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Why Do Some Memories Stick? Merry-go-round-Memories

Image of backyard picnic scene.Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway, Memories

As a child, Tom loved Pecan Sandies and hot dogs. At a family picnic, he ate several hot dogs and many Pecan Sandies. That night, he had an upset stomach. The sensation of being sick and the images of the hot dogs and cookies combined with his behavior and feelings to create a specific conclusion. From this mixed up data, he decided that it was the hot dogs and cookies that made him sick and that if he ever ate them again they would have the same effect. True to that decision Tom never ate hot dogs and Pecan Sandies again. To this day, it is unknown if it was the food that made him sick or if he had a 24-hour virus.

Ray and Sam had a disagreement at work. Harsh words were spoken and the two

ended the day angry with one another. At home, Ray and Sam kept replaying the event over and over in their heads. Neither one could let go of it.

Crossed Wires

Why does the memory of certain experiences come back to trigger feelings and control our behavior? Why do certain memories keep going through our minds like a ticker tape? We tell ourselves that the experience is over, to forget it and move on. However, each time we encounter a similar situation, memories of the original experience come flooding back. We put it out of our mind, yet a few minutes later it is back, running like a movie. It appears that the wires have been crossed in our brain and the off switch is broken.

In a way, that's exactly what has happened. When we have an experience, all the various aspects of our selves assign meaning to the event. That means the images we see or imagine, what we smell, hear, or feel, our behavior, and our emotions all create information. When our brain processes the data from the event, we keep what we need from the experience and the rest is released. The memory that is left is stored as an event; we can remember it without re-experiencing the emotion.

When we have an experience that creates more emotion than we can process, this flow gets interrupted and emotions get left inside our body and mind. It forms a free-floating memory that has no place to settle. This can occur in situations as minor as a misunderstanding, all the way to traumatic events. The more intense the event, the more confused the body and mind become trying to process it. The more intense the experience was, the stronger the emotional content.

If we do not have the emotional resources and the necessary support, the memory remains unprocessed and exists as if it is still happening, ready to be revived at any moment. It takes considerable energy to keep this memory at bay.

After a period of time, The brain deals with this unprocessed memory by “forgetting” it. The “forgetting” sets in place an adaptive pattern that becomes a template telling us what certain situations mean, and how to deal with them.

Jane's family took her to see fireworks on the Fourth of July. They took a picnic and as they waiting for the show to start, the energy rose and the feelings of excitement intensified. The family forgot that Jane had not liked loud noises since early childhood. When the first firework was set off, it made a loud boom along with the dazzling light show in the sky. Jane became hysterical, as the noise activated an old memory of fear created when she was a baby and found herself frightened by the loud noise of a plane's engines on a flight. She felt like she did as a baby, overwhelmed by the experience and unsafe.

Jane created a template in her unconscious mind from that plane trip, that said, “Loud noises are dangerous”. This template stayed with Jane, and years later, her brain used it to interpret the noise of the fireworks as danger. That old unconscious belief controlled her response to an unrelated experience.

These unprocessed memories need to be unwound and put together in a way that

gives meaning and understanding to what happened. The feelings that are stored need to be felt and processed. For small events is possible for you to do this for yourself. For the big events in your life, you will probably need professional help.

Do you have memories that go around and around in your head that never seem to

stop? Do you find yourself reacting to events in ways that seem out of place and defy your understanding? You may have memories you need help understanding in a new way. I can help you unwind and understand your memories. Call me at (919) 881-2001.

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