Can We Change Adverse Childhood Memories?
The ACE study highlighted the problem. Now What?
The data gathered from the ACE study has provided a powerful insight into the connection between childhood adverse experiences and challenges in adulthood. This has led to a focus on child protection services, awareness in schools, and a drive to help parents to provide a safer, calmer, more secure and nurturing environment for their offspring. The goal is to lower the risk of problems in the adult, by ensuring reduced adverse experiences in the child. And that is an essential step in improving the overall statistics, moving forward. But what about those of us who’ve “missed that boat”? What about adults around the world, who are currently suffering the consequences of ACEs, and — until time travel is invented — are stuck with our baggage?
- How are ACEs Affecting Adults?
- The Cerebellum, Conditioned Responses, and Memory
- Memory Formation and Recall
- Optogenetics — Generation of a Synthetic Memory Trace (in Mice)
- Is it Wrong to Change Memories?
- PTSD and Changing Memories
- An Experiment to Try Right Now
- Reality vs Imagination
- What About the Emotions?
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences)(1) study showed that adverse experiences during childhood significantly affect the adult.
Events that include (but are not limited to) physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; parental separation or divorce; and violence within the household, have been found to impact the experiences of the adult that child becomes.
ACEs have been connected to: social, emotional, and cognitive impairment; the adoption of health-risk behaviors; disability; disease; social problems; unemployment; poverty; and early death.
The data gathered from the ACE study has provided a powerful insight into the connection between childhood adverse experiences and challenges in adulthood.
This has led to a focus on child protection services, awareness in schools, and a drive to help parents to provide a safer, calmer, more secure and nurturing environment for their offspring.
The goal is to lower the risk of problems in the adult, by ensuring reduced adverse experiences in the child. And that is an essential step in improving the overall statistics, moving forward.
But what about those of us who’ve “missed that boat”? What about adults around the world, who are currently suffering the consequences of ACEs, and — until time travel is invented — are “stuck” with our baggage?
How are ACEs Affecting Adults?
It seems clear that the developing brain is affected by adverse childhood experiences, but how?
We now know that, not only is the brain not “hard-wired” by adulthood, but it is constantly changing.
Every time we learn new information, process information we already know differently, or encounter new experiences, the brain changes.
This means that, although a large part of the connection between ACEs and adverse experiences in adults may be the interruption to development in the brain due to the high levels of stress in childhood, it’s possible there’s more.
From birth, memories form the foundation of who we are and how the world around us works. We learn our identity and how to operate and survive in our environment, by interpreting and storing “facts”, “proof”, and “evidence” from experiences. (2)
The Cerebellum, Conditioned Responses, and Memory
In eye-blink conditioning research (3) it was found that the cerebellum is involved in conditioned associative learning.
John E. Desmond, M.S., Ph.D. using neuroimaging in his verb-for-noun generation task, (4) found that, while the search for the word activated the frontal lobe, the selection of which word the subject would use, activated the cerebellum.
The cerebellum is connected to the prefrontal cortex, the posterior parietal region, and the temporal lobe through a series of pathways through the cerebral cortex.
In addition to this, the intense activity in the default mode network of the cerebellum during periods of physical inactivity, while imagining the past, the present and the future, indicates that the cerebellum is involved in creative thought, in addition to motor function. (5)
Putting all of this together…
Is it possible that the cerebellum is constantly referring to information stored throughout the brain, in response to conditioned learning, in the form of memories, and then prompting responses in the limbic system?
This could mean that the cerebellum, is controlling automated emotions, sensations and impulses through the body, based on conditioned learning from stored information in the form of childhood memories.
Memory Formation and Recall
While science still has a long way to go in understanding the full details of memory formation and recall, we do know, so far, that memories are not permanent, accurate, or complete.
In fact, it seems that memories are reconstructed every time they’re recalled. (6) Taking into account the findings of the ACE study, both prototype and exemplar memory (7) will be affected by childhood experiences.
Every childhood experience, presumably, would contribute to the formation of memory category — resulting in each individual’s perception of reality being dependent on their childhood experiences.
Neuroplasticity (8) may mean we can change the past — at least, in the way it’s represented in memories.
Optogenetics — Generation of a Synthetic Memory Trace (in Mice)
In January 2012, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published an article detailing results of research in which scientists were able to replace fear memories, and create false memories, in mice. (9)
This was achieved by manually manipulating neurons. But do we really need to wait for science, medicine, and technology to develop drugs or gadgets that can be safely used by humans before we have the ability to replace traumatic memories with benign (or even happy) ones?
Is it possible that, considering the human brain’s remarkable ability to change itself — along with the fact that the unconscious brain and body seem unable to determine between imagination and reality — we already have the power to create results, without external intervention?
Is it Wrong to Change Memories?
Neuroscience has now discovered that, not only are memories not accurate, they actually change every time they are recalled. (10)
In other words, when you recall an event — as you recall it, it is pieced together, and affected by experiences you’ve had since that event (and the changes that have occurred in your brain since that event).
Then, when you “file” that memory again, you file the new, revised memory.
PTSD and Changing Memories
Memory reconsolidation has proven to be successful, in some cases, for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (11)
However, it is inconsistent and unreliable. Is it possible that the reason for this is that the treatment is targeting the memories of the traumatic events that appear to have caused the PTSD, and not the original references provided by childhood experiences (primary prototype and exemplar memories)?
What would happen if we were to change the memories created by the ACEs — in other words, change the references for later trauma — before addressing the more recent experiences?
An Experiment to Try Right Now
What Color is Your Front Door?
It seems like an obscure and random question, but bear with me for a moment.
Think of your front door, and if it’s not already white (or you don’t know what color it is), make it white, in your mind.
Now, make it blue, in your mind. If you find you can’t just “make it blue” imagine taking out a pot of blue paint, and paint it blue. Now make it red. Now yellow. Now purple.
The point is, you’re probably able to do that in your mind; and each time you changed the color of that door, different neural connections were being made within the neocortex of your brain.
You were, most likely, able to do that without any argument. Your conscious mind knows your door is not that color, but your subconscious has no idea.
The reason you were able to change the color of your front door in your imagination is because (presumably) you have no emotional attachment to it.
When it comes to events, especially emotionally-charged events in your past, there is a physiological response that accompanies the memory. And it is that response that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to simply imagine the event differently.
Reality vs Imagination
We’re not talking about brain-washing, or even hypnosis.
Changing memories has the same effect as watching a movie or reading a book.
As you follow along with the fictional story, your brain and body behave as if the events are real. You experience the same emotional responses you would if the threat, heartbreak, romance, adventure, or reconciliation were real.
However, at the same time your brain and body are reacting as if you are encountering the real experience, your conscious mind knows it is just a story.
In the same way, we can effectively change our adverse childhood memories to more positive, empowering references, while the conscious mind continues to know what really happened.
The unconscious brain and body are responding to the “new” childhood, while the conscious mind is still able to relate the original facts, if needed.
What About the Emotions?
Emotions, feelings, and sensations are what attach us to our memories.
When you think of something, or remember something, your brain triggers your limbic system to produce chemicals that create sensations that match that thought.
For example, you don’t need to encounter a real threat to feel fear — you just need to think about something frightening.
As you think about that threat (whether you’re remembering something that happened to you in the past, or imagining something that might happen in the future), your limbic system produces the same stress chemicals it would if you were currently being physically threatened.
The same happens with thoughts or memories of emotional hurts, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, sadness, frustration, injustice, and any other stress emotion.
Fortunately, the same system will create “feel-good” chemicals when you think of experiences that are happy, peaceful, fun, loving, exciting, funny, and other positive experiences.
Since the fight-freeze-flight physiological state is designed for survival, stress chemicals produce a stronger physiological effect on the body than the chemicals that create feelings of peace, fun, joy, and other good emotions.
This makes it challenging to change adverse childhood memories to happy, safe, peaceful memories — even though the threat is no longer present.
Using a process such as Childhood Memory Transformation (CMT) that reduces emotional charge, and allows us to make changes to memories, along with addressing any resistance, it seems it is possible to change adverse childhood memories from negative to positive — without drugs, invasive procedures, or exposure therapy.
It appears that the human brain has the ability to make changes to its stored memories, using only imagination.
The results are similar to watching a movie — the conscious mind knows it’s just a movie while, at the same time, the brain and body behave as if the threat or enjoyment is real.
In the same way, the conscious mind remains aware of the original events while the brain and body behave as if the new childhood memory really happened.
To my knowledge, there have been no official scientific studies on this topic - yet!
I hope someone in the field of research finds this article provocative enough to consider it.
In the meantime, I see no reason for us not to do our own, personal research, within our own minds (starting with what you had for breakfast, perhaps — as a test), so that we are benefiting from the process while science catches up.
Here’s a short, fun video that gives an overview of how this works:
Visit our website for more information and guidance on changing your adverse childhood memories:
(1) ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study
Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and…www.cdc.gov
Substantial research shows that early adversity, including child abuse and neglect, is associated with diminished…www.sciencedirect.com
(2) Fishing for memories: How long-term memories are processed to guide behavior
In our interaction with our environment we constantly refer to past experiences stored as memories to guide behavioral…www.sciencedaily.com
(3) The engram found? Role of the cerebellum in classical conditioning of nictitating membrane and eyelid responses https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d671/f0e05672050ad2189ad7302278d265fc7238.pdf
Besides the advantages of direct human-rodent comparisons, the classical conditioning paradigm also offers the…www.sciencedirect.com
(4) Functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence for right-hemisphere involvement in processing unusual semantic relationships.
(5) Distinct Cerebellar Contributions to Intrinsic Connectivity Networks
Christophe Habas, Nirav Kamdar, Daniel Nguyen, Katherine Keller, Christian F. Beckmann, Vinod Menon, and Michael D. Greicius
J Neurosci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 Jan 1. Published in final edited form as: Convergent data from…www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
(6) Neural Correlates of Reactivation and Retrieval-Induced Distortion
Donna J. Bridge and Ken A. Paller
Reactivation of recently acquired information can strengthen memory storage and likely contributes to memory…www.jneurosci.org
(7) Study decodes brain’s process for decision making
When faced with a choice, the brain retrieves specific traces of memories, rather than a generalized overview of past…www.sciencedaily.com
(8) Adult Neuroplasticity
Within the last four decades, our view of the mature vertebrate brain has changed significantly. Today it is generally…www.hindawi.com
(9) Generation of a Synthetic Memory Trace (in Mice)
In the mammalian cortex, there is significant spontaneous neural activity that is internally generated, rather than…science.sciencemag.org
(10) An Update on Memory Reconsolidation Updating
The reactivation of a stored memory in the brain can make the memory transiently labile. During the time it takes for…www.sciencedirect.com
(11) Implications of memory modulation for post-traumatic stress and fear disorders
Ryan G Parsons & Kerry J Ressler