Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Reader's Question Regarding Emotional Memory
Monday January 07, 2008

Dear Alice --

I have been in therapy for about six months and have read several of your books, including Drama and The Truth Will Set You Free. Both have been very helpful. Thank you.

I am helped particularly by the notion that the "emotional knowledge of the body" is how you describe the unconscious, and I am wondering if some of the physical sensations I have been awakening to might be some sort of corporal "recall" that reflects my childhood traumas in some way.

Specifically, recently I have become aware of interesting sensations in my forearms, not really a tingling, but more like a phantom feeling of some kind, and they are especially noticeable when I am feeling guilty about something or another. If you clench both your fists right now, and feel that tightness in your forearm muscles, you'll know just what (and where in my arms) I am talking about: But for me, this feeling surfaces

Babies clench their fists all the time, and they do it especially hard when they are crying or upset about something. My suspiscion is that these tinglings or phantom feelings might be manifestations of unconscious memories stored in my body. Not sure how else to describe them, but hoping you get the general idea.

At first some doctors I spoke with thought I might be doing something odd in my sleep, or perhaps I was experiencing the onset of carpal tunnel disease. However, neither of these explanations proved true. So now, my therapist believes, as do I, that these sensations could be a vestige of some painful, traumatic experience or period in my early life. After reading your books, I believe even more that this is might be the case. So I thought I would just ask you for more information about this phenomenon.

On page 119 of my copy of Truth, you wrote, "I had been so effectively taught to obey when I was still a baby that the only memories I have of this chastisement are implicit body memories as opposed to explicit conscious memories." That statement makes me wonder if what I am experiencing could also be much the same thing -- an implicit body memory. Granted what I am describing is more of a physical sensation, not emotional in and of itself. But because if often manifests itself coincident with guilt feelings, I wonder whether this could be a possible explanation.

If you can answer soon I would appreciate it, and also, if you have other reading you might recommend or direct me to about this interesting phenomenon, I think further study would help me.

Thanks for your work. Your thoughtful books have helped me a lot..

Warm regards, J. S.

AM: You are certainly right if you look for the keys in your actual feelings, in this case of feeling guilty. There are mothers who scream at a baby, often shaking him and holding his arms when blaming him of being nasty. Why nasty? Just because he cried, perhaps he felt uncomfortable. Instead of looking for the actual reason for his crying, they punish him. Does it make sense to you that your body tries to tell you a story like that using your forearms? I can't know it for sure, you did not tell us at all how your mother "cared" for you.

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