Body Memories: The Monsters Inside, Knocking at the Door

 “Sometimes the mind, for reasons we don’t necessarily understand,

 just decides to go to the store for a quart of milk”

 —Northern Exposure

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.

Food Triggers

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.

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23 Responses to Body Memories: The Monsters Inside, Knocking at the Door

  1. little nel says:

    “I tried to make it sound so much better than it really was; God knows I really DID try.”

    When I was dependent on my parents for my needs, I had to validate them by making things sound better than it really was also. I was made to think that it was my “debt” and “obligation” to do so.

    Any child who refused to do those things was a “good for nothing” and “ungrateful kid”, who didn’t deserve a “wonderful mother” like mine.

    When I left home, I shed those lies, but I still felt guilt for abandoning my “role” in the family drama. It was a dilemma that caused great confusion for me.

    • Why Not? says:

      “but I still felt guilt for abandoning my “role” in the family drama. It was a dilemma that caused great confusion for me.”

      Yesterday, my therapist gave me the most comprehensive explanations I have EVER heard about how severe abuse emotionally plays itself out in a myriad of ways in adulthood – of course, extreme “guilt” being one.

      I wish I had a recording of everything that she said. She not only laid it all out there – she did it with such clarity, sprinkled with tidbits about the work she’s done in her own life – I left there feeling like I had been on an IV of reality and hope-inducing steroids. Seriously, it was powerful stuff.

  2. Why Not? says:

    Wow. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, reading this

    As a very young child, I suffered ‘inexplicable’ and full body rashes – so severe and painful, they required medical attention. After living away from my parents, they disappeared relatively quickly, on their own. Once we were back living with them, the rashes returned almost immediately. After leaving home, they disappeared, again, on their own.

    When I started incest therapy, much to my shock – and horror – I awoke one morning with my face covered in a rash – the same blistering type rash that I had suffered as a child and teen.

    Over several days the rash had spread all over my body, forcing me to go to an emergency clinic. Upon my arrival, they immediately rushed me into “triage” thinking that I had been “burned.” That’s how bad it was. I “knew” that it was all connected, somehow, to the abuse and entering the therapy. I wanted to quit, but my therapist kept saying, “It’s important to keep reminding yourself that whatever happened is not happening now.”

    The problem was, I had started remembering events and situations in my “mind” but had so little capacity to connect with my body or emotions – then or in the present. It was frustrating as hell – and I felt like some kind of freak, actually – that I could not get in touch with the feelings involved in the memories.

    Still, it has taken me several more years to even be able to begin to ‘get in touch’ with my own body, its ‘reactions’ and responses, triggered anxiety, sudden fright and ‘coping mechanisms’ -such as obsessive showering and sleeping in my clothes – that I was so disconnected from – or that I had learned to “manage” in more ways than I ever realized. I just lived with them – and hid them from others or made ‘plausible’ excuses for them.

    The obsessive showering and sleeping in clothes I have came to understand, and been able to get some control over, thank god.

    But – I, too, have a weird “relationship” with food, that others have noticed and mentioned – and that I have just ignored. Not long ago someone suddenly asked me if I “had ever had food poisoning” – to which I replied “Yes!” without even thinking about the question.

    Then, I asked why she asked to which she replied to my shock, “Since I’ve known you (26 years,) you seem obsessed about food being bad or somehow tainted.” She was right. My innermost thoughts about food are that, “For some weird reason, I simply don’t like food, it isn’t my friend.”

    Good grief. I never thought there could be a connection, until today. In fact, I realize I have GOT TO go deeper with my awareness now – about many things.

    • little nel says:

      Hi Why Not?

      It’s really scary when we recall things that make us react physically. I can relate.

      Funny, I had never thought of my food preferences as attached to abuse. I thought that I was just being careful about the preparations and content.

      I also used to sleep in my clothes most of the time, so that I could run away quickly and not have to worry about getting dressed as I fled the unknown danger that I was expecting in the night as I slept.

      • Alethea says:

        I used to take baths with a shirt on.

      • Why Not? says:

        “Funny, I had never thought of my food preferences as attached to abuse. I thought that I was just being careful about the preparations and content.”

        That, “I thought I was just being careful…” part, resonated with me, big time, little nel.

        This whole post has helped me to see that there are other layers of compensating, including proclaiming certain traits (being “overly conscientious” about food) that even I have thought strange and annoyingly wasteful. I had no clue how to look at that (consider other factors that may be driving some of it.)

        I, like you and Alethea, am pretty informed about GMO, etc., – frankenfoods – that are being pushed upon us now. But, this is different – I’ve “known” at some level that something isn’t quite right about my relationship with foods.

        First clue I’ve been able to identify is that it’s inconsistent in intensity – more “fluid,” if you will, depending on how comfortable I’m feeling at the time.

        • Alethea says:

          Why Not, it’s so awesome that you are willing to examine your relationship with food. Good for you for wanting to be honest with yourself.

    • Alethea says:

      Your rashes and issues with food speak volumes. I too have experienced obsessive compulsive issues with food being bad or tainted. I used to be really wasteful because of it. I have healed a lot of that, but I am careful in the times we live becasue of all the GMOs, hormones, anti-biotics, and pesticides in food. Now my issues with food are very grounded in what is being done to our food supply, whereas, before, my issues were psychological.

      • little nel says:

        I don’t want to admit that I can relate. I am laughing at myself for feeling defensive about things that are “normal” for people with unprocessed trauma like me.

        • Why Not? says:

          Ok, little nel, here’s one for you: I’m now laughing myself, because I can relate to your laughing at yourself “for feeling defensive about things that are “normal” (for people like us…. High-Five!) 😀

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great article. Extreme physical response to a movie was my first clue that I might have been abused. That was 30 years ago.
    Little Nell, one time my sister in law saw a picture of me, my brother and sister as children. She commented on how cute and happy we looked, and ” it couldn’t have been that bad”. Ha! My passionate response to the contrary surprised everyone, no doubt.

  4. little nel says:

    “When the child inside is without a voice, the survivors body is forced to become an outlet for the emotions connected to the suffering.”

    A voiceless child who suffered unreasonable is what was triggered by the descriptions of me in the film.

  5. little nel says:

    Great post, Alethea!

    This is relevant to what I am experiencing currently.

    Someone in my family has produced a CD that contains old films of me in childhood. When my daughter described how happy I was chasing the geese in the film, I went into a panic attack and became hysterical.

    I had nightmares that night. I have been experiencing horrible pain and depression. I can’t stop crying.

    What is wrong with me?

    • Alethea says:

      You will need to go inside yourself in therapy to find the cause. It could be any number of things that your subconscious was reminded of… but don’t discount the fact that your daughter’s comment makes it sound like, “see, whatever you went through in childhood was no big deal, you don’t look like you were suffering.” Nothing against your daughter, but it was a form of denial/minimization.

      • little nel says:

        “see whatever you went through in child hood was no big deal, you don’t look like you were suffering.”

        Yes, my daughter’s comment was a form of denial/minimization. I know that I reacted to her denial with anger and pain.

        • Alethea says:

          and the only reason I brought it up is because I know your history with your family member’s denial and minimization…it was not to speak poorly of your daughter.

          • Why Not? says:

            I recently had someone tell me, “Your mother was such a hoot” and “how much she loved her.”

            She was a hoot (at times) and I “loved her” too (she was my mother.) Nevertheless, when I got off the phone, I got so angry and then I broke down and cried…. I felt so “betrayed” that she could never, ever understand how much my mother had hurt me.

            Yet, that’s such progress for me to not only be able to actually get angry, cry and say the words, “My mother hurt me” – but to realize that “I felt betrayed” by someone who couldn’t possibly know what I had gone through with her. That’s new.

          • little nel says:

            I know that you were not passing judgement on my daughter, but speaking from experience and knowledge of the family dysfunction and how it works.

            I had nightmares that night and in the morning I remembered seeing my father kick my brother, who was a toddler at the time, across the living room for no reason. He chuckled to himself at seeing my little brother cry out in pain. That recalled memory set in motion more tears.

            My daughter felt bad that she triggered something in me. I told her that it was not her fault. She said that she didn’t understand my issues because she was never abused and has happy memories growing up.

            • Alethea says:

              It’s a tricky thing Little Nel. I have people in my life who cannot relate to me at all, and are shocked at the topic of incest and parents who want to kill their children. It’s as if they are saying (and sometimes do say it) …”Now why did you have to go and tell me that!” Living in a bubble of happy childhood memories is not good for anyone. Experiencing and carrying happy childhood memories into adulthood is awesome, but at the same time, all human beings needs to come out of their comfort zone and learn about the suffering of others. They don’t have to feel it, just be willing to come of out of denial and educate themselves to some degree.

              We all want to ‘feel good’ all the time. Feelsgoodism is not healthy and the human soul rarely grows or transforms in the midst of pleasure and nice experiences.

              • Why Not? says:

                It’s as if they are saying (and sometimes do say it) …”Now why did you have to go and tell me that!”

                Oh wow, is that familiar. I wish the majority of my childhood memories were “good enough.” I tried to make it all sound so much better than it really was; God knows I really DID try.

  6. kevin F. says:

    Thanks, Alethea. Great article.

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