An individual is especially vulnerable to the imprinting of negative or irrational beliefs and conceptions during a traumatic experience (an experience involving physical pain, possibly with unconsciousness) that is stored in the brain as "unexperienceable" primal trauma. A secondary type of trauma is an incident of severe loss accompanied by painful emotions (possibly magnified by existing distorted thinking), and this is empowered by earlier primal trauma associated with it by some connection of similarity.
Heightened vulnerability to imprinting, then, occurs at times when survival is going badly or other needs are not being met. The needs and the intentions that the experience caused to be unfulfilled are then frustrated. This energetic reach of the individual becomes "charge" that is held with the experience, because the action-cycle (start-continue-complete) has been suspended. The negative emotional content and the frustration of this memory then becomes uncomfortable to view, stirring up further pain. The feelings and decisions contained in it are possibly threatening to the person's stability and present purposes. Primal trauma is immediately repressed; particularly with the undeveloped child's brain, the experience cannot be integrated. But secondary trauma may also be suppressed and become inaccessible - part of the "subconscious" contents of the mind. The charge on the incident becomes a defensive warning to the mind, not to examine that area - it is too painful.
Because the action-cycle was not concluded at the original time, the incident cannot be filed away in a time-slot (accessible long term memory) but instead it "hangs" in the present time, waiting for a possible end-point - in a kind of "limbo file" between short-term and long-term memory (technically, this is unfiled experience that is retained in the limbic system of the brain). The original intention has not been un-made, and very likely that original intention is also obscured by intentions or decisions made later in the incident. For example, a little boy who picked up some sweets at the supermarket may have been swiped around the head by his mother and scolded. Bewildered and crying, the child may then have concluded that he must have previously done something wrong, otherwise the mother would not have restricted his natural desire for sweets. Not knowing what he had done wrong, the child decides, "I'm bad, so I don't deserve what I want".
Because they are contrary to the original intention, these secondary considerations are not classified with the incident as "unviewable" and so they become imprints for future actions. They become the person's fixed ideas and beliefs, as the charge in the incident underlines their importance or necessity. Along with the unviewable memory, it too hangs around in present time, ready to reappear automatically at any moment as self-talk, in response to any new stimulus that resembles, even in a vague way, the original circumstances in which the decision was made. The misconception brings with it accompanying negative emotion and sometimes the actual pains of the original incident, which may cause psychosomatic illness if the re-stimulation is chronic. Similarly, communications that were not able to be made at the time remain as incomplete cycles, such as the child wanting to ask, "What have I done wrong, Mummy?" causing further uncertainty in the mind.
An alternative or complement to psychoanalysis of past incidents is rational emotive therapy: the recognition of the dramatization of past decisions in the present time, affecting emotions and thus behavior.
Continue to the next article, Modes of Representation