Looking Back to the Time Before We Can Remember
In this week’s blog I’m going to briefly discuss the question regarding early (preverbal) memories. That is memories that happened before we had words to put to the experience. Can we remember what happened to us early on? Do our early experiences affect us later in life? And if so, is there a way to heal from them?
To begin with the first question, yes. We can remember what happened to us early on. The way we store the information is unique, however, and not typical of normal memory.
We typically start to be able to recall things when we are about two or three years old, or thereabouts. This has something to do with the development of the brain, and the fact that we start to verbalize things around that same time. Speech develops earlier from some, near two years of age; and for others later, near three years of age. When you can recall something - even if only fragments of it - and are able to explain it with words, this is called explicit memory.
So if there is a way to remember what happened before we are verbal, how do we do that? Well we have to first have a basic understanding of how the information is stored. From conception to age two or three babies form implicit memories. That is, they hold memories in their bodies. It’s experienced in body sensation, as if by impression. Another way of saying it is that memories are stored in the body. The body keeps track of the good and the bad and tells “baby’s story”. As Bessel Van der Kolk’s book titled “The Body Keeps the Score,” asserts, our body gives us clue about things that happened or didn’t happen to use in the past.
So what does that mean? It means that some of what you experience in your body may be telling you a little bit about your beginning. If, for most of your life, you’ve struggle with low self-worth, feel consistently unsettled, or unsafe in your body, but can’t pinpoint why, it may have something to do with your early experiences. If you’ve typically felt loved and accepted and have a good sense of self and self-worth you may very well have had a pretty decent start to life.
From conception to age two or three, as impressional beings, infants can sense and feel their surroundings. When the environment is consistently (within reason) safe and secure; one in which they sense they are welcomed and safe, baby’s brain experiences a special marinade. The fancy word for this is: neurobiological wash. The brain experiences a wash of safety, significance and belonging. They start out with a foundation reinforced by a felt sense that they belong, are worthwhile, and celebrated. When the environment was strained, anxious, depressed or stressed for “mama bear,” baby (from the very beginning) is deprived of that special marinade (neurobiological wash) of safety, significance and belonging and, thus, likely hold some of that energy in their body.
In fact, as stated by Sandra Paulsen in her book, “When There Are No Words” she summarizes Dan Siegel by stating, “The presence of positive emotional experience in the relationship between parent and infant is the basis for secure attachment, which unfolds in the moment to moment attuned interaction between mother and baby.” In other words, when early life is pretty good (with some normal ups and downs) the individual forms a solid foundation in regard to self-esteem, emotional stability, and resilience.
Don’t panic if you think your beginning was less that perfect. None of us get the perfect beginning. We’re all born in a little bit of chaos. Maybe you were born to very loving and welcoming parents but you know you experience birth trauma, or your family went through a tumultuous time after you were born. Maybe you know you were born to tentative parents, who tried their best but just couldn’t get their acts together. Or maybe you’re someone who knows, sadly, that you weren’t on anyone’s radar and simply surprised everyone with your arrival. No matter what your story is, it likely has colored your foundation and how you see yourself.
So what can we do about it? Well, there is an EMDR protocol call the Preverbal Protocol which works directly with implicit memories, and helps to resolve adversity, trauma, or overwhelm that occurred between conception to two to three years of age. You can actually reset your foundation and reduce present day problems of low self-worth, somatic problems, and other unexplained symptoms you’re facing. While not all of the problems you’re facing can be directly linked to unresolved experiences in early life, it certainly is worth pursuing, if you are curious.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity at all and you want to learn more about the Preverbal Protocol please reach me here. I offer the Preverbal Protocol EMDR therapy in Wayzata, MN. I enjoy helping individuals get unstuck and realigned with their potential.
Early Trauma Protocol, EMDR Counseling in Wayzata, MN.