The Body Remembers

Many people, perhaps most, use their bodies to carry their intelligent, insightful heads around. However we store all our personal, social and family memories, the events and the traumas in our life experience, in our bodies, not just our minds.  Without support and guidance the embodied memories and shocks remain there and can slowly bring the system to a halt until acknowledged and re-membered. 

Our bodies have a deep intelligence and we can think of them as our teachers, our head their student.

This short article explores this subject from the perspective of embodied shocks and traumas and the somatic experiencing and systemic perspectives that soften and relieve them, so the body can be free, agile and available for full function and vitality.

| Embodied trauma

Most people think that ‘trauma’ is something that happens to other people. Other people who have been abused, involved in a terrible accident or something similar. But trauma is an integral part of the human condition and nobody escapes some experience of it. In fact much of the wounding through trauma happens as a child – when we are at our most vulnerable and least resourced. It’s impossible to be human and not be affected by your family of origin dynamics, the social and geopolitical dynamics, the patterns and events in life at home, and later at school and in other education and organisational systems. 

‘Traumatic’ events that happen to us as adults can have less effect because defences, mental processes, physical reactions and other ways of resolving challenges have been learnt. However, if the same incident occurs when we are a child, it has a powerful effect and if not processed and resolved it will stay in the body. As Peter Levine says “Trauma lives in the body, not the event”. Many of the dynamics that lie behind the challenges highlighted in the articles on this page emerge from wounding as a child, either directly or by becoming caught up in traumatic systemic dynamics.  Any kind of physical and/or emotional shock or loss can result in physical, embodied symptoms later in life. For example: chronic back pain, muscle, ligament and connective tissue spasm, hyperactivity and hypervigilance. The trauma is truly embodied, held in the body, and can also result in sleeping difficulties, fidgeting movements and other kinds of highly adrenalised states.
“Remaining silent about a family trauma is rarely an effective strategy for healing it. What’s hidden from sight often increases in intensity. The suffering will surface again, often expressing in symptoms in a later generation.”

Mark Wolynn

“Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the event itself. They arise when the residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds”

Peter Levine

Sensory sensitivity, such as hyper-sensitivity to light or noise, is also often an indicator of early unresolved shock.  These and other symptoms that result in a particular form of psychobiology all offer useful information to somatic specialists about the nature and quality of the wounding. Twitches, muscle spasm, pain or vigilance are often the body’s ways of holding unbearable emotions out of conscious awareness and emerge as a result of the psychological splitting that is the human survival impulse after trauma. Part is held in the memory but the larger part gets split off and held in the body which is left to contain the tension and so cannot fully relax. We may hold this tension for a lifetime in an attempt to keep the difficulty at bay and protect our sense of who we are without it.   Some of the common forms of childhood trauma include:

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