TIME Writes About Why Rape and Trauma Survivors Have Fragmented and Incomplete Memories


There are a group of people- generally Elizabeth Loftus fans- who swear that memories are never surpressed but REAL science tells us something much different. Trauma effects the brain in different ways- and it is obvious by the research that our brains work much differently when under extreme stress.

When we are relaxed- we think with an area of our brain called the prefontal cortex. This area is responsible for “executive decisions” such as where to focus and what to focus on. When reading, or watching television, or working- this area of the brain tells us what to focus on in order to keep us from being distracted and tones down what is going on around us. It also inhibits impulses so that we can concentrate.

However, in states of fear, terror, and high stress this area of the brain is impaired and our amygdala takes over- controlled by the adrenaline that is pumping through our veins. Our brains are focused on distinct areas of the trauma- and everything else goes to the sidelines. Many times, our brains will focus on details of the abuse and nothing else. Or, in some cases, the brain will focus on something else in order to save us from what we are experiencing. In this case we may focus on insignificant details. Either way our attention is impaired and our brains aren’t focusing as it would when we are relaxed.

Fear also shuts down the hippocampus. This area is the one responsible for logging our experiences into short term memory and then putting them into long-term memories. This actually stops us from remembering the sequence of events, helping us to repress the details of what the trauma is doing to us.

Fear has a vast effect on our brains and keeps us from remembering exactly what is happening. Repression is a result of this and that is what this article talks about.

The men who wrote the article above is James Harper Ph.D and is an independent consultant and instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. David Lisak is a forensic consultant, researcher, and national trainer and the board president of 1in6 that provided information and services to men who were sexually abused as children.

Comments are closed.