Your body holds your story.
Did you know this?
When I say this, you may be thinking about the scar you have from a tumble when you were little, or the permanent indent on your eyebrow from that piercing that never quite healed. I am actually referring to something beyond the external look of the body. I am referring to the idea that the cells, bones, nerves and muscles of your body are sacred houses to your personal history.
Well, all of the details on how this happens can get quite complicated. The super basic gist is that your body is the vehicle through which you experience the world. All of the senses of your body- sight, smell, taste, touch, sound, proprioception- are encoded as part of your memories along with felt body sensations and movements. Because of this, your memories are less like a two dimensional painting and more like a live action sequence. We can even take it up a notch! You see, because the memory center of the brain is linked with the area of the brain connected to your current bodily processes, at any given time, those memories can be roused by stimulus happening in our current life.
For example, it is autumn now. There are moments in this season when I walk outside, feel a specific crispness in the air, and all of the sudden feel as though I should have a field hockey stick in my hand. Wierd? Kind of. You see, I spent years playing field hockey in the fall, so when I feel that ¨crispness¨ in the air in my current life, as it is registered for me, it automatically gets linked with memories of playing field hockey in that particular kind of weather. I also typically then recall some fond memories of those times, and it colors my overall view of autumn weather with a pleasant association.
Unfortunately, this means that our current life can also awaken some not so pleasant memories from our past, and lead us to react in ways that are colored by our previous experiences.
For example, let´s say that you recently raked your lawn, but the wind accidentally blew the leaves into your neighbor's yard. The neighbor sees them and starts loudly reprimanding you in a very rude manner. In your head, you want to assert yourself, but you find yourself frozen and unable to speak. You may even feel younger or childlike. After the incident is over, you may be at risk for criticizing yourself for not saying more, or reviewing in your head what you ¨wish¨ you were able to do in that moment. It is likely that in those moments, your present experience and your past were in co-existence. Something about the neighbor, whether it be the person´s aggressive manner, tone of voice or even gestural movements ¨woke up¨ a similar past experience (perhaps being reprimanded by a strict teacher as a child), and with this your body was programmed to react in the same manner as it did in the past.
If you find yourself reacting in situations in a manner that feels out of your control, it is likely because your body has shifted into a sort of ¨autopilot¨ based on your past experiences. In these situations, your brain literally shifts into a different state that actually makes it very difficult for you to have control over the manner in which you choose to respond to the situation. The good news is that you are not ¨weak¨ or ¨stupid¨ or ¨bad¨ for not being able to respond the way you want to respond. The tougher news is that in order to feel as though you have choice in those situations, you need to help the body learn a new way of responding, which could take some help.
Helping your Body Learn New Ways of Responding
Many people are hesitant to acknowledge their past, and thus, move through the world with the mindset of ¨leave the past in the past.¨ I am writing to tell you today that this is not possible to do. The more you ignore your past, the bigger the job of your body to hold it for you, and thus, the more connected to your past your body remains. This creates a disconnect between your head and your body. If you have the courage to acknowledge the impact of your past, then the memories that your body holds will have less intensity to them, and the more room it will have to be in the present moment.
You may need help! This is a CORE function of many mental health professionals and healers. We are trained to help you understand how your past impacts your current life, and then to help you shift it. We exist because this can be a tough challenge! Please do not be discouraged if this seems daunting. The mere step of starting to be aware of moments when your past may be coexisting with your present is a HUGE STEP, and it will really help you make sense of your life in different way. To me it is a beautiful thing that our bodies hold our stories for us. If we allow ourselves to be open to moving through our story, we can exist in a manner that is both free and also appreciative of all of the experiences that helped shape who we are today. This is a profound journey that ends with feeling at peace with yourself, with your past, with your present and trusting in your future.
Taken to an extreme, having your past memories be activated by your present experience is one of the fundamental struggles involved in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a current stimulus triggers a past event that was so intense that it has not been able to be integrated into all parts of the brain, and the result is that you lose touch with present reality and feel as though you are completely (or almost completely) re-experiencing a past event. A common example of PTSD would be the struggle of many returning veterans from war. Perhaps a soldier has returned, and she is walking down the street when she hears an airplane overhead. In that moment, the sound of the airplane triggers unresolved traumatic memories of needing to run for cover out of fear that she is getting bombed. With PTSD, she would literally lose touch with her current reality and feel as though she is back in a foreign country, and she would physically take cover the same way she did in the past. She may find herself in a bush a few minutes later and be confused as to how and why she is in a bush. There is a continuum of experiences and symptoms involved with PTSD, but a central experience is that the past to a large extent takes over your current reality. If you think that you or a loved one could be suffering from this, help is certainly needed in order to heal. Please reach out to me, and we can figure out a way to move forward (whether it be through working with me or utilizing other resources).