The Science Behind “Letting Go of The Past”

| June 1, 2013 | Reply

For those of you interested in personal development or self help, today’s article is for you. The reason I chose to write this article is because recently I’ve experienced strong emotional feelings in relation to outside factors, such as work, stress, finances, etc. In order to recover from these strong emotions I had to spend a couple of days in seclusion, relaxing and working through the emotions.

The good news is that I am now back in action. And not only am I more excited than before but I would like to share with you some useful information I found during my down time.

What information am I referring to?

Anytime that I experience some type of downturn or struggle, I often look for important information inside books and other places for information related to my experience. I do this not only to relax, but also to be productive and try to find a way to improve my life.

Recent struggles I’ve experienced involve being able to identify and acknowledge my feelings at the most basic level. For years now I have not only ignored strong emotions from my past, but I didn’t know that I was ignoring them. I only knew that something didn’t feel quite right, and I was frustrated on a consistent basis, in work situations and in my personal life. As the rule goes, emotions have to surface at some point, and they will continue showing up until they are resolved.

But what does it mean to resolve feelings, or move past them?

We are always told to move past hurtful feelings, but how many of us truly understood how to do it? There are tons of books out there that try and explain this concept (and I’ve read a few), but none of them seemed to solve the problem down to the core.

So I spent hours reading books and articles that explained the feelings I’ve experienced. This time I skipped most of the general self-help books and I came across more in-depth information that explained these “stored” feelings and emotions at a more scientific level. I was so happy to read this information because even a 1st grader would have understood it.

See the diagram below, which exhibits the way we, as humans, store hurtful memories from our past:

Image Credit: The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Workbook

Image Credit: The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook

According to the author of the book, The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, author Glenn Schiraldi explains the right side of the diagram:

On the right side of the diagram is normal associated mental material. Normal memories are smoothly connected or integrated. Lessons learned and useful ideas from previous life experiences can be blended into present awareness and coping efforts. So a person who has had a very safe and secure childhood might approach a new challenge with the thought, “I’m safe; I’ll probably be all right.”

Across all memories is the sense that you are the same person. Normal memories are processed logically and verbally. They are understood and make sense, and are then filed away. Although the memories contain appropriate emotions, they can be recalled without overwhelming emotion.

Next the author explains the left side of the diagram:

This “walled-off” material is highly unstable. The parts of the brain that would normally file traumatic memories in long-term storage were overwhelmed during the trauma. So traumatic memories remain near the forefront of awareness, trapped in active memory, and easily triggered by reminders of the trauma.

The “wall” is highly permeable. It is like a leaky dam. We expend much energy trying to maintain the wall, but memories keep seeping through, or intruding, into awareness.

These memories are highly emotional and relatively nonverbal. Unlike normal memories, which are rather logically and verbally processed before storage, trauma material is walled off prior to complete processing. Thoughts related to the trauma will usually be automatic, unspoken, unchallenged, and disorganized. The person may not even be aware of the unspoken thought. Instead, she just feels the intense emotions resulting from the thought.

The author later explains that the solution to getting past hurtful memories is to integrate them into long-term memory. We integrate the hurtful memories from behind our wall and work them into the mainstream so that we can store them appropriately in long-term memory. He explains that this cannot be done until the thoughts are processed fully and given full attention.

Trauma material is like a screaming, emotional two-year-old trying to escape from a playpen in the middle of the living room while you try to watch a television program. You wish for a few moments of peace, but the more you ignore the child, the more the child demands attention, and the more effort it takes to concentrate on the show. Then you see a child on television and it reminds you of your own child. Eventually you give the child attention and the intrusions stop.

What are your thoughts about the diagram? Can you relate to what the author explains in regard to your hurtful past experiences? For me, this diagram was a huge step in understanding why some of my emotions kept creeping up, and also why seemingly unrelated events could possibly trigger certain emotions.

I really hope this article is an eye-opener for you as well. I don’t know about you, but I have always been confused (until now) about what it means to get past our hurtful memories. Now that I’m equipped with more appropriate information, I can focus more effectively on solving future issues in this area of my life.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Category: Articles, Personal Development

About the Author ()

Rob Myrick is a entrepreneur, web designer, and blogger who resides in Phoenix, Arizona. He works with entrepreneurs who have the need to take their product to the Internet, or who simply need marketing skills as a supporting strategy to their existing business. Rob has worked for several well-known entrepreneurs such as top blogger Katie Freiling, and also businesses such as The Startup Garage located in San Diego, CA.

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