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The Power of Emotion: How Our Brain Records Memories and Impacts Mother-Daughter Relationships

by Ann Dillard, LMFT

In one of the recent video interviews titled "How to Brainwash Yourself For Success and Destroy Negative Thoughts," Dr. Joe Dispenza unveiled a compelling insight about the human brain. He explained that highly emotional experiences have the uncanny ability to imprint themselves as long-term memories. This neurological phenomenon highlights a prevalent dynamic observed in many mother-daughter relationships.

Have you ever wondered why certain memories, especially emotionally charged ones, remain vividly etched in your mind while others fade away with time? The reason lies in the interplay between emotions and memory formation. Emotions, particularly intense ones, can act as markers, flagging certain experiences for long-term storage. Consequently, events associated with heightened emotions – be it joy, trauma, fear, or anger – are more likely to be retained by our brains.

This becomes especially pertinent when examining the dynamics between mothers and daughters with tumultuous relationships. Daughters who may have experienced emotionally charged encounters with their mothers often vividly remember those events. These memories, being anchored in strong emotions, are not easily forgotten. They resurface repeatedly, shaping the daughter's perception and understanding of her relationship with her mother.

On the other hand, mothers might not always recall these incidents with the same clarity or intensity. Several reasons could account for this discrepancy. Firstly, the mother might not have experienced the event with the same emotional intensity as her daughter. What might have been a fleeting moment of frustration for the mother could have been a deeply scarring incident for the daughter. Secondly, over time, memories can change. They can become distorted, or certain details can be forgotten, leading to an altered or diluted recollection.

This divergence in memory can become a significant point of contention. When daughters, seeking validation and acknowledgment, confront their mothers about past incidents, they're often met with responses like "I don't remember it that way" or "It wasn't as you describe." Rather than providing closure, such reactions can exacerbate feelings of invalidation and hurt. The daughter's quest for understanding and validation can feel like a battle against her mother's perceived denial or minimization.

So, how can this chasm be bridged?

Empathy and Understanding: Recognizing that memory, especially emotion-laden memory, is subjective can be the first step. Both mothers and daughters need to approach these conversations with empathy, understanding that their recollections might differ due to the varied emotional intensities they associated with the event.

Open Communication: Instead of seeking affirmation of the exact details, the focus should shift to expressing feelings and emotions. By sharing how certain events made them feel, daughters can convey their experiences without getting entangled in the specifics.

Seek External Intervention: Sometimes, an impartial third party, like a therapist or counselor, can help mediate these conversations. They can provide a neutral platform where both mother and daughter can express their perspectives without judgment.

Focus on Healing: Rather than dwelling on past events, both parties can focus on the present and future. By building new positive memories and working towards a better understanding, they can slowly heal the rifts of the past.

In conclusion, memories are powerful, especially those anchored in strong emotions. They shape our perceptions, guide our interactions, and influence our relationships. Understanding the intricate relationship between emotions and memory can pave the way for better communication, greater empathy, and a deeper bond between mothers and daughters. After all, it's not the accuracy of the memory that matters but the emotions and lessons it carries with it.

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