But when trauma occurs, we get overwhelmed, and the part of our brain that they believe “processes” our experience, goes off-line so we cannot understand or assimilate the experience or feelings that it invokes. This creates a traumatic memory which present research believes is both stored differently and in a different part of the brain, then our biographical memories. Traumatic memories are raw and unprocessed. I call it God’s Tupperware. The experience, intense feelings and all, would be stuffed in, and then the cover burped, after which I would shove the container on the back of a high shelf, to be left for years. So when I finally got around to opening a particular container, there it would be in all its glory, intense feelings and all. That is often why when we start talking about the past in therapy, it can often feel so intense, because the feelings come back with an immediacy that we do not usually experience when remembering. And it can feel overwhelming, because it WAS overwhelming at one time. So we learn to avoid anything and everything that might call up these unprocessed memories so that our life becomes circumscribed by all the things, events and feelings we MUST avoid. We dwell in a cage of our own (unconscious) making.
What we do when we heal, is to finally allow ourselves to experience those feelings, process the experience and make sense of what happened, to fit the event into our narrative so that it makes sense, and we can obtain a coherent picture of who we are and how we got that way. When we do this, we convert the traumatic memory to a biographical one. We can recall it; we may feel an echo of the sadness or pain, but it does not roar back at us with the immediacy it once had. I actually remember when I hit the point that I looked at the Boundary Ninja and said “I’m not quite sure when it happened, but what happened to me has become part of my past instead of something I’m still enduring.”