BPD and Traumatic Memories: Daring to Remember

April 10, 2012 Becky Oberg

Traumatic memories are a common complication of borderline personality disorder (BPD). They can lead to self-injury, dissociation, addiction and other problems. While relaxation exercises can be helpful, for some people they can be harmful. If this is the case for you, talking about the trauma before trying to use relaxation exercises may be useful, as can facing a few facts.

In her book I Can't Get Over It, Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis writes about four facts of facing traumatic memories: you will not die, explode, fall apart or cease to function if you remember; remembering will not result in the memories recurring as a real-life event; the memories will eventually diminish in intensity; you can always go back to your methods to keep from remembering.

You will not die, explode, disintegrate or cease to function

Remembering a traumatic memory may make you feel like you're dying, but you aren't. You may feel as if you're ready to explode, but you won't. You may feel as if you're falling apart, but you're not. You may feel as if you've ceased functioning, but you're still alive. Don't believe the lies your feelings are telling you.

The problem with traumatic memories is that they tend to resurface when you don't want them to. If you can face them when they come, however, you can make peace with the trauma. It will take time, but once you make peace with the trauma, you will find that flashbacks aren't nearly as painful or disruptive. You can survive them.

Remembering will not result in the memories recurring as a real-life event

Traumatic memories often feel as if they're happening all over again. This is a lie. While it may feel as if you're there again, the fact is you're not there now. When you feel as if you're reliving it, grounding exercises can be useful.

Feel the chair you're sitting on. Feel your feet on the floor. Hear the sounds of the air conditioner in the background. Concentrate on the here and now, and the memory will lose its power over you.

Sometimes we believe that if we remember, it will happen again. Memory is not that powerful. Just because something happened then does not mean it will happen now. Thinking about it or talking about it will not make it happen a second time.

For example, I blocked out memories of child abuse for years. They began to surface in college, causing some conduct problems. In therapy, I learned how to talk back to the flashbacks by reminding myself I wasn't back there and that I was safe. Once I realized it wasn't happening all over again, I was able to make peace with my past. It took a long time, but I was able to get to a point where it didn't bother me every day.

The memories will eventually diminish in intensity

The saying "Time heals all wounds" somewhat applies here. The memories will be worst when you first relive them, but it will get better eventually. The memories may seem overwhelming, but they will gradually decrease in both intensity and frequency. You will get to a place where they are not so vivid and so constant.

For example, after I was sexually assaulted, I tried to block it out. It helped while the trauma was still fresh, but eventually I had to face it. At first it dominated--I flashed back often and everything was vivid. As time passed, the flashbacks came less frequently and were less powerful. Now it's to the point where, although it still affects me, I can talk about it. The memory has diminished in intensity.

You can always go back to your methods to keep from remembering

While I wouldn't recommend dissociation, self-injury, and substance abuse, the fact is you can always go back to this method of dealing with the trauma. The problem with this is it doesn't help in the long run. You're running from the trauma and blocking it out. This never works for long.

You have nothing to lose by facing your traumatic memories; you can always go back to what you were doing before. But you have peace to gain. It's hard work, but it's worth it. Making peace with the trauma can help set you free from these negative coping skills. And that's worth any risk.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2012, April 10). BPD and Traumatic Memories: Daring to Remember, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Becky Oberg

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