The Body Speaks What The Mind Cannot Digest: A psychological defense for trauma survivors

Mother the doctor knows something is wrong
Cause my body has strange information
He's looked in my eyes and knows I'm not a child
But he doesn't dare ask the right question

Mother my friends are no longer my friends
And the games we once played have no meaning
I've gone serious and shy and they can't figure why
So they've left me to my own daydreaming

What price to pay
For bad wisdom
What price to pay
For bad wisdom
Too young to know
Too much too soon

Mother I'm cut at the root like a weed
Cause there's no one to hear my small story
Just like a woman who walks in the street
I will pay for my life with my body.

- Suzanne Vega, "Bad Wisdom"


I have been thinking about what would be pertinent to write with respect to Christine Ford’s determination, articulation and understanding of what happened to her. I have read numerous articles addressing sexual abuse and the encouragement for more sexual assault victims to exercise their voice. I was moved by the statistics and sincere rationales survivors state for not reporting or telling someone what has happened to them. In this post, I offer a psychodynamic rationale for why so many do not speak about the violence they have endured. I thought back to a recent post about my intensive eating disorder therapy group entitled “The body speaks what the mind cannot digest” exploring the meaning of eating disorder symptoms and what feeds them to develop. Our minds, if you believe in an unconscious, operate automatically with psychological “defenses” such as dissociation, denial, resistance and repression. These defenses can acquire a symptom, such as an eating disorder, to assist in expelling emotional experiences through impulse rather than language. At the same time, these same unconscious defenses provide us the capacity to survive in the face of fear of annihilation like a rape, sexual assault or molestation. When our minds are capable and equipped to put into words what took place, when enough ground has been made psychologically, emotionally and socially, the symptomatic aspect of defenses begins to weaken and a person may be able and choose to make known the traumatic event with words. Without this unconscious made conscious readiness and organization, the body remembers and holds what the mind cannot digest. This may explain why many do not consciously reveal what transpired because there are no words yet crystallized. When Dr. Ford did disclose her assault in therapy it seemed it was in the context of her trying to understand how wanting to stay safe in that present moment by building two front doors on her house was unconsciously linked to having been violated in her formative years. This thread brings forth the gravity of free association, talking, understanding and finding meaning in our inner worlds so that we can place the puzzle pieces together between the here and now and our histories. I also read about the woman who confronted the senator in the elevator and that she had never disclosed her assault. It seemed spontaneous how she governed this imperative moment to break her silence. I could surmise that her unconscious became conscious and the words came flooding through her. The infectious quality of Dr. Ford’s testimony has invoked so many to reach within, locate their words and employ them. What an implicit gift she has provided us. I also respect the beautiful resistance inherent in many people who may not discover their words or wish to speak out. I understand and believe #you, too.

Angela Wurtzel