“Sometimes the mind, for reasons we don’t necessarily understand,
just decides to go to the store for a quart of milk”
A multitude of child abuse survivors will experience physical symptoms they cannot explain. This is true, even if the person has not yet remembered their childhood abuse.
When the child inside is without a voice, the survivor’s body is forced to become an outlet for the emotions connected to the suffering. The physical symptoms are, in a very real sense, memories which are not yet ready to be faced or ones that have not been completely dealt with. The body is remembering, and it is crying out to be relieved of the monsters locked inside.
These physical sensations are sometimes characterized as “body memories,” which is actually an excellent description of what they are.
Scientific research is now proving the mind/body connection, and in instances of child sexual abuse and trauma, it is the subconscious mind that is creating the physical reaction. Whereas, known stresses coming from the conscious mind, usually cause what doctors will treat as stress-induced physical complaints.
Trauma and sexual abuse-induced body memories can be frightening and incapacitating. For this reason, many survivors deliberately avoid objects or people that remind them of the past. Many abuse survivors are aware that any little thing can trigger a body memory (or anxiety, panic attacks etc.). It can be a song, a scene in a film, a certain design and color of a man’s shirt, a particular person, a statue, a hairbrush, a particular color of carpeting, a painting, or any given object, person or place.
However, triggers cannot truly be avoided because the most uncomfortable physical symptoms often flare up when a previous victim of sexual abuse encounters unforeseeable or unknown subconscious cues to the past. It is these unidentified triggers which are usually the most powerful and the most persistent.
Over time, a person can come to understand certain cues, but often the source is masked. Some of the things which set the past in motion again are obvious triggers like egg whites, mayonnaise, bathrooms, and phallic symbols. But, triggers can be anything and everything. Although there are a number of very common triggers for the subconscious, many triggers are so obscure that deep hypnotherapy is required in order to rectify the somatic memory.
Body memories can be particularly strong at night and can even wake a person out of a deep sleep. This is because the molestation and rapes often happened in the child’s bed after everyone else in the house had retired for the night. During sleep is also when the subconscious mind is the most powerful.
Physical sensations can also commonly attack a person when they get up to use the bathroom at night, or body memories might be felt in a dream that awakens the person. Other times, the somatic symptom is felt upon waking in the morning. The symptoms often remain until the sufferer goes to work, or begins to occupy their mind with their children or daily tasks. This is because the subconscious can sometimes become subdued when the conscious mind is overly busy.
This might partially contribute to the high number of over-achievers and “Type A” personalities found in sexual abuse victims. If they slow down, or stop trying to work so hard, and stop focusing their attention completely on work and family, then they might actually have to feel their pain and their past.
At times, the invasive physical symptoms can be connected to events or objects that existed just before the trauma occurred. The intrusive body memory is more of a brain association connected to an event which preceded the actual danger or act of abuse. This makes it difficult to understand what the exact trigger is.
Tools of communication were significant triggers for me because of the threats of death by my father and because I had been smacked in the face by my mother during an attempt to use a telephone as a child.
For well over a decade, computers and telephones commonly triggered an extreme rapid heart rate or diarrhea in me. I was an adult, and safe, but when my subconscious saw a telephone, or when I used a computer, the little girl inside me, who was not yet healed, freaked out because she associated these objects with punishment.
The sudden discomfort or pain in my body could even be created by looking at an advertisement in a newspaper for a computer, or seeing a payphone on the street. The warning signal came when I saw or utilized any kind of device that could be used to contact other people. Yet as a child, the trauma was inflicted after I had attempted to use a telephone.
An innumerable amount of survivors will suffer a complex and maddening relationship with food. Several eating disorders are highly associated with child sexual abuse.
My experiences with food included an avoidance of bananas and a need to cut up any food that resembled a penis. Burritos commonly caused me to experience physical reactions at the sight of them or right after eating them. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets, food-related websites, grocery bags, and clipping grocery coupons used to send me into terrible physical symptoms like heavy fatigue, an urgent need to urinate, or tightness in my chest.
Looking through cupboards in the kitchen, or opening the refrigerator door would also activate various physical manifestations in me. Trying to enjoy a simple meal frequently created a stomach ache before I even took a bite of food. Other times I experienced severe mood changes as soon as the last bite was eaten, or I would go through an extreme case of hunger after meals. Nausea often came to me just before or after eating a meal.
Preceding my memory recall of the incest, and during the most difficult years of healing from the abuse, I shoveled large amounts of food in my mouth but remained hungry afterwards. I also experienced guilt before and after eating. This was connected to enjoying the sex with my father. I also experienced a terrible problem with falsely feeling full, just before making a meal, when only a few moments earlier, I was hungry.
Through the hypno-analysis therapy, I finally made the connection that the fullness was a psychological reaction to having been forced into certain sexual acts. As I began to make food, my body was rejecting the meal, even before I took a bite. The unhealed victim inside was associating food with the sexual abuse.
For years I obsessively feared someone would take my food away from me. I also became angry if my husband asked me for a bite of my food. This was connected to my need and desire to be with my father sexually.
Yet, there were times when I became enraged if someone offered me food once more, after already saying, “no thank you” to the offer. The person may just have been trying to be polite, but to my subconscious, it was as if I was being forced into a sexual act.
People who were sexually abused by a woman, might have a particularly difficult time with certain food because the general population has associated certain foods with female genitalia. Female breasts are referred to as “melons.” The vagina is often called things like “tuna fish” or a “taco.” Oral sex performed on a woman is considered “eating her out” and when a woman loses her virginity it is said she had her “cherry” popped.
Children, and subsequently, adult survivors of abuse, can easily associate food with the sexual abuse because of being forced to have things put to their mouth. For some victims, the abuse was their only form of nourishment. Sexual abuse is incredibly confusing for a child. They don’t want their bodies invaded and they prefer real love, but at the same time, they often like the affection and any physical enjoyment, so as an adult, the sexual abuse and food can be combined in the unconscious mind. Food is nourishment, love is nourishment, and sexual abuse is a sick form of nourishment for some children.
Part two will be published soon…
Warning: This article does not propose that any person should avoid seeking medical attention or a medical diagnosis for any particular physical symptom. This article is testimony of my personal experience with illness and disease. The contents or opinions in this article should never replace medical care, nor should its contents, or my experience, be used as a way for someone to heal themselves of any medical or psychological condition.
Over a period of two years, I was seen by several of the best medical doctors and specialists in my state in order to find a physiological cause for my suffering. I chose to use hypnoanalysis to heal after medical professionals told me I had chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, and then told they could not treat or cure me. That was my choice for me and my body.
If you are experiencing any kind of physical disturbances, illness, or disease, you should seek proper medical care by seeing a medical or mental health professional, before assuming the problem is psychosomatic.