Not having many memories (or having only hazy memories) can be a response to long term trauma; it’s the brains way of protecting us.
Disassociation is one of the coping strategies people use when they experience trauma. When someone is disassociating, they are physically, but not mentally, present. They operate on autopilot or unconsciously, keeping busy, and being distracted.
While we typically think of trauma as related to a seriously negative experience (car accidents, sexual assaults, war), trauma can also stem from unavailable, emotionally detached, or anxious parents / care givers.
Without secure attachments from which to learn and grow, it is difficult to know how to process lifes challenges and easy to be overwhelmed and hurt. So, the brain disassociates and we learn that this strategy works well to keep us safe. We then continue to use disassociation as a coping strategy and it becomes our default way of operating making it difficult to lay down memories.
Being present with mindfulness / cognitive association strategies allows us to weaken the habit of disassociation and learn new coping strategies, and eventually feel safe to start making memories.
Here are 10 present moment connection activities for you to try (in conjunction with professional support) to support your trauma healing process.
- Deep and slow breathing (try breathing with your diaphragm)
- Moderate intensity exercise (cycle, run etc at an intensity where you can focus on your bodily sensations rather than disassociate from them)
- Use your five main senses and list one thing you can feel, see, smell, taste, and hear
- Learn a new skill e.g. language, drawing, knitting, tying new knots on your fishing line
- Take part in a physical activity you enjoy and holds your attention e.g. fishing, gardening, swimming
- Pet your dog, talk to him / her
- Do an activity with someone else to help you remain present e.g. play a game, dancing
- Create something e.g. painting, write a song, baking
- Strength train mindfully – focus on your muscles, physiological sensations, movement of your body
- Remind yourself that you are safe and have the resources to cope (or know how to seek support and learn coping strategies)