How To Cope With Body Memories In PTSD Recovery
Dealing with body memories in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery is one of the most difficult symptoms. Body memories differ from flashbacks. A flashback is a sudden, vivid memory that makes you feel like you are experiencing your trauma all over again. It's a physical feeling of being there, not just a normal memory where you are recalling what has happened. However, body memories are another type of way we relive trauma that, while far less intense, are still upsetting. Body memories are not so easily identified; they can cause mental problems for years before you recognize them as a body memory.
Cause of Body Memories in PTSD Recovery: The Body Remembers
Around this time each year, my PTSD symptoms seem to worsen. Depression often sets in, and despair is right around the corner. I have a general feeling that something bad is going
to happen and that I am just waiting for some sort of disaster. I realized a number of years ago, that these feelings come up at about the same time the seasons change from summer to fall. It's when the hot days start to cool off, that I find myself anxious, sad, and kind of paranoid. But this isn't your normal seasonal affective disorder.
While I recognized the timing of my change in mood quite a while ago, it wasn't until just recently that I realized why it was happening every October. The reason is that my body is remembering a traumatic time in my life, even when my mind is not.
The brain isn't the only part of our bodies that remembers trauma. Every cell of our bodies has the capacity to remember trauma, even when our brain is not consciously thinking about it.1 So, while I am not specifically recalling the trauma that I suffered in autumns past, my body is. For me, that means my depression and anxiety come to the forefront, I want to sleep more, and I feel like isolating myself from the rest of the world.
Dealing With Body Memories in PTSD Recovery
There are things that I can do to deal with what my body is feeling (Relieve Symptoms of PTSD: Allow Your Body To Shake). These are the things that help me get through the tough times with body memories in PTSD recovery:
- Allow myself to feel the feeling. This isn't easy. My first inclination when I am feeling a negative emotion is to shut it down, or stuff it away. I've learned that denying the emotion isn't a healthy way to deal with unwanted feelings. Ignoring or avoiding the feelings is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb, it won't work. The feelings will fester and bubble up until they are properly dealt with.
- Pay special attention to self-care. When I am dealing with any PTSD symptom, I have to remember to take care of myself. This means eating when I'm hungry, sleeping when I'm tired, and doing things that make me feel better. Sometimes just allowing myself to relax and do nothing is what is best for me -- the laundry can wait.
- Talk to someone about it. While my tendency is to isolate, I know that if I express how I am feeling to someone else, it lessens the power that the negative feelings have over me.
- Tell myself the truth. Telling myself the truth is vital. Whether I am having a flashback, body memory, or just thinking about my traumas, I have to remind myself that I have survived and I'm no longer in that situation. It sounds simple, but it is profound in healing from PTSD to remember that no matter how devastating the trauma was, it's over, and I survived.
Body memories, like every other PTSD symptom, can be healed. It takes a lot of self-awareness, a little bit of willingness and being honest with yourself, but it can be done.
1 Van Der Kolk, B. (2009, July 3). The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Evolving Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
DeLoe, J. (2015, October 11). How To Cope With Body Memories In PTSD Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2015/10/ptsd-recovery-dealing-with-body-memories
Author: Jami DeLoe
I have a questioned . This body memory started about 15 years ago and it’s only when I’ve drank too much . It’s like I’m having a normal , fun day .. always with my husband . I must first say I have reason to believe I was molested at a young age , either by my dad and or a family friend but I do not have solid memories of that , just pieces that fit into a puzzle so to speak . So sometimes , not all the time ..if I’ve drank too much then usually when I go lay down to go to sleep I can feel something “ starting up “.... no matter what I say to myself I can not control it from happening. At first it’s like a child whimpering and I’m starting to go into a fetal position.... then I’m full on hiding my face in my hands and crying and my stomach feels like it’s in knots . I’m inconsolable. My husband has tried to help me through these episodes but he really can’t . I feel almost ashamed and embarrassed to have him see me doing this too. Could this be repressed memories ?... it’s literally like I go back to being little and I can’t control it at all . I’m absolutely exhausted the next day and somewhat withdrawn. I’d really appreciate your input please . I’m a 54 year old woman ... been married 35 years and have a very blessed life ... now
I feel like this is a legit website where I can ask someone's professional opinion about what I've been struggling with for awhile. I'll try to keep it short and quick to the point. I grew up in an extremely angry household, my mother and father hated eachother. It was really bad. no physical abuse, but my father mentally tourchered my mom and he was the calm one. I was too young to understand that it was him and not her, I loved my dad more than anything. then randomly out of the blue police showed up and took him to jail. within a month we moved into a small camping trailor on my grandmas property. He was guilty of child molestation to dozens of underage boys and my eldest brother. Throughout the 6 year horror story I was completely numb i honestly just simply didnt react or feel much other than pain for my mom and my two brothers. i would have to somewhat force myself to cry because my mom would confide in me and she would think or assume that i didn't care, believe me i did, i do. but i guess i didnt know how to respond. but over the years i have the hardst time actually remembering a lot of my childhood and remembering things i should. i know certain things happened but i cant imagine or picture it happening. i'll have these weeklong episodes of what i think might be a reoccuring memory, i'll smell something, hear a certain tune, and it seems it almost always happens in the mornings, the back of my nech and my head will go warm and fuzzy and i'll get extremely nauseous i've actually gauged. its so hard to say or explain what im seeing and feeling. i feel guilty for saying anything or indicating that i've suffered at all through this process i'm not the one who had to undergo the direct mental and physical abuse my father caused. Unfortunately i was the only one who recieved any kind of love for bacuse i had all the same intrest as he did i was his ideal son in daughter form. I dont show or really feel any pain or sorrow. except for my family, nothing happend to me and i honestly don't believe he did anything like that to me or i expierience anything on my brother or mother's magnatude but i cant ignore this issue i've had for a while.
* Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing. From what you describe, you were exposed to ongoing traumatic events growing up. When you wrote "Throughout the 6 year horror story I was completely numb i honestly just simply didnt react or feel much other than pain for my mom and my two brothers." I immediately thought to myself... that's traumatic! So, even though you don't believe you were hurt in the same way as your mother and siblings I'm guessing your young self was overwhelmed at the very least.
When I was young, my mother's second husband would come home late and beat her. Sometimes we would run and hide for awhile. I wasn't the one being hit, but there was certainly trauma.
I wonder if part of you feels that you aren't entitled to feel traumatized because it wasn't "as bad" for you as your siblings and mom? If you say to yourself "it was traumatic, things I don't even understand can trigger anxiety within me," does that feel true? Maybe even oddly settling? I ask because what you've written is heavy with hurt, and you deserve to heal.
If you find someone who has worked couseling families and individuals who have experienced domestic violence, you might be able to get to the root of what is triggering you. Tia
thank you *Tia Hollowood. I'm afraid tat my insurance wont cover me for a therapist and I can't be seeing one anytime soon regaurding my job. But writing this out really helped me clear my thoughts and look at this a different way. talking about it does help I guess but I think when the time is right I'll look into therapy again. I had family therapy with my mother and we were there mostly for her, she has PTSD and we were working on more of communication and how i can help her and understand more of what she was going through. It helped a lot but It's my mom who has it and my brother, i know what it is and i don't have it. I think this is just some memory that maybe i've blocked out. I jsut really don't know if this is really something I need to be concerned about and what to do in the mean time if there is an issue.
I am having a severe body memory. I can not swallow. I have been through all the gastrointestinal testing. I can not stop feeling raped, as though it were an hour ago.
My son is dealing with severe PTSD from a deployment to Haiti. He has started his healing process by sharing his journey in a blog. He wants to help the mental health system provide better care. Please check out his blog and share. 8yearssite.wordpress.com
I have nominated this entire page for an award. http://healingtakesalifetime.blogspot.com/2015/10/sisterhood-of-bloggers-award.html
Keep up the good work!
I had a severe accident while driving a bus in October 2010. I have suffered years of physical and mental pain and trauma. I have had to endure 2 awful knee operations and the resulting allergic reactions to the pre meds. My mental health has suffered horribly and I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I will be seeing another psychiatrist on the 6th November. It has been 6 years since my accident this month and I am experiencing much worse ptsd symptoms and especially bad dreams and nightmares. I think my body does remember my accident and my knee pain has also been very troubling as well.
First of all, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. I know it must be a difficult thing to deal with, especially with the lingering effects. My trauma wasn't the same as yours, but I do completely understand what you're going through now. I had the horrible nightmares for a long time, but now they are pretty infrequent, thank God. I am happy to know that you are getting help. PTSD can be devastating, but you are taking the right steps in dealing with it - seeking treatment, talking about it, and reaching out to others who understand. You are on the right path! Let me know how things go for you.
Great article! I completely get it. I have certain times of the year when I'll start feeling body memories. One that I didn't get for years was my birthday - I had a lot of sensations of being in the middle of a trauma, and never wanted anyone to acknowledge my birthday or treat it as special. Then I remembered a violent trauma that took place on my 17th birthday.
Thanks for your thoughts on dealing with those body memories - I completely agree - it's super important to put self-care at the top of the list during these times. Staying grounded, feeling the feelings, and talking with someone who understands can really help balance out the body memory experience.
Thanks for your comment. I have the same type of issues with my birthday too. As a matter of fact, my birthday is usually what kicks off my season of discontent, so I know how that goes. I am working on just taking care of myself, doing the things I have to, but not worrying about the things that I don't, and talking about it with others who know what this PTSD stuff is like. This too, shall pass. :)
Really? This is the first I've heard of another person who had issues around their birthday. Must be some kind of dysfunctional family dynamic in that. I agree - it will pass! :)