How does the brain block out traumatic events?


How does the brain block out traumatic events?

In: 18

The brain does something (that many researchers currently theorize to be the case) called ‘state-dependent’ learning.

Simply put, the brain stores memories in different manners based on the state of arousal it is in. If it is calm and relaxed, memories are stored one way; likewise, if the brain is excited or aroused (please no jokes), memories will be stored a different way. The brain must be in the corresponding state to access those memories respectively. This is how the brain can ‘repress’ traumatic events, as that is a state of the brain people are not functioning in throughout their day-to-day (usually).

There is a much more detailed explanation that involves amino acids glutamate and GABA and how imbalances in either one can have some pretty significant effects in memories and mood, but I admit that’s a going a little deeper than I feel equipped to talk about.


Freudian coping mechanisms don’t eliminate memories, but ‘compartamentalize’ trauma as ‘something that happened but doesn’t affect me in other areas of my life;’ semi-conscious inhibition of details too alarming to re-conceive; active repression, and other mechanisms. Similar how you may not think of a near death car accident every time in traffic, trauma may ‘come up’ at unexpected times. Thinking about it when you want may not be so easy though. Intrusive thoughts are hallmark symptom of PTSD.

One route is a drive to self-anesthetise especially with alcohol, inhalants, narcotics, barbiturates. Limited utility.