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Childhood Trauma & Memory Loss

Memory Loss and childhood trauma

If you are an adult survivor of childhood trauma you are likely to experience memory loss. Childhood trauma and memory loss go hand-in-hand. Blocking out memories can be a way of coping with the trauma. 

Memory loss from childhood trauma can affect your life in many ways. Your memory loss may even make you believe that you were never a victim of childhood trauma. 

Physical, emotional, and psychological trauma can all play a factor with memory loss. You can experience permanent or temporary memory loss depending on the type of trauma. 

Understanding Childhood Trauma and Memory Loss

It is important for you to understand how childhood trauma and memory loss co-occur. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before the age of 18. Each time you experienced a traumatic event in your childhood it had an adverse effect on your life. 

Types of Childhood Trauma

There are 10 types of adverse childhood experiences that you can endure as a child. 

Personal Experiences

  • Physical Abuse
  • Verbal Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Physical Neglect
  • Emotional Neglect

Experiences of Family Members

  • Alcoholic Parent(s)
  • Victim(s) of Domestic Violence
  • Family Member with a Mental Illness
  • Disappearance of a Parent(s) through divorce, abandonment, or death
  • Family Member in Jail

In addition to other effects childhood trauma can have on your life, trauma can also cause memory loss. For example, if you suffered abuse at the hands – figuratively or literally –  of your caregivers, you may completely block out that time in your life or minimize the memories. 

Remembering only the good memories in your life and not the bad ones is often an automatic response for survivors of childhood trauma.

What is Your ACE Score?

Your ACE score depends on how many questions you answer “yes” to on the ACE questionnaire. You score one point for each adverse childhood experience. If you experienced trauma as a child, it would benefit you to take the ACE quiz

What Does Your ACE Score Mean?

Both positive and negative childhood experiences have an impact on your future. However, the higher you score, the more likely you will be at risk of having adverse health issues. Adverse childhood experiences are linked to chronic health issues, mental health, and substance use disorder in adulthood. Even if you score a two or a three you can be at risk of having lifetime issues from your past trauma.

For example, if you were abused (physical or emotional) as a child that would be one point. Then, if your parents divorce because of the abuse to you, that will be another point added to your ACE score.

It is important for you to know that your score is just a guideline. Your score shows you what you may be at risk for developing but not a guarantee. Additionally, the ACE quiz does not take into account the positive experiences you had as a child. If you had a grandparent who loved you, a teacher who encouraged you, or a friend that was always there for you, these experiences can sometimes be enough to mitigate the effects of the negative experiences.

Memory loss and childhood trauma

Childhood Trauma and Memory Loss: Negative Impact

If you experienced childhood trauma you may experience memory loss. Depending on the type of trauma you experience, your memory loss could either be intentionally or unintentionally. 

Physical Childhood Trauma and Memory Loss

If you suffered brain damage from physical abuse as a child then you may experience memory loss. Any type of damage to the brain can affect your ability to process and store information which are the main functions of memory. 

The length of memory loss from physical abuse depends on the severity of the injury. In very severe cases, you may never receive your memory back. 

Emotional/Psychological Childhood Trauma and Memory Loss

Emotional memory loss can be your way of natural survival to protect yourself from psychological damage. You may experience something called dissociative amnesia

Dissociative amnesia is a condition where you are unable to remember important information about your life. Your amnesia can either be limited to certain times in your life or can be general (i.e. forgetting who you are). You will experience greater memory loss with dissociative amnesia than you would with normal forgetting. 

Dissociative amnesia can either be mild or severe. If you have severe dissociative amnesia it can keep you from being able to function (i.e. getting out of bed or going to work). Dissociative amnesia can also affect your relationships. 

Dissociative amnesia is associated with traumatic events because you may forget or block out a memory from the trauma. For example, if you were sexually assaulted, you may not remember specific details of the assault. 

Dissociative amnesia is temporary and you may eventually begin to remember details of your past trauma. 

Getting Help

You may not want to remember the events of your childhood trauma. However, it is important for you to acknowledge your memory loss. 

To begin healing from your childhood trauma, you first must be willing to accept what you have been through. Being in denial will only hinder you from healing and moving forward,

If you are wanting to find the missing pieces in your life, there are effective ways to do it. One way is by finding a therapist to help you through the process. Trauma informed therapists are trained professionals that can assist you with your memory loss. 

Trauma-focused therapy is one approach that therapists use for survivors of childhood trauma. This approach can help you process what you experienced as a child.

Trauma-focused therapy addresses the impact traumatic events have in your life. This therapy approach helps you to overcome the negative effects of traumatic experiences. The goal of trauma-focused therapy is to help you manage difficult emotions from your past trauma in a healthy way. You will be in a safe environment (therapy session) where you will be able to explore your emotions.  

Memory loss from childhood trauma is real and can affect your life negatively. As a survivor, you need to surround yourself with people who care and understand what you have experienced. This is another way that can help you deal with your memory loss. 

You are Not Alone

If you are struggling with remembering parts or all of your past childhood trauma, you are not alone. Childhood trauma will affect your memory at one point or another. By wanting to protect yourself you may have blocked those memories from your life. 

Rather you experienced physical, emotional, or psychological trauma you are at risk of memory loss. Take time to educate yourself on the issue at hand. It is real.

Do not continue to let your past trauma affect your life. Integrative Life Center employs treatment modalities such as eye-movement desensitization reprocessing and brainspotting with more traditional modalities such as dialectical behavioral therapy to help you learn how to process and let go of trauma and move forward with your life. 

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