Most people are familiar with at least the concept of a visual flashback. A person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relives a traumatizing event by “seeing” the event take place again. Fewer are aware that flashbacks come in many other forms, such as emotional flashbacks. I have talked about non-visual flashbacks on my blog, but I would like to address the body memory form of a flashback today.
The brain is not the only part of the body that retains memories of trauma. Every cell of our bodies has the capacity to remember trauma. For example, most people have heard about amputees who continue to feel sensations from the missing limbs. Having a part of the body amputated is traumatizing to the body, and the cells of the body react by having their own form of flashbacks called “body memories.”
If you do not know what a body memory is, then it can be very scary to have one. That used to happen to me a lot. I feared I was going crazy until my therapist explained what was going on.
For example, I would be lying in my bed at night, and I would feel my body being raped. I would not be experiencing a visual flashback at the time. I would just feel the trauma of a rape and not know what to do with it.
Frequently, I would experience body memories after the initial visual flashback. For example, after recovering the memory of an oral rape, I would feel the aftermath in my throat. Or after recovering the visual flashback of an animal rape, I would feel the sensations of that rape in my body.
Body memories can be terrifying, and they make you want to claw your way out of your skin to stop feeling them.
In order to heal from a body memory, you must do the opposite of what you want to do – You need to let your body release the memory. Just like with visual flashbacks, you will only be haunted by them while you fight them. After you release them, your body no longer feels the need to experience them.
Releasing a body memory is not fun. You must surrender to the awful feelings and allow your body to feel really badly for a little while. However, if you talk yourself through them, then they will no longer plague you. Tell yourself that you already survived the abuse, so you can survive the memory. Be loving to your body and tell it that you are sorry that it endured so much abuse.
It helps if you can connect back the source of the memory to the traumatizing event. This gives the body memory a context and helps you move past the need to continue experiencing the body memory.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt