Is there more to trauma than one’s memory?

What would you make of a drug that aims to deal with traumas and shocks by reducing or eliminating one’s memory of the traumatic event? Would forgetting the trauma negate the negative impact of it on the body and emotions?

Recently, I learned of a growing use of the beta blocker propranolol. In certain dosages it is being used to impair one’s memory shortly after a trauma in order to negate the effects of trauma on one’s emotions. At the end of this post are a few links to articles addressing this usage.

What we know of propranolol is that it is a beta blocker which blocks the action of the sympathetic nervous system, decreases the heart rate, the amount of oxygen required by the heart and the force of contraction. It is used to treat angina, migraines, tremors, tachycardia. Side effects include: abdominal cramps, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, depression, fever, light-headedness, depression, numbness, tingling, cold extremities, sore throat, shortness of breath, wheezing, low blood pressure, and of course, memory loss. It can aggravate symptoms of heart failure and cause dangerously slow heart rates.

The issue of how traumas and shocks affect us physiologically and emotionally has been detailed by Dr. Leon Hammer. (For more information on Dr. Hammer and Contemporary Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, explore the links “Dr. Leon Hammer” and “Dragon Rises Seminars.”) Pathognomonic of a shock/trauma that is significant enough to affect the heart, and hence, the circulation is a rough vibration over the pulse. Typically, the initial result of such a shock/trauma will also be to elevate the heart rate. The pulse, especially in the heart position and at the Qi depth can also become tight, reflecting the consumption of Yin from the heart, and the tension in the nervous system respectively. If the shock is great enough, or occurs at an early age (i.e., in utero or during birth, infancy or early life) prior to the maturation of the organ systems, the kidney yang (akin to adrenals) will become depleted. As the kidneys govern the stages of development, growth and developmental delays/insults can become evident.

The effect of trauma on the heart as evidenced by the rough vibrations, elevated rate, tightness in the heart and nervous systems, predisposes one to a wide range of anxieties, emotional instabilities, post-traumatic stress disorders, sleep disturbances, and circulatory disorders which can affect one on a systemic level. Herbal formulas such as Yunnan Bai Yao and modifications of Sheng Mai San taken together can treat and correct the signs on the pulse, and as such, the emotional and physical ramifications of shock and trauma. Adding herbs to boost kidney yang/adrenals is common where that has been affected as a result of significant trauma or early life shocks.

One of the reasons that traumas affect us emotionally is due to the effect of the shock on the heart and circulation. In Chinese medicine we say that the spirit resides in the heart blood, and an abundance of blood and the smooth flow of the blood is crucial to providing a stable home for the spirit. By correcting the impact of shock on the circulation and the heart with herbs and acupuncture, one can also settle the spirit and make traumas less “traumatic.” Stabilizing the mind and nervous system, correcting the circulation and strengthening the heart and kidneys negates the harmful impact of the trauma.

The heart, according the Chinese medicine also has a strong connection to the memory. As the mind and spirit are controlled by the heart, and the spirit resides in the blood, our memories are stored in our blood. Keeping our blood circulating and our heart peaceful allows for a healthy perspective on our emotions and memories, painful and pleasureable ones alike.

So knowing all this, can such a drug reduce the signs of trauma/shock on the heart (rough vibration, tight pulse, rapid rate)? Can it bolster the kidney/adrenals? How exactly does it affect memory?

While I imagine I will see patients who have taken this drug to suppress traumas in the near future, for now I can only speculate. Patients on beta blockers typically have unnaturally slow heart rates. When we are talking about trauma patients, they typically have rapid rates resulting from the shock to the heart. Thus, at first glance, this seems to be beneficial. Unfortunately, understanding the energetic mechanisms behind these rate differences suggests otherwise. The reason for elevation of heart rate in the trauma patient is the quick depletion of heart yin, the anchoring, organizing substance of the heart itself. Propranolol doesn’t work by nourishing heart yin, more by depleting heart qi. Reducing the amount of oxygen/energy available for the heart deprives it of its qi and weakens it rather quickly and significantly over time. Without a treatment that nourishes the heart yin, one will be predisposed to all sorts of anxieties and emotional lability.

In addition, symptoms such as fatigue, numbness, tingling, cold extremities are side effects of this medication suggesting the heart is not circulating the blood adequately. Understanding that trauma effects the circulation and part of the protocol for undoing its effects is to enhance/invigorate circulation, propranolol would most likely exacerbate the rough vibrations and circulatory stagnation. From this perspective, propanolol would be detrimental to the trauma patient.

Nothing about propranolol makes it suitable to treat the kidney yang/adrenals should they be impacted from severe trauma or early life events.

Then, what to make of the memory loss of a traumatic event. Is this beneficial? If we understand the premise that the memory is part of our connection to our spirit (which circulates in the blood), it would seem that the memory loss effect of propranolol serves as a disconnect with our spirit. Where enhancing circulation and pacifying the spirit help to make our spirit whole and contented, weakening the heart, negatively impacting circulation and creating additional stagnation of Qi and blood would almost “lock” the trauma away in areas of stagnant blood creating suppression and repression of these emotions.

To heal is to make one whole and a good therapy should be designed to promote healing and wholeness. Disconnecting ourselves from our memories and, hence, our spirit serves to further our imbalances and should, in my opinion, be counseled against.

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One Comment

  1. Ross – This was especially helpful for me.Thank you!