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Do I Have to Remember the Trauma in Order to Heal?

Guest post by Rachel Hardy

A common question I hear from clients goes something like this: “I think I’ve been affected by trauma, and that it’s affected my body/ health/ emotional well being… but I don’t know which trauma caused this so I don’t know where to start to try to release and heal it. Do I have to remember the trauma in order to heal?

On a similar note, I’ll often hear, “How can I release this trauma if I don’t remember what happened?”

It’s an understandable assumption. But it leaves out some key facts about how our bodies and minds heal.

The Mind as Detective… A Personal Story

I was around 19 when my mom told me that she thought I had “probably” been sexually abused by my grandfather when I was very young.

I was a teenager struggling with severe depression along with mysterious chronic illness and body symptoms. I was already in the throes of therapy and healing work, and acutely aware of the body-mind connection. So, my mind latched on to this piece of “probable” info like a dog on a bone.

If that had really happened to me, would it explain the struggle I experienced getting through each day? Would it explain the chaos in my body, the mysterious health symptoms, the bizarre world I was navigating in my mind?

With this news, I also had a flashback to a singular memory involving my grandfather. I was about four years old, and I was at his house, and I was walking away from him. My mom was over on the other side of the room. And I clearly heard my mom say, “Dad, no – that’s not appropriate.”

And… that was all. The memory started and stopped there. Nothing else except the strong scent of cigarettes and the brown and yellow color palette of a California home in the 70’s.

Trying to Remember

With that memory snippet, I started to ponder and then to obsess: if I could remember what happened, would that heal things for me?

I tried to rewind, to replay. What had happened just before that moment? Why couldn’t I remember? My mind worked fervently, determined to play backwards from that teeny bit that I had. I was studying neurolinguistic programming (NLP) at the time, so I began exploring various techniques to see if I could trigger a recall of the memory.

My mind was hooked. If I could remember this one memory, perhaps I could remember others, too. And then I could release them and heal all of this stuff.

Spoiler alert: I never remembered any other details. In spite of my best efforts and fierce determination, I never remembered any more of that brief memory (or anything else related to my grandfather). 

We Don’t Need to Know What Caused the Symptom

Our minds are used to navigating the world for us. Our minds think it’s their job to figure things out. It’s just what they do.

But the truth is that healing happens at very deep levels. These levels often have more to do with the body, the emotions, and the way trauma was imprinted on the nervous system.

Our minds like to think they run the show. But the fact is, they’re not the only player in this process (and maybe not even the most important one).

I never remembered any memories related to these charges. However, that didn’t stop me from fully healing and moving into total health and wellness: physically, mentally, emotionally.

When working with body-based trauma release, the good news is that we don’t need to remember.

In fact, we don’t need to know what caused the symptom in order to heal the underlying pattern and change what’s happening in the body.

Somatic Experiencing

In the Somatic Experiencing model, we work with how trauma has imprinted in the body and mind. We track the body’s experience as our roadmap as to where and how the stored trauma needs to release. We then facilitate that release and give you tools to create new, healthy patterns and pathways so the old fixated responses are not continually repeating.

Let me give a simple analogy. If you’re in a car accident and rushed to the ER, the doctor doesn’t need to know any details about the color of the car that hit you, or where you were driving to, or how you felt about going there.

The doctor will look at what’s happening in your body right now, to see what needs to be done.

In an SE session, the primary info that we need comes straight from the body. I track physiological shifts – like your breathing patterns, the flush of the skin, muscular twitches and shifts – and ask you to report internal experiences such as images, sensations, or emotions that arise. Sometimes, spontaneous memories might arise as well.

All of this info gives us a picture of the patterns happening in the nervous system, beneath the surface.

As we shift the body’s experience and the nervous system patterning into one of safety and ease, the mind is able to follow. Often, new understanding and meanings will take shape, as the nervous system re-organizes the input that was too much to make sense of in the moment.

Paradox and Healing

Our minds want to play detective, hunting endlessly for the solution. And yet the funny paradox is that if we can begin to create more safety and space in our nervous systems, we’ll often find our way into the answers.

Our nervous systems have a seemingly mystical way of drawing situations to us that they want to complete or heal.

For example: that same relationship drama that keeps showing up, with one partner after another. How do we keep “magically” attracting the same person/situation? From a nervous system healing perspective, that pattern about receiving love that we formed very young is seeking resolution. And so we have a way of drawing to ourselves the very situation that is needed in order to heal the thing. 

In other words… no need to go hunting for it. It will come to you.

Frequently, this opportunity (or demand) for healing comes when we’re in the throes of an uplevel; shifting gears into a new way of being. The new frequency we’re living at no longer supports the unhealthy patterns in the body formed in the past, so they rise to the surface to get our attention and be healed.

One of the most important things we can do to facilitate this is to create safety in our nervous systems. When we create more space and safety, we create the capacity for the deep healing that our systems are searching for.

Creating Safety & Space

So, the answer to “Do I have to remember the trauma in order to heal?” is no. Rather than trying to move into the trauma, what you do want to do is create safety, space, capacity, and comfort in your body/mind. 

And while it’s possible that memories may arise (sometimes that’s helpful, to re-organize the energy of the past), any re-visiting can be done in a way that is gentle, safe, and not overwhelming to your system.

When the nervous system has an experience of touching into the past in small, titrated bits from a space of grounded connection and safety, then we are able to re-process the internal experience into something “uncomfortable-but-manageable” rather than too intense and overwhelming.

Allow yourself to be more and more present in the moment, feeling safe and connected. Feel your body, your environment, and find your way into feeling all of the safety and goodness that exist around you. As you create more capacity for safety, you will create space for healing and resolution to happen.

AUTHOR BIO: Rachel Hardy’s work draws from Somatic Experiencing, NLP, energy work, mindfulness practices, current neurophysiological research, and her own experience of 20 years in the body-mind wellness field. She works with creatives, healers, and spiritual teachers who want to release upper limits and move into greater embodiment and flow in their work, so they can bring their deepest and most powerful gifts to the world. Rachel also work with folks who are looking to fully release chronic tension patterns or who are on the path of healing from chronic illness (such as autoimmune conditions or adrenal fatigue).

You can explore Rachel’s free training on Nervous System Healing here.

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2 thoughts on “Do I Have to Remember the Trauma in Order to Heal?”

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