A common question I hear from clients goes something like this: “I think I’ve been affected by trauma, and that it’s affected my body/ health/ emotional well being…. but I don’t know which trauma caused this so I don’t know where to start to try to release and heal it. Do I have to remember the trauma in order to heal?”.
On a similar note, I’ll often hear, “How can I release this trauma if I don’t remember what happened?”
It’s an understandable assumption. But it leaves out some key facts about how our bodies and minds heal.
Our Mind as Detective… A Personal Story.
I was around nineteen when my mom told me that she thought that I had “probably” been sexually abused my grandfather when I was very young.
As a teenager struggling with severe depression along with mysterious chronic illness and body symptoms… already in the throes of therapy and healing work, and acutely aware of the body-mind connection…. my mind latched on to this piece of “probable” info like a dog on a bone.
If that had really happened to me, would it explain the struggle I had in getting through every day? Would it explain the chaos in my body, the mysterious health symptoms, the bizarre world I was navigating in my mind?
With this news, I also had a flashback to a singular memory involving my grandfather. In the memory, I was about four, and I was at his house, and I was walking away from him. My mom was over on the other side of the room. And I clearly heard my mom say, “Dad, no- that’s not appropriate.”
And…. that was all. The memory started and stopped there. Nothing else except the strong scent of cigarettes and the brown and yellow color palette of a California home in the 70’s.
And with that memory snippet I began first to ponder, and then to obsess: if I could only remember what happened, would that heal things for me?
I tried to rewind, to replay. What had happened just before that moment? Why couldn’t I remember? My mind worked fervently, determined to play backwards from that teeny bit that I had. I was studying NLP at the time, and began exploring various techniques to see if I could trigger a recall of the memory.
My mind was hooked; if I could remember this one memory, perhaps I could remember more and more; and then I could release it all and heal all of this stuff.
Spoiler alert: I never remembered any details. In spite of my best efforts and no lack of fierce determination, I never remembered any more of that brief memory (or anything else of my grandfather).
In Charge of Navigating
Our minds are used to navigating the world for us. Our minds think it’s their job to figure it all out. It’s what they do.
But the truth is that healing happens at very deep levels, often having more to do with the body, the emotions, and the way the trauma imprinted on the nervous system.
Our minds like to think they run the show, but the fact is: they’re not the only player here (and maybe not even the most important one).
I never remembered this or any memory of these charges; but that didn’t stop me from fully healing and moving into total health and wellness: physically, mentally, emotionally.
When working with body-based trauma release, the good news is that not only do we not need to remember… we actually don’t need to know what caused the symptom, in order to heal the underlying pattern and change what’s happening in the body.
In the Somatic Experiencing model, we work with how trauma has imprinted the body/ mind. We track the body’s experience as our roadmap as to where and how the stored trauma needs to release. We then facilitate that release happening and give you tools to create new, healthy patterns and pathways so the old fixated responses are not continually repeating.
As a simple analogy, if you were in a car accident and rushed to the ER, the doctor doesn’t need to know details about the color of the car that hit you, or where you were driving to, or even how you felt about going there.
He/she will look at what’s happening in your body right now, to see what needs to be done.
In an SE session, the primary info that we need comes straight from the body. I’ll be tracking physiological shifts like your breathing patterns, the flush of the skin, muscular twitches and shifts, as well as having you report internal experiences such as images, sensations, or emotions that arise. Sometimes, spontaneous memories might arise as well. All of this info gives us a picture of the patterns happening in the nervous system, beneath the surface.
And as we shift the body’s experience and the nervous system patterning into one of safety and ease, the mind is able to follow. Often, new understanding and meanings will take shape, as the nervous system re-organizes the input that was too much to make sense of in the moment.
Paradox and Healing
Our minds want to play detective, hunting endlessly for the solution. And yet the funny paradox is that if we can begin to create more safety and space in our nervous systems, we’ll often find our way into the answers.
Our nervous systems have a seemingly mystical way of drawing situations to us that they want to complete or heal. For example: that same relationship drama that keeps showing up, with one partner after another. How do we keep “magically” attracting the same thing? From a nervous system healing perspective, that pattern about receiving love that we formed very young is seeking resolution. And so we have a way of drawing to ourselves the very situation that is needed in order to heal the thing.
In other words… no need to go hunting for it. It will come to you 😉
Frequently, this opportunity/ demand for healing comes when we’re in the throes of an uplevel; shifting gears into a new way of being. The new frequency we’re living at no longer supports the unhealthy patterns in the body formed in the past – and so they rise to the surface to get our attention and be healed.
One of the most important things we can do to facilitate this is create safety in our nervous systems. When we create more space and safety, we create the capacity for the deep healing that our systems are searching for.
So the answer to, “Do I have to remember the trauma in order to heal?” is no… rather than trying to move into the trauma, what you do want to do is create safety, space, capacity, and comfort in your body/ mind.
And while it’s possible that memories may arise (and sometimes that’s helpful, to re-organize the energy of the past), any re-visiting can always be done in a way that is gentle, safe, and not overwhelming to your system. When the nervous system has an experience of touching into the past in small, titrated bits from a space of grounded connection and safety, then we are able re-process the internal experience into something “uncomfortable-but-manageable” rather than intense and overwhelming.
Allow yourself to be more and more present in the moment: safe and connected. Feel your body, your environment, and find your way into feeling all the safety and goodness that exists. And as you create more capacity for safety, you will create space that will allow the healing and resolution that wants to happen.
You can also check out my free training on Nervous System Healing here.