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Amnesia and Emotional Trauma Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 30th, 2021

Introduction

Amnesia caused by emotional trauma has been the subject of considerable debate amongst psychologists for a considerable amount of time. Breur and Freud (1893-1895) had theorized that people subjected to traumatic events try and suppress the memories of the event which results in amnesia. Freud however, opined that the memories of that unpleasant event still resided within the person’s mind and that it could manifest in other forms such as Hysteria.

The professionals who disagree with the concept that emotional trauma can cause amnesia, base their refutation on the absence of laboratory defined empirical evidence to provide justification of the phenomenon. Amnesic episodes after a traumatic event are however, sufficiently recorded especially among war veterans, victims of child abuse and rape. The phenomenon therefore requires some explanation.

Main body

To explain this phenomenon in neurologic terms, there are a number of theories which support the idea. Freyd (1994) postulated that amnesia can result because of the trauma of betrayal. The explanation offered by Freyd states that:

Betrayal posits that from a logical analysis of evolutionary pressures and cognitive architecture, we can expect that there will be information blockage under certain conditions (of which, sexual abuse is likely to be an example) and that this information blockage will create various types of traumatic amnesia that can be understood in terms of cognitive mechanisms.

In cases of Child abuse, according to Freyd, amnesia enables the child to maintain an attachment with a figure vital to survival, development and thriving.

Other psychologists attempt to explain the phenomenon in neurobiological terms. According to them, the importance of hippocampus in explaining traumatic amnesia is the most plausible reason. The hippocampus is that part of the brain which stores words, places, conversations and spatial relationships in the long term memory. According to Bremner (1999), Individuals with a history of exposure to childhood abuse or combat had a reduced hippocampus, which he felt was related to stress and caused deficits in hippocampal-based learning and memory. Professionals theorize that stress releases high levels of glucocorticoids which damage the neurons in the hippocampus causing memory loss and thus amnesia.

Critical examination of both schools of thought would reveal that there are deficiencies in both explanations. Firstly, most subjects of the Trauma amnesia theory were children when the event occurred and the memory loss can be attributed to the normal process of infantile and childhood amnesia. After all how many of us remember our childhood before the age of three? Why only certain people forget but others recall traumatic events is not sufficiently explained by any psychologist. After all, as per Kihlstrom (2007), “Holocaust survivors do not forget the Holocaust”. The relation between high levels of glucocorticoids and amnesia is not established with any more credibility than the veracity of amnesia due to emotional trauma.

Conclusion

I believe that while there is certain amount of truth in the Breur–Freud assertion that repression can lead to amnesia, the last word on the subject has not been written. In the end what is required is an unambiguous study based on scientifically verifiable empirical data backed by credible clinical case histories which needs to substantiate the validity of the theory that humans can suffer amnesia due to emotional trauma.

References

Breur, Josef & Freud,Sigmund. (1893-1895). Studies in Hysteria. New York. Basic Books inc. by arrangement with The Hogarth Press Ltd.

Bremner, J Douglas. (1999). The Lasting Effects of Psychological Trauma on Memory and the Hippocampus. Web.

Freyd, J Jennifer, (1994). Betrayal Trauma: Traumatic Amnesia as an Adaptive Response to Childhood Abuse. EBSCO Publishing.2002. Web.

Kihlstrom,John F. (2007). Traumatic Memory: Not So Very Special After All?. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Amnesia and Emotional Trauma." October 30, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/amnesia-and-emotional-trauma/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Amnesia and Emotional Trauma." October 30, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/amnesia-and-emotional-trauma/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Amnesia and Emotional Trauma'. 30 October.

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