Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.
There are two types of memory frequently experienced by individuals who have had overwhelming trauma that has been suppressed psychologically or chemically. The first is general memory, experienced as an adult, in which there is a natural recall of early events. The other is the memory that is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). The person suddenly smells, sees and feels as though he or she is actually living the event that took place months or years earlier. Many soldiers who survived horrifying combat experiences have PTSS. This has frequently been discussed in terms of Vietnam veterans who suddenly mentally find themselves in the jungle, hiding from the enemy or assaulting people they see as a threat. The fact that they have not been in Vietnam for decades and that they are experiencing the flashbacks in shopping malls, at home or at work does not change what they are mentally reliving. But PTSS has existed for centuries and has affected men, women and children in the midst of all wars, horrifying natural disasters and other traumatic experiences. This includes physical and sexual abuse when growing up. the PTSS Cheryl was experiencing more and more frequently, in which she found herself seeing, feeling and re-experiencing events from her childhood and adolescence had become overwhelming. She knew she needed to get help.