31 Jan Memories held in the body

THE BODY – Memories are held in the body (Richard Rose Life story Therapy with Traumatised Children)

Triggers, often non verbal may cause physical reactions which is automatic and not associated with cognitive story-telling.

Van der Kolk (1992) argues that trauma therapy has to involve the individual working with their ‘body states’, assisting a person’s ability to regain calm.

Levine (1997) argues that trauma is a biological response to a perceived and/or actual threat where the body is unable to discharge the experience physically and therefore the experience is locked within the body

Kardiner and Spiegel 1947 ‘memory boxes’ (often referred to as procedural memory) is held within the body.

When children/adults are traumatised by the experience, whether as a direct or indirect experience, they store the memory, the reactions, the thoughts and the feelings. In effect the body as well the brain, become a storage facility of memory = ‘a person-sized memory box’

The body learns to respond. Although controlled by the brain the response mechanism and muscle memory are triggered before the situation is assessed as a current rather than a past threat.

In a reality of threats, the somatic senses and response to trauma influence the body’s relationship with the environment, and therefore subsequent action taken is not selective, but reactive to the expectation of harm.

The physical changes adopted by the body in certain situations can become ‘instinctive’ and memorised.

For example a child/person may raise an arm to protect from perceived risk. Aligned with the raising of the arm, there is a regulating of self to the perceived threat, activating the autonomic nervous system and with it, breathing and muscle movement.

A certain movement by an individual may trigger a response to a memory of danger. This may trigger an escalation in the response activated by past memory, which can then turn to a survival response (flight, fight/freeze).

This automatic response overrides all attempts to ‘reason’ through the activation of the whole brain. The initial message received by the reptilian brain may be so overwhelming that further thought is not possible at this point.

The early relationships with our primary carer/s shape how we use our bodies to engage, to communicate and move within close contact. We literally shape ourselves to the environment that surrounds us. If we are loved, supported and encouraged, our bodies become cared for, supported and strong in posture, structure and purpose. If the opposite is true, the body becomes unloved, unsupported and purposeless therefore uncared for, unsupported and weak.

B Van der Kolk (1992)
Richard Rose Life story Therapy with Traumatised Children
Kardiner and Spiegel 1947
Levine (1997)

Please contact Angela Ranallo for more information



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Child & Family Therapy Counselling Service is an independent counselling and family therapy centre operated by Angela Ranallo, a qualified Clinical Social Worker, Child & Family Therapist and accredited Mental Health Social Worker specialising in Children and Young People Counselling - Parenting Support and Family Counselling - Relationships & Couples Counselling - Adult Mental Health - Trauma Therapy and Clinical Supervision and Training.