Stepping Out Of The Shadows

Did you know that a large part of how we respond to the world, interact in relationships, think of and talk to ourselves is determined by shadows from our past?  These shadows, or implicit memories, which are below conscious awareness, cannot be directly measured or retrieved yet are very real and can prevent healthy relationships, achieving goals, and happiness.

In her book, Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness, Marsha Lucas, PhD, neuropsychologist, psychotherapist, and self-described neuroscience geek, calls implicit memories the “unthought known” and labels them the “unconscious effects of your past experiences.”  Implicit memories are the nonverbal recordings formed when the hippocampus, in the brain, is not online to contextualize and organize the information.  She writes:

These memories got quickly and permanently stored, even though you don’t have conscious awareness of them as memories – they’re just kind of “in there,” informing and influencing you without any kind of time stamp,  and without your being aware of their influence.

All memories before about eighteen months old get processed implicitly because the brain simply isn’t developed enough to do anything else.  Most memories before the age of around five are also implicit because forming explicit memories, the ones you can consciously retrieve, requires focused attention. This means that your little brain formed its earliest impressions of the world from experiences with your primary caregivers and deeply stored these implicit memories because your life, literally, depended on it.

These interactions were hugely influential in making you “you” and determining your relationship style as well as social and emotional behaviors as an adult.  Many later experiences, when you weren’t paying attention or when your hippocampus was offline for any reason, such as when extremely emotional or under the influence of some medications or alcohol, also formed implicit memories. Lucas writes:

When an implicit memory gets called up in the here and now, you won’t know it’s a memory – you’ll  just experience it through emotions, behaviors, and (in all likelihood) body sensations as well, such as a tightness in the throat or the pressure of tears coming to your eyes.  

While you’ll express the effects of these memories in the now and probably attribute the feeling to something happening in the present, you’re really being influenced by a shadow from the past. As Lucas conveys, neuroscience has proven that you can step out of the shadows, change your brain, and deter the effect of these implicit memories.

The good news, though, is that you can rewire your brain for better relationships.  You can change your old “relationship brain” neural pathways and develop new and improved ones using simple, 2,500-year-old mind training techniques that are more precise than a neurosurgeon’s blade and without all the mess.  The ancient practice of mindfulness meditation, as it turns out, produces real, measurable changes in the brain in key places so that deeper connections, better love, and healthier relationships can take hold.

In as little as 20 minutes a day.

The book outlines specific mindfulness practices and meditations to transform your brain to communicate with more love, build emotional resilience, reduce reactivity, and even have better sex! (For more information on mindfulness in general, see blog: The Meaning Of Mindfulness)