We cannot heal what we cannot feel – trauma memories

“We can’t heal what we can’t feel.”

This quote comes from John Bradshaw. He specialises in inner child work and he writes some interesting things. I use aspects of his approach, but not all of it. When I decided to write a blog on this quote, I hesitated. I am not sure I agree with it, not completely. Let me explain.

For most people, they never stop ‘feeling’ their trauma. Trauma memories are stored in the body and the body does not lie. When I say the memory is stored in the body, I am referring to the sensations you felt during the trauma. For example, you may have been in a dangerous situation and felt your heart racing, your chest feeling tight and the feeling that your stomach was falling. You may have felt a sense of great danger and felt very agitated. That is the memory you will recall, often when something that triggers the original memory happens. You won’t know why you are feeling that way. You will just know you have that feeling.

It is true that we often do not understand what we feel is a trauma memory. Often people with trauma histories block the sensations in the body so they cannot feel them. For this reason a lot of people spend all their time in their heads and feeling anything in the body is taboo.

This is where you cannot heal what you cannot feel comes in. We need to resolve the memories stored in our bodies. They cause us to react to events in ways we are not happy about. They cause us to feel pain, to become ill, to be rendered immobile. They cause us to feel scared, or angry, or agitated or panicky when we don’t understand why. They even cause us to feel shame. If we cannot allow ourselves to feel what our bodies have stored and to allow access to them then we cannot heal them. If we don’t heal those memories they will not go away and we cannot repress them. So if we want to stop feeling them, we need to heal them.

That type of feeling is essential to feel. Of course, that feeling should only be addressed in therapy after your counsellor has spent time teaching you how to be safe accessing those body memories.

Accessing body memories is something you need to do under safe conditions. What you don’t need to do is remember what those memories are about. If you have forgotten the event, or only have flashes of memory about it there is a good reason your brain did not record the information in a way you can access. If you want to remember the memory and can, and you are in a safe place to do that, then you can do that. But it is not necessary to ‘remember’ the events. It is enough to visit and heal what your body has remembered without all the details.

Remember it is essential to be in a safe place to access those body memories. The experiences they record were terrifying and traumatising and accessing those memories will bring those feelings back. It is essential you do this work with a properly trained counsellor who knows what they are doing. Ask the counsellor you wish to visit what their qualifications are. When people ask me I don’t detail every training course I have attended, I have been to so many I could go on for hours. What I do is tell the person is that I have a Bachelor and Masters degree in Counselling. This which means I have counselling qualifications that qualify me to counsel people, but that does not qualify me to work with trauma. (Likewise a Psychology Degree or a Social Work Degree does not qualify someone to work with trauma). I then tell the person I have attended Blue Knot Foundation training in working with trauma and working with their trauma guidelines. I have also attended training with internationally renowned trauma specialists and I may tell the person the types of training, if that is information they are seeking. This is the information you need to hear from your counsellor to know they are qualified to work with trauma without harming you. Be very careful to choose the right counsellor. An unqualified person could be dangerous for you.

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