Knowing about these memories can help with change

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Hi. My name is Mauri Castle Myers. I am a couples counselor. And today I want to talk about Implicit Memories.

So we all know that we have a kind of narrative memory. The kind that allows you to kind of play things back almost like a video tape. Where, for example, I might remember that I went to coffee with a friend of mine last weekend.  I might remember what we ordered or what we talked about, or where we met. And that is really useful, right, because it is often helpful to go back and go. “oh! Okay. I think or feel this way because these things happened in my life.”

However, we also have another kind of memory. This is called Implicit Memory. We start storing these memories from the time we are born, maybe a bit before.  And, um, they turn into a kind of general knowledge.  But they operate really in the background. If you have ever had a gut instinct, that is probably an implicit memory. It is a point at which your body really tells you, or your brain in a kind of amorphous, non-specific way, that something should or shouldn’t happen. For example, if you are a person who has not had a lot of trust in your life, who has had your trust violated repeatedly throughout your life, you are probably going to have a really hard time trusting your partner. Even if, your explicit memories, or the narrative of your relationship, is that your partner is trustworthy. You are still going to feel strongly that trusting people is not a good idea. And you probably aren’t going to be able to say, ‘Oh! It is because of this one time where this one thing happened to me.” And maybe you will, but you are also, even if you do have that memory, you are still going to just feel in your gut, that that is a bad idea. And when your partner turns to you and is like, “I don’t understand why you won’t just trust me” it is going to be hard to just override this feeling that you are holding on to.

So, in couples work, I spend a fair amount of time explaining this, but also that both of these things are true. Right? If your partner is trustworthy and has worked really hard to earn your trust, that is true. Right? But also, this feeling inside of you that something is absolutely 100% important and valid and real, that is true too.

What is tricky with implicit memories, is that you can’t just talk them out of themselves [laughs]. You can’t apply logic and reasoning to them, unfortunately, and have them go away. It is not how they work. The way to combat implicit memories that is giving you information that is no longer valid in your life, is to create new memories. To basically overwrite the old ones by creating new experiences so if you are a person who has difficulty with trust you are going to have to create experiences in little ways where you start trusting people and having your trust be received in a positive way. And the more and more you do that, the more it will overwrite these other experiences that are difficult, that tell you, “No, no, no. Don’t do that, no matter what your brain says. Do not do that thing.”

So I think this is useful, and valuable to all of us, in a lot of different ways. Because I think that we have all had experiences where what we think and what we feel are kind of at odds with each other.  And if we can recognize that it is Implicit memories, there is a real, logical, physiological reason why this is so difficult, why change is difficult for us, then I think it can make it just a little bit easier. My experience in working with couples is that if I can help explain this and a person can say, “yeah, this is just how I have been feeling, given,” maybe, maybe it is not our past history, maybe it is that things have been rough or rocky in our relationship for a while “and it is just hard for me to not just gear up for a fight whenever we start talking about this thing or whenever this other thing happens.” I find that it can be really useful to give each other and ourselves just a little bit of compassion. Compassion goes a long way. Gives us just a little bit of acceptance that this is where we are at, this is what we are struggling with.  [deep breath], and that can make it that much easier to make the changes that we really want to make.

I hope this was useful for you.