The way a trauma memory is stored and where it is stored in the brain is different from regular memories. Trauma memory has no orientation in time and place. When a stimulus triggers the trauma memory, the individual’s experience of the original trauma superimposes over their current circumstances. Intrusive images and sensations make it seem to the traumatized individual that the trauma is happening in the present. They are unable to distinguish the where and when of the trauma or place it in any context, and they may have great difficulty deciphering what is going on around them.
Any stranger walking by on the street may be perceived as a threat. A balloon popping or a large truck rumbling by on the road may be heard as a bomb exploding or the beginning of another earthquake. Their spouse walking up behind them may be responded to as someone coming to kill or hurt them. The smell of supper burning on the stove may cause panic as if the house is burning down around them. Someone touching their arm or tapping them on the shoulder may be perceived as the warning signal for impending abuse. As a result, everywhere they turn is a potential perceived threat to their survival, and the threat is unrelenting. Their body and mind believe they must remain on alert at all times to deal with the impending danger. The physical and emotional consequences of remaining on high alert are numerous.
Once the trauma is integrated into their whole story and given a context, a sense of time and place, and a connection to the Lord's presence instead of to the triggers, the Lord can help retrain the brain to perceive and respond to the triggers differently. The individual can begin to release their perception of constant threat, and hypervigilance can decrease.
Dr. Donna E. Lane is a Christian Counselor who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss, along with the depression and anxiety often resulting from these experiences. She has been a counselor since 1979, and has owned her practice since 1993. She is co-author of the internationally-acclaimed trauma treatment resource, Trauma Narrative Treatment, and the accompanying story, Gold Stone. She is also the co-author of Strength in Adversity, a Biblical study on walking through difficulty with Christ.