorders, increased physical or mental illnesses, and interpersonal problems.
Experiencing a traumatic event as a child negatively impacts mental health, cognitive function, the ability to form satisfying relationships, and an individual's sense of self-worth.
How do I know if I was emotionally neglected as a child? There are several signs such as feelings of detachment, lack of peer group, dissociative inclinations, and difficulty in being emotionally present.
Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect.
Emotional reactions to trauma can include: fear, anxiety and panic. shock – difficulty believing in what has happened, feeling detached and confused. feeling numb and detached.
Trauma Blocking: Driven to Distract After a painful experience, some people may choose to face their feelings head-on while others would rather forget. The latter can manifest as trauma blocking, where someone chooses to block and drown out painful feelings that hang around after an ordeal.