What Ties Us To Memories?

I posed two questions recently on my FB page (www.facebook.com/emergecoachingau) and in my group Path to Recovery. I asked “Why do some memories fade into insignificance and others wont leave us alone?” “What ties us to our memories?”

I had some wonderful suggestions that it was to do with the situation and your state of mind at the time. Another contribution was that some things are “harder to let go off”, when I asked how are those ‘things’ determined, my contributor suggested it may depend on how “deep they are”.

Deep. I love that this came up during this conversation. For a moment, I want you to think about something that happened in the last week or two, it can be something positive or negative, a conversation, a fright, a face. Now just notice where in your body are you holding that memory? Your throat? Shoulders? Chest? Great, well done.

Now, I want you to think of something that happened a long time ago. When you were a child, good or bad. Have something? Now again, notice where it is in your body. Abdomen? Just under the ribs or low down ‘deep’ in your gut? Am I right?

Either way, go back and visit the first memory again, how do you feel about that event?

And now the second one. How does it feel? Angry? Sad? Joyful? Peaceful?

To be honest no one has yet come to me with memories that feel wonderful causing a problem. Usually, they are memories that make them angry or sad or sometimes ‘sick to the stomach’. Grief visits my office a lot.

Now before we get too morose, think about brushing your teeth the last time…easy. Now think about brushing your teeth on 23 October 2015. Now unless something profound happened that day, I’m pretty sure you don’t remember that specific hygiene ritual.

The brain has to filter what it deems to be important, it can’t keep everything you have done in storage in case you want to remember brushing your teeth on 23 October 2015, can it?

So how does it decide what is important? Does it do a pros and cons list about each event? Too slow, the brain must work quickly. The shortcut is Emotions.

Emotions tie us to our memories. You know this to be true. You remember well the best days of your life, graduating school, the birth of a child, a wedding. We also, particularly, those who contact me, remember all too well the worst days of their lives, the first time they witnessed or experienced abuse, saw someone die, were injured at work, the moment they knew something was wrong with them.

The common thread to why these memories stay, why these memories repeat, why these memories won’t ‘let go’, is Emotion.

Our emotional response to the event is what determines its significance, it’s impact and it’s ‘depth’.

“Great Lisa, I wasn’t in control of my emotions at that time and now I’m stuck with these memories” I hear you say.

In a way, yes, you are ‘stuck’ with the memories however it is possible to change the emotional tether to a memory and therefore allow the body and mind to process it just as it does with teeth brushing, it will be resorted, refiltered and end up somewhere else.

When I was 12 or 13, I flew over the handlebars of my bike in the local shopping centre carpark, skinning both my palms, bruising my hips and my ego. For years, I was ashamed, “I can’t ride a bike” I believed. Everyone can ride a bike. There is a phrase “It’s just like riding a bike” in reference to something being easy. Nowadays, I’m not a huge fan of bikes but when I think about flying over the handlebars that day I’m not ashamed, I feel compassion for my 12 year old self who couldn’t hold cutlery properly for over a week as the skin healed. My emotional tether to this memory has changed.

Fortuitously, this just happened over time, for this particular event. But this natural process can be facilitated by an experienced and trained practitioner at any time after the event. By changing the emotional relationship to the memory, it releases the mind from being stuck in a loop of failed attempts at resolving the memory and filing it in long term storage.

Often, traumatic events that are the subject matter of flashbacks and nightmares, are circumstances where there is an incomplete action. “I should have run”, “I should have saved him”, “I should have fought back”. This incomplete action keeps us in fight/flight/freeze mode as the mind is repeatedly attempting to conclude the event with a more preferable outcome. The right practitioner can create an environment and facilitate processes that allow the event to be ‘completed’ in a desirable way so the mind can reshuffle it and put it where it belongs, in long term storage and get it ‘off the desktop’.

Through a variety of techniques it possible to change this emotional tie to a memory (or memories) so that the individual can recall the events safely, without the emotional charge of reliving it over and over and be free of nightmares and flashbacks.

I would love your thoughts, comments and questions on this. Please share with anyone you feel may benefit.

Peace, Love and Rock’n’Roll


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Mark - June 28, 2017 Reply

Great concepts and theories, no argument here, Wim Hoff is studying with Stanford University with treating PTSD via breathing techniques he developed. My tether story is one, where my event, whilst exhilarating, and everything a soldier trains for and craves to execute after years of waiting and training. The event passes, that evening, you sob yourself to sleep after realising you could’ve died today and finally fall asleep. Years later you forget that sobbing (you only remember the action of the event) and to this day keep saying it was ‘dangerous’, but still the best day in your career? I say that the tether to this event is positive, my question is, where doe’s all the anger and outbursts, trouble with authoritative figures, drinking, stress, thoughts of suicide and depression evolve from then, if the tether is a positive one?

Stephen Hutchins - July 2, 2017 Reply

Great subject Lisa, and a great explanation. We are covering this subject at our Men’s Health program at Epworth. “Understanding our Emotions” “Responding to our Emotions” and “understanding our Thoughts”. Lead up to Resiliency. Thank you for throwing another light on it.

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