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Lady Gaga's Metaphor for How Trauma Affects Memory Is an Important Reminder

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

The past two weeks of news have been tough for sexual assault survivors on all sides of the political aisle. The public debate over the Dr. Christine Blassey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings has been fierce, divisive and for those with personal experience, emotionally difficult to follow.

• What is PTSD?

On Thursday, while on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert promoting her new movie, “A Star Is Born,” Lady Gaga shared her own thoughts about this national conversation. When Colbert asked her if she was comfortable talking about politics, she said, “Bring it on.” She then called the Kavanaugh hearings and the discussion surrounding it, “one the most upsetting things I have ever witnessed.”

“It’s heartbreaking because I am a sexual assault survivor,” she said. She referenced watching , claiming that because Ford couldn’t remember some of the details before and after her alleged assault, she couldn’t be trusted.

Gaga refuted this claim, with her own personal experience and science.

If someone is assaulted, or experiences trauma, there is science, and scientific proof, it’s biology, that people change. The brain changes. And literally, what it does, is it takes the trauma and it puts it in a box, and it files it away and shuts it so that we can survive the pain.

She also mentioned other ways trauma affects your body, from living with heightened anxiety to experiencing pain.

The fact that trauma can affect memory is backed by science. James Hopper, Ph.D., an expert on the neurobiology of sexual assault, and David Lisak, Ph.D., a forensic consultant, wrote in an article for TIME that in states of high stress or terror, our prefrontal cortex is impaired – and sometimes even shuts down – due to a surge of stress chemicals. “This part of our brain is responsible for ‘executive functions,’ including focusing attention where we choose, rational thought processes and inhibiting impulses,” they wrote.

When the executive center of the our brain goes offline, we are less able to willfully control what we pay attention to, less able to make sense of what we are experiencing, and therefore less able to recall our experience in an orderly way…

Victims may remember in exquisite detail what was happening just before and after they realized they were being attacked, including context and the sequence of events. However, they are likely to have very fragmented and incomplete memories for much of what happens after that.

Gaga said she believes when Ford heard of Kavanaugh’s potential nomination, the box was opened. Some took to Twitter to thank Gaga for her words, and to agree with her statement about memory and trauma.

If this news cycle has been hard for you, you are not alone. Reach out to your safe person. Be kind to yourself, and employ whatever self-care tactics you need. Healing is complicated, and reacting to news about sexual assault doesn’t mean you’ve taken a step backward. Whatever you feel right now is OK.

If you need support right now, here are some resources you can turn to:

Image via Creative Commons/petercruise

Originally published: October 6, 2018
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