Guest Author - Jeanette Stingley
Also known as Somatic Memories, occur frequently in survivors of abuse. These memories can be triggered from physical or sexual abuse at any age. An example of a body memory is one that I have that is slowly going away. When a person comes up behind me and, even though I know they are there, they touch my shoulder, I about jump out of my skin. If you are a reader of the forums here through the domestic violence site, you may remember me talking about this there before. People who know me well try not to do this to me because they know it is a response from the abuse of my past.
Abuse affects every part of our body. Not only our physical body that we can see but our cognitive parts of our brain. Often times, survivors have no memory of something that happened to them but can still have somatic reaction to different events that happen to them. Somatic responses can cause symptoms that can not be detected in lab tests or routine examinations by doctors. Physical problems often complained about by survivors or victims of abuse include persistent headaches and migraine, abdominal tract problems (constipation, diarrhea, cramping, nausea), palpitations (racing heart), light headedness and dizziness, visual disturbances, hot/cold flashes (sweating, chills), TMJ (teeth grinding, jaw clenching), fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, tremors, sleep disorders, etc. Problems with sexual intimacy occur as well. Doctors may become frustrated because here the patient is listing all of these symptoms that cannot be explained physically so the patient may be labels as a hypochondriac, an attention seeker, or told “it is all in your head”. If a doctor doesn’t know about your abuse in the past, you are going to get blown off. If you mention to your doctor that you have been abused in the past, maybe some of the symptoms can be said to be a result of abuse or the doctor can refer you to counseling to seek help.
How does one “get rid of” body memories and responses to situation the trigger a body memory? Therapy is really the best way to deal with these memories. Somatic/body memories are stored in the right side of the brain. The right side of your brain is responsible for arousal, attachment, attention, etc. These memories should be brought to the surface of your mind. Remembering them, working through what happened (or sometimes called “naming it” in newer psychological lingo), then letting it go will help lessen the somatic response to events and situations. I have been blessed with people in my life who have helped me realize certain things I do are somatic responses from my past abuse, they have helped me deal with the memories that come with these responses and they have sat with me, no matter how long it took, to work through the memories and responses.
For more information:
Ego States in Heart-Centered therapies
EFFECTS OF ABUSE ON THE BODY AND BRAIN STRUCTURES