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Suppress Your True Emotions Often? Science Says It Can Seriously Harm Your Memory

Suppress Your True Emotions Often? Science Says It Can Seriously Harm Your Memory

Think back to one of the best days of your life as a child. Close your eyes and visualize that experience– go ahead, I’ll wait… What did you see?

Flashbulb Memories

So why is it that we can recall events happening years earlier in such precise and vivid detail? This particular phenomenon has intrigued and perplexed cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists for decades. Research has found that our emotional state at the time of an event, can affect our ability to memorize its details.

In 1977, researchers at Harvard [1] published a paper entitled Flashbulb Memories [2] in which psychologists Roger Brown, Ph.D., and James Kulik, Ph.D. noted that people are often able to vividly recollect where they were when an event occurred that was significant to them. The doctors hypothesized that these memories are so emotionally important to us that they’re recorded in our minds as vividly, completely and accurately as a photograph.

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Emotions–good and bad–assist with mental recall

It is amazing how our minds can awaken emotional memories [3] of passionate and unsullied love, pride in accomplishments, or the joy experienced during a particularly poignant event such as the birth of a child. Unfortunately, memories of things we’d rather forget seem to have greater intensity than the pleasant ones. Emotions, good or bad are a way of framing an event and holding on to it indefinitely.

This is why suppressing emotions or limiting your ability to feel during certain times can inhibit your ability to recall important events. Some research points to the fact that when people work to control their reactions to emotional events[4], their memory of the event is affected. Emotional distance keeps you disengaged, not only in the moment but also long term.

Being emotionally inexpressive doesn’t necessarily doom you to a life of dullness with no memories of good times–if you conscientiously practice becoming in tune with your emotions:

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1. Journal how you feel

When something significant happens and you feel “some kind of way,” journal [5] your thoughts and from that, your true feelings will emerge. Recording emotions in writing not only helps with long term memory but it also assists with cognitively processing difficult or complex events.

A journal acts as a free therapist and provides a judgment-free zone for expressing your reactions. It becomes “someone” with whom you can freely express your feelings. Using a journal to self-express can relieve anxiety, help you to understand negative emotional triggers, and resolve problems in your daily life.

2. Express how you feel in your daily conversations

Using “feeling statements” [6] to express how you feel in everyday contexts that are not high stakes and are non-threatening is a great way to become aware of how you are feeling, take ownership of your feelings and express them verbally to others for more effective communication.

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To begin, state your feelings upfront using the words “I feel____.” Once the feeling is identified and stated, it should be connected to an issue or event. And then, when warranted, a solution should be offered–the solution does not necessarily have to be a viable one. Ideally, this allows the other listeners to focus on helping to alleviate the discomfort, rather than defending him or herself.

3. Re-frame negative emotions in a positive light

Or to put it another way, “find the silver lining.” Unfortunately, negative emotions are more powerful and stay with us longer than positive ones. Being able to first understand and own how you feel is important to being able to view it differently. Find the optimistic point of view in an otherwise negative situation. This takes practice and is not easy to do initially.

In the initial stages, this can most effectively be done through journaling. Then as time progresses, you will have retrained your brain to do this automatically and your memories of negative experiences are present but the intensity is lower.

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Emotional memories are powerful and serve to guide and inform us as we navigate the present and prepare for the future. They can inform you of a fundamental truth that you don’t want to acknowledge, help you from repeating mistakes, and allow you to relive the best times of your life.

Reference

[1]http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/schacterlab/files/hirst_etal_jepgeneral_2015.pdf
[2]https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/memories.aspx
[3]https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/memory
[4]http://www.memory-key.com/memory/emotion
[5]http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/05/02/4-journaling-exercises-to-help-you-manage-your-emotions/
[6]https://www.verywell.com/what-are-feeling-statements-425163

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Denise Hill

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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