Emotional memory

(first published April 2009)

At a page of Unto the Least of These (it’s an anti-Ezzo site I stumbled upon but that’s not what I’m going to talk about), a story is told about the author’s son, who at nine months old, crawled into a pool and almost drowned. From that day forward he would panic any time his head was wet. She says:

Finally, at nine years of age he explained to me his feelings: “whenever my head goes under the water I panic because I know I will never be able to get it out.” I was able to explain to him how he had learned this “truth” which now that he was older was no longer true. As a baby, he was unable to interpret what was happening, so to this day he has no conscious memory of drowning, however, he did have a very significant emotional memory that was interfering with his ability to learn truth in the present. (emphasis hers)

This immediately struck me as important. I wonder how many of us (assuming this “emotional memory idea” is true, of course) hold these types of memories? And to what effect?

Here’s a silly example, but it’s what makes me think there is validity to this – the first time my mom tried to feed me a hamburger (12-18 mo?), I was about to eat it or had actually taken some when my dad rushed in with my 7yo brother who had been in a pretty nasty bicycle accident – and there was mass chaos/blood, etc. For years and years (until at least high school) I just could *not stand* hamburger. Steak, OK, so it wasn’t a beef problem, it was a *hamburger* problem. I have no recollection of that happening, but the effects carried over long term. Even my mom, who is not into this kind of inner-child-mumbo-jumbo ๐Ÿ˜‰ believes that could be why I couldn’t eat hamburger after. After talking about it with her one day, it seems to have lost it’s power. BTW, I really like hamburgers now, LOL, and my brother is fine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

To stay on topic with this blog, I wonder if there is emotional memory of my biological mother – and then the fact that she was gone? Then up to 7 weeks with a foster family – then they were gone too? Possibly something they did, like hugging me really tight or feeding me, while they cried right before giving me up, could have linked the two together – maybe that’s why I always feel like I’m suffocating/angry/panicking when someone hugs me tight and doesn’t notice my subtle attempt to get out of the hug when I feel it’s gone on long enough? Or why food and I have a love/hate relationship? It’s the strange things – like my sense of total panic and anger when my dh gets sick, or how I as a kid I remember crying when seeing an even younger child all alone at a daycare type setting being left with a huge bag of cheese curls to make him feel better for missing his mom while she went bowling- those strange things make me go hmmmmm…I’m being irrational, but why?? What’s the connection – I feel there MUST be something in a feeling so strong. Even today I can picture that little boy with his bag of Cheetos and get all choked up. I couldn’t have been more than 6 when that happened, and most likely younger.

In a more general sense, maybe the “emotional memory” of being abandoned by caregivers is the “incorrect lens” through which I interpret my surroundings in the present.

I wonder if age makes a difference. I have heard that it is particularly hard on toddlers to be given up. But I wonder, if in some ways it is even harder on the younger babies, who have even less ability to interpret what is happening to them (like in the paragraph above). Just like how toddlers who lose their hearing are better able to learn to speak later than infants born deaf, because they had a few months of language/hearing exposure, so too may be the toddler’s ability to learn to love/trust/feel secure if they stayed with one loving mother before being relinquished?

This is all just uneducated ramblings on my part…just making my own internal connnections, not sure how valid they are. Or even coherent. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I’ve been here long enough, time to clean. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading.


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