Trauma and Memory Systems by Peter Levine, PhD


Dr. Peter Levine discusses how the memory system works and how this plays a part in facing and dealing with the traumatic past.

Implicit memory is much less conscious than explicit memory. It forms into two sub-categories which are emotional memories (memories recalled when strong emotions are triggered or felt by a person in the present situation) and procedural memories (a type of implicit memory which aids the performance of particular types of tasks without conscious awareness of these previous experiences).

Conscious memory is only a small part of the memory bank that drives us.

In trauma, the upper part of the iceberg is called PTSD and the lower part are all symptoms that occur that are not classic PTSD symptoms.

Explicit memory which is a small part of our memory system responsible for the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, previous experiences, and concepts.

Episodic memory is an important part memory of healing as it interfaces between implicit and explicit memory. It allows us to actually have a future different than the traumatic past. It is the communicator between the deeply unconscious processes and the explicit processes which allows us to build coherent narratives.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Episodic memory allows us to actually have a future different than the traumatic past. It is an extremely important part of memory and an important part of healing. Then we have implicit memory, which much less conscious than explicit memory forms into two sub categories, emotional memories, and procedural memories. Emotional memories are kind of thing. For example, the person walks into a room and all of a sudden somebody comes up to towards them, and they have they have fear or rage. This emotion just burst forth seemingly out of nowhere. But of course, it is from somewhere, it’s from somewhere in their path. And that’s what I that’s the way I describe emotional memory. These are the emotions that just popped Up unbidden and usually triggered by something in the environment.

When we’re talking about trauma, the upper part of the iceberg is PTSD, and that the lower part are all of these symptoms that occur that are not classic PTSD symptoms. Classic PTSD symptoms are things like hyper arousal, hyper vigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, then we have explicit memory which is a very little part of our memory systems and of how our memory systems drive our emotions, our behaviors, and our movement in life. And just like the surface below the iceberg, that sunk The Titanic, those implicit memories when they are unresolved can sink us into despair, depression, and helplessness.

Episodic memory really provides the interface between rational explicit and irrational implicit realms. So, it’s really kind of the great communicator between the deeply unconscious processes and the explicit processes and the episodic memory allows us to build a coherent narrative.

People who are traumatized in a way they are stuck at an earlier stage of development. And when people talk about doing regressive therapy, have people regress and relive their traumas? I don’t think that’s a good idea in general, I think what’s important is to be able to revisit traumas begin to make sense of them and and then progress From there, so rather than regress, I see growth as a progression from areas where we’ve been fixated and traumatized and incoherent narratives really help us in that that growth process.