Healing Trauma With Art

"We use our minds not to discover facts but to hide them" ~Antonio Damasio 

"Art makes the invisible visible" ~ Paul Klee

Art and Implicit Memory: 

If you've read my post My Story and How coloring helps PTSD or the one about Coloring as a Positive Coping Mechanism you may get the idea that I am a adult survivor of childhood abuse. 

Living with PTSD is a result of much trauma in my early childhood. PTSD can make life difficult at times. It puts flashbacks in your face and sets off episodes of fresh fear and panic. It brings a lot of anxiety and causes one to live in hyper vigilance. 

But there is more. Something called "implicit memory".  

Implicit Memory is where our trauma memories are stored. This keeps them out of our normal every day explicit memory. In a simpler term we keep our trauma memories separate from everyday memories.  Not in our conscious mind at all. We keep the trauma hidden in our implicit memory.  We hold our trauma memories in our subconscious mind not our conscious mind. 

A study done by Greenwald in 2005 states that individuals who experience a traumatic event deal with their trauma in one of two ways. One is the adaptive method, in which the individual processes the stressful event in a supportive environment by moving through the normal stages of grief and loss. The second way is the non-adaptive method; here the event is pushed behind a wall in order to seek emotional and affective relief from the distress it causes. 

Individuals in healthy environments are able to process a trauma with help and to heal and recover. However, children in abusive/traumatic situations have no support and to survive and get through life the only option they have is to put the traumas behind walls!! The difficult thing is walled off memories due to trauma retain their power and freshness on a affective level, even years after the event. 

"The exact opposite of implicit memory is explicit memory. Explicit memory enables the telling of ones story, narrating events, associating meaning with experience, and constructing a chronology of events. Implicit memory bypasses language and thought from internal states that are automatic and operate unconsciously. Implicit memory also called "nondeclarative memory", involves the storage and recall of learned procedures and behaviors. Bicycle riding, doodling, drawing or writing, all things that we perform without thinking and which have become second nature to our everyday living, involve implicit memories. The imprint of trauma does not reside in the verbal, analytical regions of the brain. Instead, it affects the limbic system and non-verbal region of the brain." ~Savneet Talwar 

Non verbal expressions such as art, dance, music, poetry, and drama all activate subcortical regions of the brain and access preverbal and nonverbal memories. 

Implicit memory can be accessed through all non verbal expressions!! I have a feeling this is true of coloring also. Coloring is a non verbal art expression too and would work much like journaling.  While coloring and after coloring pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. If you are struggling with anger or depression after coloring you could be accessing walled off emotions in your implicit memory. The coloring can cause us to access our implicit memory but it is very healing as we release the emotions and feelings while we color. 

I have met individuals who say they can't color. They don't like it. they tried it but have no patience for it. I've heard all kinds of things! Excuses why someone can't color! I know it's not for everyone but some people are running from what they have walled off!! And when coloring makes them uncomfortable they quit and say they can't color. If they would press on and keep on coloring it would help them release the walled off feelings and emotions in implicit memory. 

For trauma survivors the goal of accessing the walled off traumas is healing. The goal is to connect with emotions and feelings that have long been forgotten. Once you connect with the forgotten walled off emotions and feelings you can process the memories, forgive, and let go of a trauma that was once locked into your mind and body. 

It feels painful when you connect to your implicit memory at this level. When a trauma survivor reconnects with those walled off feeling and emotions they feel as if they are going through the hell again. It feels fresh and real! And though this is painful and obviously disrupts life it is very healing and cleansing. 

I am currently working on my 5th book of drawings for a adult coloring book. Drawing activates the implicit memory. So after drawing for days and hours on end for this new book I have tapped into some walled off trauma memories. Amazing that art causes us to tap into this!! A very special way our brain works to bring healing and restoration. What happens is you first start feeling the emotions and feelings from the trauma, then some flashes of images will appear, then a dialog to fit it all starts coming together. Art therapist use art purposefully to help trauma survivors access trauma memories so they can heal. What feels like hell today will eventually start feeling better as I allow this area to heal. Healing comes as I process the walled off trauma memories, forgive, and let it go.... releasing the trauma and the walled off emotions and feelings. 

This happens every time I start drawing or coloring on this level. Days and hours of drawing or coloring; like journaling put me in touch with non verbal trauma memories that have been locked away since early childhood. I find myself able to access memories at this deep level because drawing and coloring activates this part of the brain. And after it is being activated day after day for weeks on end.... I start feeling the walled off traumas. A opportunity for healing. It feels like I have entered hell once again but in reality I have entered healing again. Accessing the implicit memory at this level is a gift! It's painful yes, but it's a opportunity for deep healing. 

Drawing and coloring is very healing as it allows us to release the feelings and emotions that were walled off in implicit memory. Drawing and coloring is a great detox for our minds and bodies!! 

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