Being With Traumatic Memory
Traumatic memories don’t tell time. They are trapped.
“This is an event in the past. I am grounded in this moment and witnessing how it is coming through in the present.”
Trauma is stored in our body as sensation or energy along with associated memories. We stored it in our body because we were overwhelmed at the time. When people have support to process and release the effects of a traumatic event when it happens, it moves through and leaves less of an imprint.
Traumatic memories don’t tell time. They are trapped like an insect in amber. We can process and release traumatic memory from the present moment using mindful somatic (body) inquiry. We have an aversion to this because it means revisiting what overwhelmed us in the past. It’s painful. Part of how we bring our files up to date is by realizing somatically that in this moment, we are safe.
Energies in our body are stored memories of our own experience. They are part of our history and will always influence our present. The job of our primitive brain is to remember danger so we can avoid it. It hijacks the more evolved parts of the brain. This is how we evolved and it serves us to some extent.
Our primitive brain keeps bringing up memories of past trauma in an attempt to be sure we don’t forget the danger. When we turn towards instead of turning away, we can listen and receive the whole message. We can connect with and reassure the part of us who was hurt and is no longer in danger.
Our perception of danger is unconscious. It happens in the background. We can’t tell ourselves to not be afraid or to not go into fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn to protect ourselves. That’s not how this system works.
What does work is to witness the past from a solid base of awareness in this present moment. How do we do that when traumatic memory keeps pulling us back into the past? One way is to practice welcoming strong or distressing sensations as part of knowing who we are. We genuinely want to deeply know ourselves. Even the parts that were hurt. Especially the parts that are hurt and afraid. We can realize in our whole being that we are now safe.
We do this with attuned empathy, by being with someone who is strong and present…