"The Body Keeps the Score" is a book by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk that explores the ways in which trauma can be stored in the body. The title refers to the idea that the body is not simply a passive vessel for traumatic experiences, but rather an active participant in the experience and processing of trauma.
One of the primary ways that the body "keeps the score" is through the formation of physical and emotional memories. When we experience trauma, our bodies respond with a range of physical sensations and emotional reactions, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, fear, and anxiety. These sensations and emotions become encoded in the body's nervous system, creating a kind of memory of the traumatic event.
This type of memory is often referred to as somatic memory. It can be triggered by a range of sensory experiences associated with the traumatic event, such as sights, sounds, or smells. When these memories are triggered, the body can respond with a range of physical and emotional reactions, even if the person is not consciously aware of the connection to the traumatic event.
Another way the body "keeps the score" is through brain and nervous system changes. Trauma can cause changes in the way that the brain processes and response to stress, making it more difficult for people who have experienced trauma to regulate their emotions and manage stress. These changes can also affect the body's stress response system, leading to chronic stress and other health problems.
The idea that "the body keeps the score" highlights the importance of understanding the ways in which trauma can be stored in the body and the need to address both the physical and emotional aspects of trauma in the healing process. By working with the body and its physical and emotional reactions to trauma, individuals can begin to process and release the effects of trauma and move forward in their healing journey.
Trauma can be stored in the body in a number of ways. One of the primary mechanisms through which this occurs is the activation of the body's stress response system, also known as the "fight-or-flight" response.
When we experience trauma, our bodies respond by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to respond to a perceived threat. This response can cause physical changes in the body, such as increased heart rate and breathing, tensed muscles, and changes in blood flow to different parts of the body.
If the trauma is severe or prolonged, these physical changes can become ingrained in the body's nervous system and become chronic. This can lead to a state of hyperarousal, where the body remains in a constant state of alertness, even when there is no immediate threat present. This can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, and difficulty sleeping.
Trauma can also be stored in the body through the formation of somatic memories. Somatic memories are memories that are stored in the body rather than in the brain. These memories can be triggered by sensory experiences, such as sights, sounds, or smells, that are associated with the traumatic event. When these memories are triggered, the body can respond with physical symptoms, such as pain, tension, or other sensations.
Additionally, trauma can affect the way that we hold ourselves and move our bodies. For example, people who have experienced trauma may hold their bodies in a defensive posture, with shoulders hunched and muscles tense. They may also avoid certain movements or activities that are associated with the traumatic event.
So to summarise, trauma can be stored in the body in complex ways, involving the activation of the stress response system, the formation of somatic memories, and changes in posture and movement patterns. Therapy and other forms of trauma healing can help to release and process these physical manifestations of trauma, allowing individuals to move forward in their healing journey.