This is the ninth part of a lengthy article by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Psychologist called Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory. The link to the next segment is included at the close of this segment.
Rule: The brain pulls the most recent and most powerful file first.
Imagine being stressed-out for six months, almost at the breaking point. You decide to stop by Kroger’s to pick up some bread and milk. While in the store, you run into someone you dislike which immediately pulls a bad file. As you continue to see them in the store, you keep a file out and your mood becomes worse. At that point, your brain, already overtaxed, kicks in with a panic attack. You feel panicky, you begin to smother, and you feel as though you are going to have a heart attack. You end up leaving your groceries and running out of the store.
You have thus created a panic-attack file with a label “Kroger” on it. Therefore, the next time you drive by Kroger’s or stop for milk, your brain will pull the panic-attack file first. You’ll develop a feeling – “I can’t go in there!” Whenever we experience anxiety, the brain makes a file and includes the circumstances. This is exactly how people become agoraphobic – or become fearful of leaving their home. Several agoraphobic patients have areas of the town that are “off limits” – that area of the town pulls a panic file.
We’ve all heard of people who have suffered an automobile accident and for many months later are afraid to drive – driving pulls a horrible accident file. Perhaps a familiar example is the popular movie “Top Gun.” After losing his best friend in a out-of-control jet, our hero “Tom Cruise” experiences a panic attack after a similar event later in the movie. Fortunately for the movie he talks his way out of the panic attack and goes on to become the hero. Again, just about any experience can pull a bad file and we must protect ourselves from these files.
After a crisis or emotional upset, a file is made. If that file has a strong emotional value, it will be the first file pulled. Example: A relative by the name of Bill dies. For many months from that point, his death will be the first file pulled when anyone mentions the name. To avoid the constant reminder of sadness, when his name is mentioned we “skip” >first file and pull other “Bill” files, fishing trips, holidays with relatives, etc.
How to Know When A File Is Operating
- When a file is accidentally pulled, the individual will almost immediately stray off the topic of discussion. As a listener, if you get a feeling of “What’s that got to do with this?” – you’re listening to a file. Remember, you can’t argue with a file.
- As a file contains the same information each time it’s pulled, when you hear lectures, comments, or attacks that appear to be a “broken record” – it’s a file. When a file is pulled, the individual will say the same things, feel the same way, and react the same way that you heard before. This is quite common in marital arguments and a listener usually gets the impression, “This is the 25th time I’ve heard this.”
- A file is pulled when the emotional reaction is far above what would be expected from the situation. A husband and wife meets an old boyfriend or girlfriend at the supermarket. Suddenly, all the way home, there’s a gigantic reaction complete with jealousy, suspiciousness, and anger. Somewhere, a file as been pulled.
- Many files begin with, “We’ve talked about this before,” “When I was young…,” and so on. References to the past are almost always related to a pulled file.
- If the listener has the general idea that the conversation doesn’t make sense, your probably listening to a file. Teenagers have difficulty, for example, understanding why a simple request for money leads into a long discussion of dad’s collecting pop bottles for money during his youth. The key is the phrase, “When I was your age…”
- If you find yourself thinking about a past trauma or bad situation, you may have an old file out and also be depressed and stressed. When depressed or stressed, the brain becomes our worst enemy, pulling files that have strong negative content and making us relive and reexperience old events. Forty-year old women begin thinking about childhood abuse, a mature adult tearfully recalls memories of a horrible and violent early childhood, or an older male suddenly thinks, feels guilty, and grieves about his experiences in combat (WW II, Korea, Vietnam, etc.). When the brain pulls these old files we know brain chemistry is upset. Look for early morning awakening, increased brain speed, and decreased concentration as additional indicators – but forget those files, they’ve already been emotionally solved and put away those many years ago. The brain is simply playing old Emotional Memory (EM).
[The next segment continues with Techniques for File Control.]