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Time is an interesting thing. As human beings, we recognize that the past, present and future impact us in various ways.

When we recall past events, they often fill us with sweet memories of the way things were. At other times, our recall of past events fills us with fear and horror because of the extent of trauma experienced. At times, the slightest twinge of a horrific memory is enough to send one into a tailspin that lasts for days. For most people, memories of the past are a mixture of good and bad that ebb and flow like the tides of the sea.

Many people believe that time heals all wounds. They think that after a year, five years, 20 years, the wounds of the past are healed. The old memories lose their power to injure us. That would make total sense — if time was only linear.

The more time passes after a traumatic event, the less one feels the event. The feelings become less intense and eventually fade away. There is truth in this. But then why do we reexperience deep felt trauma months and years after an event? It’s because time is not only experienced as a linear line; it’s also experienced as a coil.

The Coil Effect is what reawakens the feelings of past trauma. Imagine what a coil looks like. As the coil extends from its beginning, it circles back on itself. At some point, the gap between where it began and where it is has diminished. For a brief time, that distance between the beginning and the current position is almost the same.

This is what happens with past trauma. As time passes and we get farther away from the trauma, we may start to feel better. Then something happens. Suddenly it feels like yesterday and not a year or 10 years. The emotions come storming back, and we’re taken off guard. What’s happening!?

The Coil Effect happens when we’re triggered — most often by one of our five senses. We see, hear, feel, taste or smell something that reminds us of a past trauma; and we are instantly there. We are flooded by the memories; it seems like only yesterday. The gap between the event and the present is briefly much closer (the Coil Effect), and we are retraumatized. Time does not stop, so the memory begins to fade again until the next loop is triggered.

The good news is that over time, even with a Coil, the distance does increase. That gap slowly grows; so, even though memories do resurface, they oftentimes are less intense.

The best way to handle this Coil Effect is to not be surprised when it happens. Being aware that our five senses can retrigger memories helps us not be ambushed by our past trauma when it suddenly comes to life again. When that happens, identify which sense was triggered, why it was triggered and embrace the reality that this too shall pass.

Then seek therapy to resolve the trauma. See the trigger as an invitation to heal past hurts. While talk therapy helps, experiential therapies are needed. Seek out treatment using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or Trauma Tapping Technique (TTT). Know that you can be free of the trauma with support and the right treatment.

Yale Kushner, M.A., RMHCI, CSAT-C