We all know that trauma can have profound effects on an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. Some experiences can even be so distressing and traumatic that our conscious mind forces itself to forget it even happened, resulting in emotional amnesia.
Emotional amnesia is a defense mechanism against overwhelming emotions associated with a triggering and traumatic memory, unlike general amnesia which primarily affects factual or autobiographical memories. Left unaddressed, this trauma response can ultimately lead to greater emotional dysregulation, even long after the traumatic event has passed.
With that said, let’s explore some important warning signs that someone is affected by emotional amnesia, according to experts:
One of the primary signs of emotional amnesia is the fragmentation of emotional memories. According to psychiatrist Dr. Nicole Washington, traumatic events can create emotional “black holes,” wherein specific details and emotions associated with the event become inaccessible or forgotten. This selective memory loss often occurs as a protective mechanism to shield us from the extremely painful emotions connected to the trauma. So if there are certain periods of time or things you’re sure happened but have no memory of, it may be a sign that you have emotional amnesia.
Much like PTSD, trauma-induced emotional amnesia can lead us to develop avoidance behaviors, says psychologist Dr. Matthew Tull. We may begin to unconsciously steer clear of certain places, people, or situations that trigger memories of our past trauma. For example, a person who’s been in a car accident might find themselves avoiding driving or even being in a car altogether. This avoidance is a coping mechanism to shield ourselves from the overwhelming emotions and distress that resurface when confronted with traumatic reminders. But while they may offer temporary relief, they can also impede our ability to heal and process the emotions tied to the traumatic event.
Have you ever experienced a traumatic event that’s left you with a sense of emotional detachment ever since? This difficulty connecting with one’s feelings is common in people with emotional amnesia. Clinical psychologist Dr. Sabrina Romanoff explains that his emotional numbing is another way for the mind to cope with the intensity of the trauma’s emotional impact, as well as the associated grief, depression, anxiety, and stress. Allowing yourself to feel all of these things at once is understandably too hard for some people to do.
Disassociation is another central symptom of emotional amnesia, says clinical social worker Joslyn Jelinek. People who cope with trauma through forgetting may experience a sense of detachment from reality, as if they’re “living on autopilot” or observing their lives from outside their bodies. And while this does help them distance themselves from the emotional distress associated with the traumatic memories, it also hinders their ability to process the trauma, engage fully in the present moment, and form meaningful connections with others.
Have you ever seen the movie “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”? At the climax of the film, it’s revealed that the main character Charlie is suffering from emotional amnesia and experiences flashbacks of his aunt assaulting him. According to psychologist Dr. Tiffany Taft, it’s common for victims of trauma to experience sudden and overwhelming emotional surges which can be triggered even by things seemingly unrelated to the traumatic event. These vivid emotional recollections, even without the full recall of specific details, highlight the power of emotional memory and its profound influence on a person’s mental and emotional well-being.
So, Psych2Goers, with everything you’ve learned from this video, do you think suppressing painful memories really shields us from trauma’s impact, or does it trap us in its emotional echoes? Tell us your thoughts in the comments down below!
Reflecting on the significance of emotional amnesia encourages us to delve into human resilience and the potential for transformative healing when confronting our deepest emotional wounds. By taking the steps to address and overcome our past trauma, we can begin to journey towards inner healing and emotional growth.
- Washington, N. (2022 May 23). Does Trauma Cause Memory Loss? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/health/does-trauma-cause-memory-loss#traumatic-memory-loss
- Tull, M. & Gans, S. (2022 Aug 29). Emotional Avoidance in PTSD. VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/ptsd-and-emotional-avoidance-2797640
- Lindberg, S. & Romanoff, S. (2022 Nov 7). What is Emotional Numbness? VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-numbing-symptoms-2797372#toc-causes-of-emotional-numbness
- Bettino, K. & Jelinek, J. (2022 Mar 11). This is What Dissociation Feels Like. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/health/what-dissociation-feels-like?utm_source=ReadNext#managing-disassociation
- Raypole, C. & Taft, T. (2021 Sep 16). Living with Trauma: How to Cope with Flashbacks. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/coping-with-flashbacks