Why your body never forgets trauma

childhood trauma

Your body never forgets trauma because it imprints upon your nervous system and leaves a lasting impression  – almost like a permanent ‘dent’ in your bodywork. Trauma is so overwhelming that the brain struggles to process the experience correctly and the memories get stored in a jumbled up and distorted way. The body never forgets trauma and it can change the way we think, feel and behave for a long time afterwards.

The treatment for trauma, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder, involves unpacking the memory, rewriting it and making sense of it. It can then be stored in a new organised way. The body never forgets trauma and I have experienced this first hand.

A traumatic childhood

There were experiences in my childhood that I would rather forget. Most lie dormant and don’t affect me as an adult. There are however triggers that shortcut my emotions straight back to the frightened feelings I had as a child. Triggering is common in trauma and there is a pattern of immediate and subconscious responses to the world around us, influenced by trauma from the past.

Trauma can be confusing because even when you try to reason with yourself on an intellectual level, the emotional behaviour linked to the trauma is far stronger.

I have returned to partners that were emotionally abusive. The healthy adult in me would tell me that I was crazy to go back. I would question my sanity and wonder where my self-respect had gone. Yet on the other hand there was this inexplicable need to return and facing the abuse seemed more favourable then coping alone.

Therapy for trauma

I saw a therapist in order to help me come to terms with how earlier trauma has affected my adult relationships. Your attachment style is established when you are young, depending on the care you receive from your parents/grandparents or whoever is the main caregiver. If you were loved consistently and your needs were met regularly you will tend to have a secure attachment. If you have a secure attachment you tend to be more open and feel safe in relationships. If on the other hand, you have an anxious or an avoidant attachment style, your experience of relationships will leave you feeling more vulnerable.

Adult Attachment Styles

I have noticed a pattern whereby (and this is anecdotal and not based on any specific research) girls who have experienced childhood trauma tend to repeat is experiences as adults. When they find a loving partner, they will often reject This Love and will unknowingly or and consciously pursue partners that make them fight for validation and love. The author, Harville Hendrix created a theory/treatment called Imago Therapy to explain the occurrence.

“What we find is that there is frequently a connection between frustrations in adult relationships and early childhood experiences. As an example, individuals frequently criticized as a child will likely be highly sensitive to their partner’s criticism. Childhood feelings of abandonment, suppression or neglect will often arise in a marriage or committed relationship.” – Harville Hendrix

It’s clear that the body never forgets trauma. Complex trauma relates to multiple experiences of trauma (such as in childhood, or war veterans) and simple trauma refers to incidents such as surviving/witnessing a car accident, etc It is a one-off experience.

Healing from trauma

It is possible to heal from trauma but it isn’t a quick fix. A brain’s neural pathways form in specific ways/patterns that reflect the trauma. Therapy can undo the damage and rewire the brain but this takes time. The brain has the amazing capability due to something called “plasticity” to change the neural pathways over time and form new connections and associations.

Trauma and personality disorders

I mentioned before that trauma affects the ‘wiring’ in the brain and this can lead to personality disorders – an enduring pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving. Common personality disorders that emerge from trauma are Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, (this used to be called Borderline Personality Disorder), Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Research findings from one of the largest studies of personality disorders, the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study, offer clues about the role of childhood experiences.

One study found a link between the number and type of childhood traumas and the development of personality disorders. People with borderline personality disorder, for example, had especially high rates of childhood sexual trauma.

Verbal abuse

Even verbal abuse can have an impact. In a study of 793 mothers and children, researchers asked mothers if they had screamed at their children, told them they didn’t love them or threatened to send them away. Children who had experienced such verbal abuse were three times as likely as other children to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood.

Self-compassion

There is hope, I have learned to tune into my healthy functioning adult whilst soothing the ‘inner child’ instead of getting angry at myself when I behave in ways that are self-sabotaging. That’s the trauma showing up and it’s important to show yourself compassion rather than berating yourself. If you find that you experience intense emotions especially related to relationships and that you engage in self-sabotaging behaviour regularly, it may be due to earlier trauma. Former is not logical and it does not respond to rationality.

I have made many mistakes in my relationship choices but therapy has helped me to understand be negative patterns. I am no longer looking for people who undermine me and make me feel and unworthy. Instead, I focus on my strengths and why I am good enough. We all deserve love and to be treated well. When you tune into your healthy functioning and listen to your gut instincts, you will be helping yourself to find the love you deserve.

 

Bessel Van Der Kolk is a leading expert on trauma and I’ve attached a video to add provide further info on how the body never forgets trauma:

Mandy X

 

Photo by Artur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash

 

References:

https://www.apa.org/topics/personality-disorders/causes

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