Somatic Markers Form Our Body Memory
The term ‘somatic markers’ refers to the body’s own signalling system.
In order to better understand EMDR’s modes of action, it is helpful to take a closer look at the well-known theory of somatic markers.
Somatic markers provide us with a continuous emotional assessment of our current life situation, in fractions of a second. The name was invented by the Portuguese neuroscientist António Damásio. His theory of somatic markers is known across the world.
According to his theory, we humans store our life experiences, right from when we are newborns, as emotional experience memories. Everything we have experienced so far leaves an emotional trace in our bodies. Countless decisions, made every day, are categorised as good or bad emotionally, helpful or non-helpful in the decision-making process, with the help of this body memory. Somatic markers act as a signalling system. Ultimately, it is these emotional body markers that we perceive in ourselves, such as imagining alternatives when making a decision. They help us to exclude emotionally unacceptable options from the outset.
We can also experience our somatic markers in action through the mere perception of situations: almost every one of us knows that a certain person, scent, song or situation can bring about a physical reaction. In such moments we perceive sensations (changes in body state) somewhere within ourselves. Our physical memory makes itself noticeable in order to communicate its evaluation to us.
Previous experiences flow into our future decision making through our emotional feedback and influence our lives in, for example, the form of mental blockages.
Since it is the somatic markers that make us perceive our emotional experiential memory in the first place, both terms are often used synonymously.
Somatic markers thus form our body’s automatic evaluation system. They are the ignition for the departure, or sound the alarm. Our learned reactions of fear are thus stored and triggered with the help of this emotional memory.
According to António Damásio, in ‘learning’ the somatic markers, both the special brain region known as the amygdala (which is also primarily responsible for the development of fear) and the prefrontal cortical fields play decisive roles.