How do our brains repress memories of abuse or similar events?


Can someone explain to me how our brain is able to block events that are so extreme? Like, how is the brain able to completely forget about something that seems so unforgettable and simultaneously shut off the emotions linked to it? Also, what does the brain do/go through when someone has that.. let’s call it “lightbulb”, moment where we remember everything? I feel like something so crazy would cause some form of damage.. maybe?

In: Biology

I’m going to answer this poor dead post, based on what I have seen in my life. I think our brains see or comprehend something first, then it goes to work interpreting it into thoughts for our conscious to understand. I think repressed memories are similar to what delusional people do. The memory or stimulus is cut off at the subconscious level so that even though it’s there, it is not synthesized into the conscious and actionable part of the brain. In order to change this the person has to have a “break through” – you need to bridge the neutral divide so that the memories or information can register with the conscious part of the brain.

Back in the 1990’s there was a mental health fad of “repressed memories”. A lot of practitioners specializing in repressed memory recovery sprang up, and there were a lot of sensational cases of people recovering horrific memories leading to court cases, families breaking up, etc…

However, it turns out that truly repressed memories don’t exist, or if they do, they are extremely rare. Most real cases of “repressed” memories are just people refusing to confront traumatic events that they do in fact remember, in other words they pretend, both to others and to themselves, that the events they remember didn’t happen. People don’t actually seem to genuinely forget traumatic events. However, it is possible to convince people that they have forgotten events that never actually happened, creating fake repressed memories. This turned out to be what happened in the 1990’s. The repressed memory specialists were actually creating new fake memories with their patients. In many cases this caused enormous unnecessary emotional distress, and the whole field disappeared in disgrace. The process looked something like this:

Q: Were you molested as a child?

A: No I don’t believe so.

Q: Were you affraid of anything as a child?

A: I was affraid to go in the basement when I was very young.

Q: Ah ha! You must have been molested in the basement and repressed it.

A: I don’t think so…

Q: It’s very common for childhood fears to come from repressed trauma, I see it all the time, and I am a renowned expert on these matters.

A: Well, maybe I was molested in the basement…