How Memory Works in Trauma

Why Memories Sometimes Play Tricks on Us

Copyright 2009, Pamela Woll

Of the many things about trauma they never taught us about in school, some of the most confusing have to do with the way memory behaves—and misbehaves—during and after trauma.

Most people have very incomplete information about the role of memory in trauma and its aftermath:

  • Many still think all the trouble we have after trauma comes from the fact that we remember it or think about it too much.  They believe the best way to avoid trouble is to forget the past or stop thinking about it.
  • Many people think things like nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks (intense memories that look, sound, or feel like we're right back there) mean we must be "crazy" or—again—that we're just thinking too much about the past.