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by Ruth Buczynski, PhD
with Peter Levine, PhD

3. Helping patients create new memory to change the impact of trauma

When traumatic memories keep resurfacing, patients often relive their trauma and become retraumatized. Here, Dr. Peter Levine shares a key difference between traumatic memories

One of the important aspects of current memory research is that when a memory is revisited, you have a few hours in between before the new memory is reinstalled and that new memory becomes now the real memory – the true memory.

When we’re able to change these things from the bottom up, we literally have new memories.

The thing about traumatic memories is that they don’t change. The thing about healthy memories is that they are consistently being updated. Once they have consolidated, they can be de-consolidated and re-consolidated – this is a big part of the theme of my book that I’m completing right now on trauma and memory.

The real and actual event is different than the objective event. In the actual event, if it were recorded by a video camera, we’d see the child yelling and screaming and fighting and then going into complete terror and then passing out and having their tonsils taken out – that would be the trauma memory.

But the new memory, where clients feel the power that could be mobilized to protect themselves – to feel the impulse in their legs to run and to escape – all of this becomes part of a new empowered memory – a memory which then determines other memories that we’ll recall having had similar success.

Basically, instead of building failure, onto failure, onto failure - as we often have when people are re-living their traumas over, and over, and over - we’re building success and empowerment over and over – we now have new empowered experiences of ourselves instead of the disempowered, shut down, and failed attempts that we previously experienced. (pp 12-14 in your transcript)

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