Aphantasia and SDAM – Gifts of Healing

When your life has been filled with trauma, you have to wonder: could aphantasia and SDAM be the source of the trauma, or could they be the means of healing?
aphantasia and sdam

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After writing an article for aphantasia Network called “Seeing” Dragons With Aphantasia, where I tried to explain how it is still possible to have a fulfilling and rich meditation experience by listening to what your body is telling you, I found myself on a journey. A spiritual journey: a deep dive into how aphantasia has affected my life from an energetic point of view.

The Journey That Connected My Aphantasia and SDAM

That journey started here with an article by Maarten Serneels entitled Maybe You Have SDAM. He shared knowledge about SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory), an article that filled so many empty places in me that it was a little scary to realise just what I had been struggling with. 

When I was writing my “Seeing” Dragons article, I had been planning to write a book about clearing my karmic imbalances in this lifetime based on a past life regression. That was temporarily shelved as I struggled to understand more about how aphantasia and SDAM have affected me, and how much these ‘differences’ had affected how I perceive traumatic events in my life.

I don’t ‘think’ in my head. I think by writing. Or talking. So I sat down at my laptop and started to put my thoughts into a Word document. To know more, I needed to research a bit deeper into neuro-divergency, and one of the first things I discovered was that there is a name for people who have no auditory imagery; anauralia, also known as auditory aphantasia. Additionally, I  have no inner voice. Until very recently, I hadn’t thought of it as being part of aphantasia, but as I can’t recreate my daughter’s voice or a popular tune, and my thoughts have no words, it’s just white noise.

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Neurodivergent

Other quirks with interesting labels also came forward for discovery and exploration.  Prosopagnosia—the inability to recall faces and/or names, which I have—and echolalia—repeating what other people say—a very annoying habit I had no idea I did. Everything was wrapped up in the realisation that I am also very likely autistic. 

All of this could have been a heavy load, but I actually found it to be a release. I am not weird and crazy, as I have been told all my life – I have a fistful of labels that explain so much, with aphantasia and SDAM being right at the top of the list.

All these thoughts, discoveries, etc., went into that Word document until my Spiritual Teacher suggested I bring it all together and write it as a book instead.

Revisiting My Trauma Through the Aphantasia and SDAM Lens 

I took myself on a deep journey right back to my childhood and the things that I found to be traumatic that have coloured all 67 years of my life. I explored many traumas, fears, PTSD, grief, and the resulting physical illness that arose from all this stress, with the result that I have learned that when I look at these things through the knowledge of aphantasia, SDAM etc, I am able to see them from a different perspective. 

For example, from my earliest years, my mother would tell me to sit in the corner, read my book and pretend I do not exist. This feeling of not existing was confirmed when my school teacher would do the same thing because I was two years younger yet more advanced in reading skills than my peers. Until I learned about aphantasia and SDAM, I have lived in the energy of “not being”. Not being worthy; not being relevant; not being wanted; not being a person who exists. As if to underscore the fact that “I do not exist”, when both my parents died, I discovered that I was not mentioned in their wills. I truly did not exist in their eyes.

So I meditated on all of this and realised that because I have aphantasia and SDAM, all I am hanging on to is the hurt; the emotion of that little girl. I can’t visualise or remember any actual events, and I don’t even feel the hurt any more. I just have a shopping list of emotions that do bubble up when triggered because the child I was did not exist in a world I very much wanted to exist in.

I also realised that the traumas could have been a whole lot worse if I had been able to picture them in my mind over all these years, and I realised that I had been keeping a shopping list of fearful events alive in my mind – not the actual events. Continuing to live in the energy of my traumas is a habit, and like many other habits, it is detrimental and hard to break, but I hold the perfect gift to be able to easily let go of these things. If I let them go and don’t keep worrying over them, SDAM and aphantasia together will let them just dissolve into non-existence, and I can heal.

Healing from Trauma – Aphantasia and SDAM Are Gifts

When my book was published in February 2023, and I held the first paperback copy in my hand, I finally found the switch that allowed me to step back from abuse, abandonment, grief, PTSD and more. I can read that book as if it is written by another person. I am no longer attached to my past. And that is a good thing.

I could choose to feel that I am different, deficient in some manner. I could choose to believe that I have missed out on experiences and memories, or I could choose to sit in the energy of “Poor Me.” But I don’t. I find that knowing that aphantasia and SDAM are part of who I am, that I am not weird or crazy, and that I am not even unique—because there are all of you who are reading this and who know exactly what I am saying—is something that allows me to heal the hurts of my life. 

I believe that knowing about the research and gathering of knowledge and stories that is happening is the very ground that the future lies upon and will ensure that awareness grows.  I believe that we are seeing the early stages of the next level of human evolution and that, in our diversity, we are the ones leading the way.

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Thanks for sharing your story. I also have total multi sensory aphantasia, SDAM, am autistic, and suffer from cPTSD and chronic PTSD. I have only found that aphantasia and SDAM inhibit healing since most if not all trauma based therapies rely on sensory based memory recall and/or imagination. That goes for EMDR, SE, IFS, Rapid Eye, Brainspotting, Rewind Therapy, and even psychedelic assisted therapy. None of it is accessible. I believe a large percentage of folks for whom these modalities don’t work have aphantasia and/or SDAM, and simply don’t know. They certainly don’t screen for them in therapy much less clinical trials. I can not “let them go” and stop “worrying about them” as it relates to my trauma, because it’s trapped in my body. No amount of cognition or awareness does anything to change the fear, hypervigilance, deeply ingrained beliefs, etc. I would love to let go! I’ve put myself in super risky situations with very strong medicines hoping for exactly this. But nothing. Would you mind elaborating on what methods you used that you were able to access despite aphantasia + SDAM that allowed you to heal your trauma? Thank you.

Hi Andrea, For me, I stopped looking at the stories and started focusing more on the energy that was wrapped up in that shopping list of traumatic events. That’s actually very hard because there is a very real fear that without those stories there will be no memories and if there are no memories – even the hard ones – what is left?
I found a Clinical Psychologist who works with Internal Family Systems and discovered that this actually blended very well with my spiritual work, and I made the limitations within therapy VERY clear before we even had the first session. In IFS you treat each emotion (part) as if it were a separate person and sit down and talk with the emotion in a specific manner. What I did, rather than emotions, was focus on the stages of my life and looked at the Aspects of Self: the child, the young mother, the mature woman, the Krone plus a number of ‘masks’ I’d worn to help me cope, and I sat down and talked with them. I also wrote letters to them in my journal. My therapist also gave me somatic exercises and self-soothing techniques. But my biggest help was my spiritual teacher who was there for me for hours each day on the phone. It was like having a trusted person hold my hand – even though we live in very different parts of the world.
My therapist – like many it seems – had no concept of aphantasia/SDAM so she asked me for links to articles she could access and learn from. I could see that I was probably pushing her outside her comfort zone a bit, but the difference between me now and me three months ago is remarkable.
I do have to say that the biggest trigger in the change, is in how I view my neuro-divergency. I really do see it as a gift. Once I was able to let go of those trauma stories they started to fade, and although I still talk about my mother’s programming of me, the actual events are very vague now. Another 6 months and I suspect they’ll be gone unless triggered. The programming remains – and I am learning to accept it, but no longer as a victim.

exact same as yourself here. I have got stuck trauma thats holding me back from opening my heart to unconditional love for one. I am running out of ideas on how to clear this deep hidden trauma. So also interested in ideas. Thanks.