The Memories Behind our Memories

Why is it that most people cannot remember much of their early childhood, especially anything before age 2 or 3? Many things took place during those early years, things that became foundational for later experiential interpretation, yet most of us cannot recall early events. Without early language skills and without a well-formed sense of “self”, young children may not have the capacity to form cognitive memories that can be easily retrieved later on.

It might be said that all that we know, think, feel, and perceive is connected to a life experience, therefore, my present state of being and knowing may be connected to my past. It may be further assumed that our present situation is often not the cause of our ongoing emotional pain at all. Rather, an early interpretation of the present event may trigger an emotional reaction that is linked to the original unconscious memory, true or false.“ It is possible to have a very detailed and vivid memory and be wrong about the details,” says Dr. Hudson in the article Blanks for Memories appearing in the Wall Street Journal. As the distorted memory is repeatedly recalled, it can be very difficult to tell if the memory is or is not real.

So, we tell ourselves stories about the things that happen to us, about the look someone is gives us, about the way our partner touches or does not touch us, about a tone of voice, or about a myriad things that come across our physical, psychological, and emotional radar screens every single day.

Many of our stories are false because they are based on false memory recall, but we are unaware that we are believing and repeating information that is untrue- we are basing many of our emotional reactions on the assumption that other people or circumstances are the cause of our immediate emotional upheaval, when actually, our discomfort and/or pain can be attributed to a distorted early childhood memory that keeps playing itself out in all kinds of situations.

Becoming curious about our reactions and then questioning the source and veracity of our pain by following it back as far as possible can be healing and freeing because it is impossible to address something that has not been identified. Just maybe, the cause of your disequilibrium is the (false) story you are telling yourself, and not the other person, after all.  As long as you give the other person the power to arouse you emotionally, you will never be free of your anger, jealousy, sadness, or hurt until they stop.  And that piece is not within your control. Acknowledging that you may not have it right, is.

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