Someone reached out to me last Spring and asked if I knew anything on the topic of body memories. I didn’t, so I did some digging. What I found was an explanation for staggering bodily sensations that can result from trauma.
Put simply, most people associate memory with the brain. Even though science does not fully back this phenomena just yet, there remains a number of people who describe the debilitating weight of the physical anguish of an emotional or psychological condition. Perhaps most pervasive is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder typically manifests itself after an individual experiences any traumatic event where their fight-or-flight response is provoked such as war-related combat, abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, loss of a loved one, or being close to someone in a traumatic situation. PTSD is characterized by reliving the trauma through flashbacks or memories, avoidance of similar situations or stimuli that may trigger or mimic recollection of the event, nightmares, behavioral changes, mood swings, guilt, insomnia, memory loss and isolation.
In some cases, body memories can last despite cognitive memory loss of the traumatic event. Designed to protect us, our bodies can certainly grieve harmful circumstances while our mind simply exits, or dissociates from, the situation. As a result, our ability to be intimate or affectionate with others is highly altered from our typical reactions. Often lacking conscious awareness, our relationships suffer greatly due to the inability to acknowledge or explain what is happening.
PTSD is a condition that I personally live with. In my case, for example, body memories may explain why I have jump reactions to my environment, hyper-peripheral vision, or knee-jerk reflexes when someone is trying to be intimate with me. This has improved through therapeutic practice, trust and logic. However, at its pique, this inability to tolerate touch, louder than reasonable sounds (breaking glass specifically), or even leave the house really took a toll on my partner. It might also explain why we may feel the same way around a certain time each year.
Healthy Place offers more information regarding how to cope with this.
From the above referenced article by Jami Deloe:
“Dealing With Body Memories in PTSD Recovery
There are things that I can do to deal with what my body is feeling (Relieve Symptoms of PTSD: Allow Your Body To Shake). These are the things that help me get through the tough times with body memories in PTSD recovery:
Allow myself to feel the feeling. This isn’t easy. My first inclination when I am feeling a negative emotion is to shut it down, or stuff it away. I’ve learned that denying the emotion isn’t a healthy way to deal with unwanted feelings. Ignoring or avoiding the feelings is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb, it won’t work. The feelings will fester and bubble up until they are properly dealt with.
Pay special attention to self-care. When I am dealing with any PTSD symptom, I have to remember to take care of myself. This means eating when I’m hungry, sleeping when I’m tired, and doing things that make me feel better. Sometimes just allowing myself to relax and do nothing is what is best for me — the laundry can wait.
Talk to someone about it. While my tendency is to isolate, I know that if I express how I am feeling to someone else, it lessens the power that the negative feelings have over me.
Tell myself the truth. Telling myself the truth is vital. Whether I am having a flashback, body memory, or just thinking about my traumas, I have to remind myself that I have survived and I’m no longer in that situation. It sounds simple, but it is profound in healing from PTSD to remember that no matter how devastating the trauma was, it’s over, and I survived.
Body memories, like every other PTSD symptom, can be healed. It takes a lot of self-awareness, a little bit of willingness and being honest with yourself, but it can be done.”
Do you experience body memories associated with PTSD? Please share your insights in the comment section below.
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For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
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