Trauma and the metaphor of lost clusters

Trauma is a memory problem. A trauma experience may interfere with our ability to establish and maintain a coherent network of explicit and implicit memory about an event.

Trauma occurs when the combination of conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit) memory systems related to a very frightening or confronting event lose connections in the brain (central nervous system) and body (peripheral nervous system). Symptoms emerge from these disconnections, like a ship in a storm without adequate power (executive control) or safe refuge (emotional stability).

Thus, trauma evolves as a fragmented memory system of a frightening event. Its treatment involves the integration of those fragments, whereby the explicit system reconnects with all aspects of the implicit system including physical sensations, sensory-triggered flashbacks, emotions, negative thoughts, shame, etc.

Treatment of trauma requires the integration of our conscious and unconscious minds, the integration of mind and body, the refinement and smoothing out of what we know and how we feel.  We may not reconstruct, remember or establish a precise memory of the traumatic event; however, we can achieve a sufficiently satisfactory narrative that satisfies the collective needs of the rational mind and the otherwise disturbed body. Once the body feels safe with the reconstructed narrative, the conscious mind checkpoints a completed story, as the body learns “it is over”.

So, to the metaphor. When using a computer we are often warned to not turn a device off while an upgrade is in progress. Data and software on a digital device can become corrupted if there is a disruption to a ‘write’ operation, usually through loss of power at an inopportune moment, or because of a software ‘bug’. At such times, data in chunks can become ‘orphaned’ from the control system. Connections between data is lost. Data clusters still exist on the storage medium, like a hard drive, but the indexing system has lost track of where they are. Just like with human trauma, a memory network has become fragmented.

For such “lost clusters”, there are ways to reconcile them with the explicit digital indexing system, else they may become a hindrance to smooth operations in the future. That is a remediation process, like psychological treatment for trauma, to fix something that is damaged or compromised.

Fortunately, most robust IT systems use sophisticated protocols to check the integrity of data as it is stored, with roll-back procedures available to a defined checkpoint (of truth) in the event of a disruption. This is a preventative process, to avoid damage occurring and being propagated.

Interestingly, in the case of humans experiencing substantial trauma, we too have ‘roll-back’ procedures called ‘debriefing’. Sadly though, debriefing, adequate debriefing, or sufficient time to process a debrief are not always forthcoming in the case of people exposed to a traumatic event, meaning they return to the ‘scene of the crime’, or to ‘normal’ life too soon, before they have adequately integrated their experience. In so doing, “the lost clusters” prevail in memory and torment them for years.

Once we can create or re-open those neural pathways or gateways otherwise blocked in a traumatised person, we can render those ‘lost clusters’ redundant. To achieve that, clients need sufficient courage and professional, informed, and compassionate care as the transition from being trapped in a psychic wilderness to becoming safe in the here-and-now is facilitated.

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