Listen in to hear Melissa, Bridger and Caleb discuss and expand on the article, “Memories of Fear” by Bruce Perry M.D., Ph.D.

If you haven’t already, check out episode 1!

“Memories of Fear” Bruce Perry M.D., Ph.D.

Article Title:

“How the Brian Stores and Retrieves Physiologic States, Feelings, Behaviors and Thoughts from Traumatic Events”

Main Points 

Everything is memory 

  • Memory is the carrying of information across time.
  • It is the foundation of every biological process- reproduction, gene expression, etc.
  • It is not just referring to explicit memories 
  • Memory is recategorized as any new information stored in our nervous system.
  • It’s important to note that memory might not be exactly what happened. Rather, it’s the information that our nervous system deemed relevant. 
  • Anytime we recall and discuss a memory, it is possible to experience memory reconsolidation. 

The creation of structural changes when memory is revisited: 

  • The neurosequentiality in this process is very important. 
  • The example of an experience of watching a movie on a projector
  • “Watching the screen” is not where the information is actually stored.

Inverted triangle 

  • The bottom is the brain stem
  • The middle is the midbrain/limbic brain 
  • At the very top is the cortical brain 


  • It occurs during early life experiences and is implanted in the subcortical/lower regions levels of the brain.
  • Fear- In the brain stem, we have our homeostatic systems. In the midbrain, we have the thalamus and hypothalamus. The Limbic system is a social part of the brain and where the sense of “other” becomes meshed with the self. Fear is the moment when the self meets its potential lack, or feelings that it can’t help itself and/or when the other is inept to help the self. 
  • It is connected to the level of tolerance of potential threat before our safety strategies are activated. 
  • Fear is the inability to accurately predict what is about to unfold. 
  • If the threat is larger than our resources, it leads to fear. 

Window of Tolerance 

  • Small window of tolerance: over perceived threat and under perceive resources
  • Large window of tolerance: accurate or under evaluation of threat and an accurate perception of resources

Box of Proof

  • It is based on lived experiences, we use particular strategies because they were beneficial and successful in the past.
  • Our lived experiences justify our strategies.

Explicit Memories of Fear 

Types of memory:

  • Cognitive memories arise from used-dependent changes. Cognitive memories are abstract concepts (names, phone numbers, language).
  • Explicit memories are narrative stories we tell ourselves are partially cognitive. 
  • Motor vestibular memory- Vestibular memory has to do with body placement in space. The position of their body during a traumatic event is remembered through this type of memory. This can send someone into a threat response. Nervous system can attempt to regulate through vestibular memory or experience (ex: crawling into fetal position, wrapping ourselves in warm blanket) 
  • Affective memories- used-dependent changes present during specific emotional experiences. (ex: grief, fear, merth) Often present themselves as first impressions and transference. Affective memories are found in the transitory networks between the midbrain and the limbic system as well as expand up into the cortical regions. When sensing the present of the other, it will elicit certain behavioral manifestations. This is based on my perception of the experience between self and other.
    • A behavior, even slight, by the other may remind us of a past experience in which it takes us back to that original experience. Affect and emotion begins to come up from the past as if it’s happening in the present.
    • Emotional memory is found in the midbrain, which is part of our mammalian brain. Mammals are very concerned with relationships, herd dynamics and power dynamics. 
    • Also, our memories do not differentiate between the past and present in the way that our conscious self is able to do so. 
    • Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • State memories- The system is working towards equilibrium/homeostatic state. (Ex: restful states, activated states, shut down states) Knowing that the past states work, which goes deeper than conscious awareness 


  • We are used to thinking of memories as things that we have.
  • Memory is what we are, it is who we are- the “self”
  • The memory mosaic 
  • Memories are presently alive
  • There is no such thing as a villain or a hero; it cuts away from memory experience and invalidates our memory processes.


What happens when the experience of the state is intolerable to the client during the session but cognitive memory says to continue?

  • Fractal personality 
  • The “mes” across time- encoded in the structure that is activated in therapy 
  • More than one state is activated during therapy. You are interacting with multiple parts of self during therapy.
  • Lastly, those ”me” states have different opinions of threat detection and evaluation of resources. 

What is the main takeaway of Perry’s work as a clinician?

  • First, the quote, “Knowing the relationship between our client’s past trauma and their current functioning tells us more than their diagnosis in terms of treatment, eidology and prognosis” (Perry, 1999).
    • The diagnosis that a client comes in with is in a sense irrelevant.
    • Through understanding them through their memories and activation, we will attain much more relevant information about how we should provide their treatment. 
  • Secondly, the question “why are you telling me what you’re telling me?”
    • The inflections in the voice, quivering 
    • Facial expressions, word choice 
    • It’s because you’re getting that latest synthesis of memories.
    • “Personality is the latest synthesis of me.”
  • Lastly, all behavior is use-dependent memory in the present.
    • It helps conceptualize what the client is presenting in the current moment
    • What has worked for them in the past?
    • “Who or what object have I become to them?”


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