Posts Tagged ‘preverbal abuse’

On my blog entry entitled Can You “Let Go” of Abuse You Don’t Remember?, a reader asked the following question:

If either the early age or later possible drugging makes those memories permanently inaccessible, how am I supposed to heal? Is there a way to process what I may never recover? If not am I just condemned to half a life? ~ PW

I first learned about healing from preverbal abuse when reading Kathy Evert’s book on mother-daughter sexual abuse entitled When You’re Ready: A Woman’s Healing from Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse by Her Mother. You can read what I wrote previously here. While in therapy, the author recovered sensations that she didn’t know how to process because they were preverbal. She had no language attached to them, so they didn’t make sense to her.

Thankfully, the release of preverbal memories made sense to her therapist. Her therapist encouraged her to allow her body to release the memories just as she would allow her brain to release flashbacks. It was a grueling time, but she did heal by allowing her body to release the pain.

Over on Isurvive (a message board for child abuse survivors), we had a discussion of this topic. One member was releasing lots of body memories from preverbal abuse and felt like she was losing her mind. She felt an uncontrollable need to be comforted in a way that would comfort a baby, which wasn’t easy in an adult’s body. She really needed to be “rocked,” so she bought herself a hammock to give herself the sensation of being rocked. As soon as she did this, she was successful in processing the memories. She would release them and then self-soothe through rocking herself in the hammock.

As other child abuse survivors have explained to me, healing from preverbal memories involves feeling unpleasant sensations in your body that don’t really make sense. You might feel like you are falling, feel like your body is burning, or whatever simulates what you actually experienced before you developed language. If you don’t fight or analyze those feelings and, instead, just let your body tell the story, people tell me that they experience deep healing.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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A reader wants to know if it is possible to recover flashbacks from when you were a baby. The answer is yes, although those flashbacks are often a bit different from what other flashbacks feels like.

From what I have read, memories are categorized in your brain based upon your past experiences. For example, if you have seen a horse in a book and then see a real horse, your brain makes a connection between the two. Trauma doesn’t really fit when the brain is categorizing experiences, which could explain part of why a child’s memories (particularly a younger child’s memories) of trauma get filed in the subconscious with no method of retrieval while the child lives in the abusive environment.

Preverbal abuse takes this a step further. If a three-year-old child is hit in the head with a frying pan, the child has words for what is being done to him even though he has a difficult time processing it. A baby has no word for “frying pan” yet and, therefore, processes what happened in a different way.

From what I have read as well as the comments posted by readers, preverbal memories/flashbacks are experienced differently. Because there was no language developed to categorize the trauma, the preverbal memories are stored in a different way. One book I read talked about the preverbal memories being released as intense feelings and body memories. The woman thought she was losing her mind because she would experience very intense emotions and feelings with no context. Fortunately, her therapist understood what was going on and helped her through it.

My earliest non-trauma memory was from age two when my sister was born. I distinctly remember sitting by the fireplace in the dark and feeling scared, and I also remember running in the snow and laughing. Both memories have been independently verified, so I know firsthand that memories can be retrieved at age two.

As for trauma-related memories, my earliest to-date is from when I was a toddler with abuse happening during diaper changes. I have experienced intense releases of emotions that I suspect are preverbal memories, but if that is the case for me, I am early in the process.

Here is another blog entry I wrote on the topic. You can also read more articles about preverbal memories here:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I had a strange dream (flashback??) that has me wondering about possible preverbal abuse. I had a tough time sleeping last night. I awakened around 3:00 a.m. to use the bathroom, and I could not fall back to sleep. After about an hour, I turned on the TV in desperation and tuned to the same music channel I use to do yoga. Sure enough, that worked. I felt my body releasing a bunch of tension that I didn’t even know I had and then drifted off to sleep.

In my dream, I was a baby. I was crawling around the floor touching different items with my hands and also putting them in my mouth. This was a very vivid dream – like I was really there in that moment as a baby. This is how I tend to experience flashbacks – like I have been beamed into the past that is as real and present (if not more so) than my day-to-day life.

I noticed the feel of the diapers between my legs as I crawled around. Then, I felt someone pick me and remove my diaper. I felt an unpleasant pressure (not quite pain but an unwelcome feeling in my genitals). I screamed out repeatedly, not as I typically do as an adult in my dreams but as a baby would wail.

The dream later moved into my accompanying a friend (as an adult, not a baby) and her baby/child (it kept changing) to court where she was advocating for her baby before a judge. A friend of hers had hurt her baby, and she wanted the friend held accountable for it. Nothing happened the first time, but we went back to court a second time with her picking me up from home and driving me to court. The friend who had hurt the child gave the judge an envelope with a check in it for my friend. The judge bounced the baby on his knees.

When we tried to leave, our car was wedged between the other friend’s car in a very small parking area, and there was a bunch of baby stuff there, including a crib. The alarm went off as I was trying to find a way to move the car without damaging the baby stuff.

All of this has me considering the possibility that I also suffered from preverbal abuse. The earliest flashback I have experienced before this is as a toddler. I was around 18 months old, and my mother hurt me as she changed my diaper. I also have a memory of my mother hurting my sister at 18 months old, so I assumed that was the “magic age” that my mother started her abuse for both of us. However, it is entirely possible that the abuse started sooner. And, if it did, I know that healing from preverbal abuse is a completely different animal when it comes to healing from it.

While I am open to the possibility, I am certainly not “looking” for it. I trust that, if this is my truth, that part of myself will continue to come out looking for healing as I am ready to heal it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Dealing with Memories from Preverbal Abuse, a reader asked the following question:

i have been in therapy for one year now. I started having memories of being a baby, I still doubt that these things are real. I also have realized that I too have a baby alter. When the baby comes out, it happens really quick. I get confused as to why this comes out. How am I suppose to know if these memories are infact real and not just my mind making them up because I want answers? ~ Wendy

Dealing with preverbal memories is tough because babies do not have any sort of frame of reference for “holding” the memories. All they know is that they were traumatized without any sort of language or frame of reference to begin to understand the trauma. If you were traumatized before you could speak, recovering those preverbal memories can be scary and feel overwhelming.

My advice is to believe yourself. You are not trying to convince a judge or jury of anything. Nobody is on trial. What possible reason would you have to make this stuff up? People who did not experience preverbal trauma do not have baby alter parts and do not experience overwhelming body memories from the perspective of a baby like you do.

Rather that put a lot of energy into questioning yourself, start nurturing that wounded little baby inside of you. Provide yourself with all that you missed as a baby to the extent that you can. The number one need you had was safety, so do you all you can to help you feel safe. Rock on a rocking chair, or consider purchasing a hammock to rock you as you needed to be rocked as a child.

If you will stop putting energy into doubting yourself and, instead, use that energy to love yourself, what harm will come? If your efforts to love and nurture your wounded inner baby brings relief, that’s all that matters.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One topic I don’t see discussed a lot is preverbal abuse. Preverbal abuse is any abuse that a child experiences before he or she has developed language. Because the child has not developed language, he has to store the memories in ways that do not attach language. This can present quite a challenge to the adult who is experiencing body memories with no “explanation” behind them.

I read about this phenomenon in great detail in the book When You’re Ready by Kathy Evert. While this is a book about mother-daughter sexual abuse, it covers healing from preverbal abuse in powerful ways.

From what I understand from reading multiple books on the subject, our brains are like filing systems. When you experience something today, your brain looks for a similar experience in your memory bank for a place to “file” away the memory. When a baby is the one being harmed, the baby does not have enough experiences yet to file away something as mind-blowing as abuse, so the memory gets stored in a different away.

On top of this, a baby does not have the ability to describe what has happened without language, so what is stored is the reaction to the abuse. So, someone who suffered from preverbal abuse might experience flashbacks by reenacting the abuse as it occurred. If you don’t know the history, it might not make any sense. However, the flashback, experienced physically, makes perfect sense when you understand the cause.

The closest experience I have had was recovering a memory of my mother sexually abusing me while changing a diaper when I was a toddler. As I had the flashback, I had an overwhelming urge to suck my thumb even though I was in my mid-thirties when I experienced the flashback. I guess because I was crossing over to being verbal, I recovered enough in the memory to understand it. However, if I had been nine months old when this happened, this urge would not have made sense.

In the book When You’re Ready, the author talks about needing to be held and comforted in the ways that she wasn’t as a baby. An online friend told me about her strong need to be rocked, even though she was now an adult. This woman had the great idea of buying herself a hammock so she could meet this need in herself.

If you are struggling with flashbacks that are mostly bodily and don’t seem to make much sense, consider the possibility that you are dealing with a preverbal memory. If you are, then you will need to comfort yourself in ways similar to how you would have comforted that traumatized baby.

The myth that babies do not remember trauma is a bunch of hogwash. Too many people have reported similar experiences with releasing preverbal body memories to debunk that myth.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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