Article: The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress


This is an excellent, straight-forward article on PSTD and the psychobiology of memory by Bessel van der Kolk, MD of Harvard Medical School.

In my recovery, I have found it necessary to look at my condition and the causes of it from many perspectives. Understanding the mechanics of PTSD, how it affects brain, mind and body, has been especially helpful.  This article helps to clarify the effects and relate them to memory.

Memory is a core challenge in Complex PTSD… how memories surface, what triggers them, the responses they cause, whether they are accessible or not, how they fit into our life’s narrative and how they affect our self image… the connection of memory to C-PTSD is unbreakable.

Recovery does give us better control over how we cope with memories and our reactions to them, but it does not (and perhaps should not) erase them.  One interesting point that I take from this article is that “emotional memories last forever”.  Accepting this in my recovery means that I can move past the longing to erase these things from my head.  Accepting it also means I must take steps to deal with the permanence of my emotional memory.

If I take the position that my emotional memories are most often situational, meaning that certain situations or environments trigger them, then I can have a plan to deal with those triggering situations.  I can avoid them or I can have a method to manage my feelings and reactions when faced with triggers.  My trigger inventory helps me focus pragmatically on the method.  It makes me feel more empowered.

One last point to take from this article, which is not explicitly stated.  I found hope in this… a practical sort of hope.  Understanding the normal, natural functions of psychobiological trauma response and how memory is involved changed my perspective.

I used to think that the loss of certain memories, the uncertainty of not being able to fully, consciously recall all of the traumas of my childhood, was a tragic theft from my mind.  Now I see it as something precious, something that biology saw fit to consider…. some things should not be fully present in our minds to torture us, but should be possible in our awareness and responses to protect us.

http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/class/psy394U/Bower/03%20Emot,%20Trauma,Mem/Body%20keeps%20the%20score.%20Kolk%20.pdf

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4 thoughts on “Article: The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress

  1. Thank you, Kimberly, for drawing our attention to this wonderful article! Bessel van der Kolk is a fav of mine. I read this a few years ago, and I will read it again. It’s a timely article for me because, as you know, I’m starting EMDR. Yesterday, my therapist said that she would be asking me about somatic sensations a lot more often in this part of my therapy. Makes good sense when you consider the information in this article and the workings of EMDR! Thanks for all you do, Kimberly. . . Jean

  2. My husband is a massage therapist, and one of the things he is planning to learn is somato-emotional release. It’s an advance craniosacral technique whose function is to work on the trauma that is trapped in the body. It’s a very gentle technique that helps to release what John Upledger calls energy cysts and will the release suppressed emotions there. I really can’t wait for him to learn.

    It’s my personal opinion that while there is some help to be had through ‘talk therapy’, what really needs to be incorporated is some therapy for the body as well. There are some things that words just can’t reach. And, I know, from my own experiences with my therapist, that I have this tendency to intellectually process things, but not emotionally process them. I wouldn’t say this rendered my therapy useless, just not as effective as it could have been.

    Additionally, not only to we need a safe place to discuss our trauma, but we need to relearn how to receive safe, nurturing touch as well.

    Thanks for the article.

    Best wishes.

    Casey

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