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Therapists Explain Why Returning to a Physical Place Filled with Memories Can Be a Trigger
The Real Housewives of New York City cast member ventured to a place that made Ramona Singer sad.
While it may seem like Ramona Singer was born with a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand (or maybe this replacement), viewers learned intimate details about her childhood on the latest episode of The Real Housewives of New York City.
She cracked open on this week's episode when the ladies hit the town of Rhinebeck, New York, for a dinner out while visiting Luann de Lesseps' new (round) house in the area. Turns out, the restaurant was the one Ramona used to go to with her mom and dad and siblings — and the table they were given was the one where she used to have a weekly dinner out with her family. Whoa.
The memories came flooding back, as Ramona explained to the ladies that she was having flashbacks of some good times growing up, but also some bad ones. Her father died 10 years ago, her mother 12 years ago, and her brother three years ago in an accident. She hasn't talked about it much over the years.
“I didn’t go to Father's funeral because my brother cremated him against my will,” she explained. “My family life from the outside looked very normal, but from the inside it was dark … Yes, there’s some good memories, but there’s a lot of bad — my father was very abusive to my mother.”
Ramona explained she fell to her knees crying when she read her late father’s will and discovered he had left her nothing. She said it was strange to be in the exact place where she grew up, because so many mixed emotions were going on at once. Basically, she was triggered. Anyone would be. Is it helpful or hurtful to return to a place that unearths so many memories?
Claudia Oberweger, MSW, LCSW-R, explained to Personal Space that first of all, every person responds to painful events and memories differently. “The ‘formula’ for getting over it doesn't exist,” she said. “Every individual has their own process and timeframe for dealing with painful memories. However, if someone has difficulty getting past the pain, if their painful memories prevent them from functioning normally and enjoying life, I recommend talking to a qualified professional to help them with their process.”
Pretty much all trauma treatment is about “getting to a place where we can look at the event without the emotional charge of feeling it’s still happening,” said John Marchini, LCSW. “When a particular place has bad memories associated with it, not thinking about it is a common way of dealing with it. Out of sight, out of mind. However, just because we’re not thinking about it doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect,” she said. “Check with yourself about what feelings arise when you think of the place. If I can think of the place and the bad memories and remain emotionally stable, if I can tolerate the memories without getting triggered, then there’s a pretty good chance that I can visit the place. However, if I can’t even think of the place without being triggered, I would consider some form of trauma treatment.”
Therapist Jason Eric Ross said, “In general, when dealing with trauma or traumatic events, a person truly needs to talk about what happened in detail, and it’s probably not a one-time discussion. When a person has done that significant work and truly released and/or addressed some of the pain or most of the pain associated, going back to the physical place will be less of a trigger,” he explained.
In fact, returning to a place can even be empowering, he said. “The person will likely be quite empowered once they have done their clinical work. ‘Getting over it’ may not be realistic but being able to cope well and lead a wonderful life despite the events is where the focus should be. You are not your trauma is the mantra. By talking about it, a person can learn to not blame themselves and they will lessen the shame associated with certain people and places. They will view the events from a different perspective. At that point they can look at whether or not to go to a place that has bad memories associated with it. Likely, they won’t even bother.”