Jan 2, 2010

Guilty Again

I've been reading, "Phantoms In The Brain". It mentioned tha tin some brains the person remembers memories while others relive events. There's a difference. As memories are formed our brains edit them and then categorize them (pigon hole them) according to time, place, people and other tags that will bring the memory back. OUr brains also assign meaning to our memories. As we go through life learning and having new experiences we reinterpret our memories based on our new perspective.

A clear example of this might be a child who is afraid of Clifford The Big Red Dog. This really happened with my son. He might have been three. We read him the heart warming story of Clifford the two story tall dog who would peer in his owner's window.

Cute, right?

To Michael it was a terrifying to think about a giant dog peering in your window. As a fourteen year old, he doesn't remember this experience. If he did remember it, he would reinterpret it based on his 14 year old understanding & experiences. Dogs aren't as frightening because he's taller.

The same should be true of embarrassing moments that happened several years ago. Time should add distance, as it were, and further experience change the perspective so that the memory does not reignite that same fear/shame response as the original event.

In fact most people reflect on their small failures or embarrasements with thoughtful reflection (lessons learned) or humor. That is because memories are not static. They are reshaped and reinterpreted based on knew memories that are added. But what if instead of remembering, you relived? The memory would trigger all or manyof the same physiological reactions and the same emotional response.

When I was nineteen I scheduled a skating party for all my friends at college. Some one else had done it the year before, so I wanted to try. I even got sponsors. Instead of hundreds, maybe 20 kids showed up. I was in the hole by $100. Whenever I think back on it, I feel the same dread. As if it is happenning again. In my mind it is.

My thought life is rich with details, sounds, textures, even smells and dimension as well. Today I remembered that skating party and it upset me. I refelt the failure and that sinking feeling in my chest. The Bible talks about taking ever thought into captivity. Taking control of thoughts and deflating their power. After reading the Brain that Changes Itself (Norman Doidge) and Phantoms IN The Brain (V.S. Ramachandran), I believ ethat their are cognitive excercises that one can do in order to stop reliving memories. I'm not clear on the what and how yet.


  1. I have the same problem with old memories. It's as if you are remembering feelings instead of events. This is a kind of perserveration. I think this may be the sensory equivalent of how we take words too literally. It may be that we are filtering these events badly even while they're happening and so our processing of event details (where we file them in our memory) isn't efficient either. Actually it's sort of an editing problem. Just as we are prone to rambling monologues, our brains give us way too much information about an event that happened before. If you want to be the hero of your own life, you have to be a good editor.

  2. An editor is the apt description. We have to be willing to tell our brains what we will and will not accept as actual.

    It's a difficult discipline to cultivate and one that I still struggle with.

    Studying and thinking through the Bible has helped me gain some mastery in that regard.

  3. Hello,
    I am not an Aspie, but I am a speech pathologist. I also have PTSD, and can tell you from my experience that the only thing that's helped me stop reliving memories had been cognitive behavioral therapy. I would recommend talking to a psych about it to learn the basic strategies and then see if you can incorporate the approach into your life.
    Also want to thank you for your honesty and openness in doing your blog. Thanks!

  4. I think that the brain is registering these memories as a trauma rather than a simple memory. This infuses the memory with much more detail and emotion which whenever it is triggered will deeepen the neural pathways associated with it making it stronger. There are specific therapies such as EMDR that help take the 'sting' out of these traumatic events by helping you to reframe them intentionally. I think if you are skilled at observing your thoughts you can probably accomplish this on your own by reimagining the event with a much more objective point of view. I say I think because I've never been very successful at it. In fact, I became very uncomfortable just reading about your skating party. Bravo for having the confidence to attempt something like that. Try remembering it, but focusing on the successful bits exclusively. The way it felt to skate, the breeze in your face, the smiles on the faces of the people who were there, maybe even the things you learned and would do differently if you had it to do again.