Do you ever have to think about how to brush your teeth in the morning or how to tie your shoes before you leave for school or work? I’m guessing no. This is because over the course of your life you have been doing these activities so often they have become part of your procedural memory –they happen automatically. Just like the language you speak and riding a bike your brain is wired to just “know.”
Our body posture, how we carry ourselves, the way we hold tension, and how we communicate nonverbally are also procedural memories. The patterns of our early childhood experiences and the messages we received have influenced our body to adapt to those environments. For example, someone who grows up in a family where achievement and trying hard are valued may tense up often in preparation to work harder or they find the extra energy to keep going and ignore body signals like tiredness and hunger.
When repeated over the course of childhood, these patterns can become habits in adulthood. Our body has the intuition to guess that the future is going to be the same as the past. This also includes the beliefs we hold about ourselves and in relation to others such as “I’m only as good as the university that accepts me” or “the more hours I put in the more I am valued.”
Sometimes what has worked before to gain the approval of those who cared for us becomes maladaptive for the present. Going back to the example before, a person who is consumed by their work may have a low immune system, resist asking for help or have a hard time being emotionally available in relationships. This can manifest into issues like depression, anxiety and relationship breakdown that often get presented in therapy.
By tuning into our bodies, we can start to attend to those patterns of being and relating that are not useful today as they were back then. Just like we can learn to play a new instrument in adulthood with lots of practice and persistence we can also change old procedural memories to become more adaptive to our lives now.
Therapy interventions like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org) developed by Pat Ogden and EMDR Therapy (http://www.emdr.com/) developed by Francine Shapiro are two types of evidenced based approached that integrate both the body experience with thoughts and emotions for sustainable change. These approaches are both available at SACAC Counselling.
MA Clinical Social Work
Licensed Clinical Social Worker