Scientific Research and Emotional Medicine agree – memory doesn’t have to be painful

If you would like to get rid of painful memories, help is on the way.   Scientists are now experimenting with removing memories from your brain. This is not an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind screenplay fantasy, but actual fact.  As Jonah Lehrer describes in Wired Magazine there are people who have already had particularly traumatic memories removed from their brains using these new findings.

Now we don’t yet know the long term effects of this treatment on brain and personality… and it is not yet available at your corner drugstore, but these findings support methods I and other bodymind therapists are already using. (I love it when science catches up with something I know to be true from my years of clinical practice.)

Before describing things you can do now without this magic pill, I want to tell you a little more about this research.  According to Lehrer, every time you “remember” something, your original memory is altered by feelings and thoughts in the present moment. Remembering is really re-constructing!

For example, if you are in a bad mood when you remember a painful memory, your current misery will impact that memory. It may even increase the pain of that already painful memory.  Lehrer states, “The larger lesson is that because our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content.”

This is your cue! While you couldn’t control what happened in any original trauma or upset, you can now control the conditions under which you remember some past event.  So, consider making a promise to yourself not to dwell or talk about painful memories when you are in a bad mood or feeling weak or numb. Instead focus first on body sensations to help restore your sense of strength and confidence. Shift awareness back and forth between sensations that feel good and those that don’t feel good and watch your body come alive again.  If numbness persists, seek professional help (and try my free audio downloads, “Denumbing” and “Choosing Focus.”

When resourced and ready, find a friend to help you act or write out a new scenario in which you say what you wished you’d said, do what you wished you’d done, and/or brought in the support you needed.  Welcome the sad, mad, scared feelings that inevitably arise as you renovate this memory. Notice how quickly emotions move through your body and leave you relaxed and revitalized.  Finally, envision your new triumph. Let it be real!  Feel it in your bones, your guts, your heart. In any case the memory book you’re rebuilding is one in which you not only survive, but thrive.

Penelope Young Andrade

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