Body-Memories, or "Somatic" Memories

What are "body-memories"?

According to Bessel A. Van der Kolk, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, Jan. 1994, "Ever since people's responses to overwhelming experiences have been systematically explored, researchers have noted that a trauma is stored in somatic memory and expressed as changes in the biological stress response."

What does this mean?

Well, it means that sexual abuse is a traumatic experience and that the memory of it can be stored in your physical body. This can be true even if you have no conscious recollection of the abuse.

Some physical symptoms or body-memories that women exhibit are:

painful sexual intercourse


chronic pelvic pain

frequent headaches


TMJ (possibly from past oral sexual abuse)


gynecological disorders etc.

Dr. Edward Walker, MD of the University of Washington, published an article in Jan., 1988 in the American Journal of Psychiatry which explored the relationship between chronic pelvic pain and child sexual abuse.

Basically, the article showed that out of 55 women undergoing exploratory laparoscopies for specific pathologies, 25 with chronic pelvic pain had similiar types and levels of pathologies as the 30 women in a control group who did not have chronic pain., however, they had doubled the incidence of remembered sexual abuse in their histories (64% as opposed to 23% for the control group) and higher rate of sexual dysfunction and depression.

Heller and Heller (2001) believe that when the "trauma energy" from abuse can not be "released", it is then "converted into symptoms."

I, personally, have known women who have had countless gynecological procedures performed in search of the cause for their pain, or body-memories, and finally ended up with hysterectomies without finding an underlying physical cause.

Unfortunately, many times, even after the hysterectomy, the pain, or body-memories, remained. Especially if they were not actively in recovery or denying their own sexual abuse.

What Does This Mean For You?

First of all, remember that the pain is REAL! You are NOT crazy!!

Sometimes the doctors are not the most understanding about this! I am a migraine sufferer and I KNOW that the pain is REAL! I know that it is probably partly body-memory and partly genetic because I started getting them in Jr. High after my first abuse. I am going to write a book someday about how you get treated in the emergency room if you have a migraine headache. Not much empathy there! Especially when you feel like your head is going to explode.. but that is another story! Actually, I am writing the book and I would love any input from you and your stories. I am sure that you all have some horror stories of your own! Sad but true, huh?

Anyway. back to, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY! It is true!

Something else that I know to be true of myself and of my friends that are also recovering from sexual abuse, is that when you are beginning recovery or at a point when you are dealing with difficult stuff, your body tenses up and protects you in a way.

If you decide to get a body massage at that time, don't be surprised if you end up sobbing on the table. The reason for that is by loosening up your muscles, you are, in a sense, weakening your defenses.

I have intentially went to get a massage when I was working on an issue and I needed to cry. I knew that I was holding stuff inside of me and it needed to come out. It works every time for me and for many other women.

Many women use this as a type of therapy for themselves now...or as an adjunct to their therapy. It is certainly something to consider and it is good for you and your body.

I hope this helps to alleviate some of your anxiety about your pain, if you have it, and to understand it's source.

If you have chronic pelvic pain with no known cause, and you don't know if you were sexually abused, it might be something to consider. I would first rule out all medical possibilities before jumping to any conclusions. After that, I would find a therapist and try to explore some memories or hypnosis to see just what is inside.

I do believe that the further you get in therapy, the better the physical symptoms can become, at least I know some women that has been the case.

For me, I still get migraines, though not nearly as often. I must say though, I do have a family history of them etc. So you have to also take that into consideration with your physical symptoms and get them thoroughly checked out medically!

I, too, had a hysterectomy. No more pain there! No other physical complaints I can think of.

I hope that this page has answered some questions for you and has been helpful. If you would like to know more on the subject, let me know per email and I will post more information.

Blessings to you all my sisters!

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