Trauma and emotional memory

Our nervous system is constantly processing the stimuli detected by our senses to assess their dangerousness and decide the most appropriate reaction.

Neuroception is a neurologically programmed neural process through which our body reacts to stimuli from the environment and modifies its physiological state so that it can face a potential threat. Neuroception is different from perception, which requires conscious awareness.

When the stimuli trigger a neuroceptive reaction of safety, our physiological state is instantly appeased and then we can engage and interact socially. If instead the stimuli suggest a life threat, a reaction of alarm is triggered that affects our behaviour, freezes us and makes us lose social contacts; hence, the signals from our body affect our well-being, which in turn is influenced by the changing of contexts and social interactions. However, even when we are not aware of what prompts a sense of safety or threat, we can become aware of our body reactions triggered by neuroception. 

Emotional memory is reactivated in the body in the form of physical sensations. These emotional memories are usually triggered by a situation that revives with the same intensity negative feelings and emotions experienced in the past. Such emotions conjure procedural memories, such as survival reactions, but while in this case these functional responses often prove to be useful strategies, when it comes to traumas they are ineffective and leave the individual in a state of unresolved emotional anxiety, a sense of disconnection from one’s body (disembodiment) and confusion.

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