• Rebecca

How Memory Effects our Actions

Our experiences, no matter how old, effect how we will react in any given situation. This post will explain how our memories effect our mind and why we act as we do in certain situations.

When lemons don't make lemonade

Shame, blame and guilt can be deadly killers of our souls. Most have felt the pull of our thoughts as we tell ourselves that we should not have done this or that. Over time shaming thoughts lead to depression, perfectionism and anxiety.

Recently I was in the grocery store, and a man dropped a glass bottle of lemon juice on the aisle. I'm pretty sure it was an accident. When I heard the loud noise of the bottle break, I looked over to see what happened, and the man was running from the scene. He felt shame, and he couldn't figure out how to make lemonade from the lemons he was just handed, so he ran.

Shame is a signal that we are in fear. We fear the consequences of our actions. As I continued to walk through the grocery store, I thought about this man. I wondered, "why did he run?" and I thought about some hypothetical situations. For example, what if he hadn't run away? and . . .

  1. The manager comes over and tells him, "It's OK. It happens." - The man feels relief and does not feel shame.

  2. The manager comes over and says, "What did you do? How could you drop that? You need to pay up!" - The man wonders to himself, "Why wasn't I more careful?"

  3. I walk over to the man and tell him it's OK, but when the manager of the store comes over he scorns him.

What does this man feel in scenario number three? The manager tells him his action was shameful, but I told him that his actions were not. Only the man can decide who to believe. That is true of all the scenerios above. In fact, his decision would have been made before the manager or I had even talked to him.

Our minds work so quickly, we don't even know what they are thinking sometimes. When the man dropped the bottle, his mind went into immediate action. A feeling of fear came over him. He decided to run so that neither the manager nor I could say anything to him.

When we are young, we start forming opinions about ourselves. If we are told by our caretakers that we are essentially good, then we will believe we are good. However, if we are told that we are essentially bad, we will believe we are bad. Usually, these beliefs begin in childhood, The good news is that our old negative experiences can be traded with new positive experiences. This theory has been around for years and was developed by Aaron T. Beck.

Let's look at another example, if the man in the grocery store dropped something as a child and his mother told him, "It's OK. We all drop things from time to time." Then his recording would tell him the next time he dropped something by accident that it was OK. if later in life he was at work and dropped something and his boss said, "You idiot. Clean that up!" Then he might feel some shame by this new experience. The intensity of the shame would be minimized by the unconscious memory of his mother telling him "It's OK" all those years ago.

However, If the man had several new experiences that were negative, the memory of his mother's voice would eventually be erased. Or if his boss fired him after dropping something, he might not hear his mother's voice as well as in the past. This is one reason it takes time to overcome trauma. There has to be a number of new positive experiences that are similar enough and strong enough to override the traumatic event.

Sometimes running can be useful, like when there is a real danger. Most of the time, however, running isn't helpful. The man in the store is a simple example, but if someone didn't clean up the mess, another customer could have slipped and hurt themselves on the wet floor and broken glass.

Therapy can help reorganize the mind so that a person reacts to circumstances in a healthier fashion by replacing negative experiences with positive ones.

We all have negative experiences, For the man in the grocery store, his memories told him to run. We all make the decision to stay or run, What experiences in your life tell you to run?

If you would like help with reorganizing your memories, find a therapist in your area that is experienced in trauma work. If you live in or near Raleigh, NC, feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.

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