In the past, I experienced quite a peculiar phenomenon – psychosis. The memory of that moment lingers in my mind, I can see it very vividly in there, looming. Yet, it is all wrong. None of what I recall actually happened the way I remember it. And the reality, well, that is lost for me. This got me curious… How do emotions actually affect our memories?
Memory recall is a wondrous feat of the human mind, allowing us to relive moments long past. Like a vast library, our brain organizes and retrieves information effortlessly. A mere scent, a snippet of a melody, or a familiar face can trigger a flood of memories, transporting us back in time. These recollections shape our identity, offering a glimpse into our journey. From cherished experiences to lessons learned, memory recall paints the canvas of our lives – and we watch the world through that scenery.
#1 Emotionally Enhanced Memory
Emotionally charged events tend to be remembered more vividly and in greater detail. The brain releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, during emotional experiences, which can enhance memory consolidation. This is often referred to as the “flashbulb memory” phenomenon, where people remember the circumstances surrounding emotionally intense events with heightened clarity.
It’s about to get real here at Mrs. V’s blog, folks. I’m about to share with you the memory of my first (and so far only) dog’s passing. Have your tissues ready in case your faucets open? Ok.
Share this moment with me as I give an example of clarity in my emotional memories.
I grab the front, Doc grabs the back. We hoist the extremely skinny creature to the table, it’s time to start saying goodbyes. My boy, my beautiful beacon of light has lost the sheen on his fur. His muscles have gone, and the cancer has taken his appetite, making him wither. Yet he looks at me, calmly. Obviously, those brown eyes must know what is going on, why else would he have given a final, solemn lean to the Doc?
The Doc prepares the syringes. Not one, not two, but three massive containers of milky white fluid glimmer hopelessly in the air. He looks at me, asking if I’m ready. I nod to him in silence and lower myself to the level of my boy. He is lying down already, and the Doc administers the shots. My companion’s eyelids start drooping slowly, he never stops looking into my crying eyes. I stutter to him his final good boy through my raspy sobs. And then, he is gone. The breathing doesn’t brush my hand anymore. The chest doesn’t rise under my hand. The ears don’t twitch when I pet him. His eyes are two glass orbs, dim and empty.
Let me just collect my pieces from the floor and we’ll continue with more ways emotions can affect the memory!
#2 Emotionally Selective Memory
Emotions can lead to selective memory, where individuals remember events that are congruent with their emotional state and forget events that are incongruent. For example, someone feeling sad may recall more negative memories and overlook positive ones, while someone feeling happy might recall positive experiences and forget negative ones.
Ever had those moments when you fight with your loved one, and it seems as if the other forgot all about who you are? Yeah, me too. Turns out anger makes us do funny things, such as neglecting to recall the amazing things we do for each other.
I had to really work on this since as a Borderline I tend to see things in black and white. Either you are Divine or Hellish. That is to be said, that you can actually train yourself to become better at not forgetting the good times.
These days, when I get into an argument with my husband, he remains my husband. Sure, we may be having conflict at that moment, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t gorgeous and amazing 99% of the time! And come on, let’s face the facts, he is pretty gorgeous even if he is mad at me.
#3 Emotionally Biased Interpretation
Emotions can color our interpretation of events, leading to a biased memory. We tend to remember events in a way that aligns with our emotional state at the time of encoding or retrieval. This can lead to misinterpretations as well as false memories, as our emotions influence how we perceive and remember situations.
Ready for another fun example memory?
This one is about the time when I fell into a psychotic stage, thinking my husband had finally left me.
I shake, a babbling, howling mess. The wall behind me was covered in tell-tale grooves of an older home. It looks at me, and I look back. Somewhere in the distance, a shadow walks by me. Was it my husband? I struck out and screamed. The shadow went away. My husband went away. He left me. Whatever that was, it wasn’t him.
The wall keeps calling me as I press my cheek on the cool surface. He had left me. Nobody was there. I was alone. Finally, and utterly abandoned. The devil that was me pulls the poor puppet’s head back and releases. It doesn’t hurt, so the action repeats. Meanwhile, I am floating elsewhere, somewhere nobody can get to me. I am gone.
A dribble of something is on my face, I can barely feel it.
I hear my terrifying sobs and howls. Somewhere in the hidden corners of my mind, I sense my head is about to start hurting – badly. Someone calls my name. My new name. Where am I?
The seat of the ambulance feels comforting. The young man in front of me asks me questions. I nod or shake my head. Everything is distorted. Outside the open slide door, I see my husband, standing some ways away. They asked me if I wanted to say goodbye. I tell them no, I can’t face him. The man closes the door, and off we go.
Later on, I found out that I had been severely banging my head into the wall, thinking that my world had finally ended. In reality, my husband had gone into the hallway to call the ambulance. It took me quite a while to deal with the shame and guilt related to the episode. In the end, however, I now recall what I can with a great sense of blessing and love. Nobody had done that for me before. Nobody had cared enough.
#4 Emotionally Mediated Attention
Emotions can influence what we pay attention to. When we are emotionally engaged, our attention becomes focused on aspects of an event that are emotionally relevant. This selective attention can impact what information gets encoded into memory and what is later remembered.
Much like my psychosis adventures, I can recall other things with great precision. Oddly enough, the next memory is a surreal one. One that I keep of a friend who later on got murdered in his own place. It is my final memory of them.
The smoke twirls in little cyclones around me. The bumble bees climb the wall behind the dancing veil sluggishly, as if they are also affected. Somewhere in the middle of the cloudy tendrils, two blue eyes glare at me, ice incarnate. I stare back, and we both smile.
Everything else is a blur, a haze in my mind’s eye. Despite that, I’m blessed to have such an image of a friend long passed in my memory banks.
#5 Emotionally Triggered Retrieval
Emotions experienced during an event can serve as retrieval cues. When we feel a similar emotion later, it can trigger memories associated with that emotion. For example, hearing a song from a past romantic relationship might trigger memories of that time, including both positive and negative experiences.
Don’t worry, I won’t give you any more grave imagery from my inner world today. I think I’ve traumatized you quite enough for one night. Instead, I will talk a little bit about what happens when I get emotional.
You see, I have a semi-photographic memory. This means that I can literally see the things I remember in my head. Sometimes they are still images, and sometimes they pose as a bad retro movie. On occasion, my imagination likes to enhance things or leave some details out for that extra dramatic effect.
What does this mean?
When I feel an emotion that has an impact on me, I see things related. If I’m scared, my mind floods with previous occasions of accidents, tragedy, and more. On those times, when I can’t manage it, my imagination starts to add on all the horrid things I’ve seen in movies, news, you name it. The world has ended in my head, and I have to watch it unravel.
If I’m angry, all the times I’ve been wronged start breaking through. If someone hit me in the past, I will see it. The tones and words of the assailant will become vivid, sometimes more so than reality. And sometimes, my mind twists things to fit its perception of the world. That’s always fun to deal with.
Unfortunately, this seems to only be the case with negative emotions. I have a hard time recalling the good times, even when I’m happy. The only exception to this is excitement and passion. When I get excited, my mind fills with images of the adventures I had with my father, mother, relatives, and whoever else. And the crazy bit? I can recall things from my delusions and story-realms clear as day. After all, I’ve had many an adventure with my imaginary friends!
Our memory works in a mysterious way, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to understand it fully. Sometimes it just tosses things in front of me, yet I can also control it and create whatever image I desire from previous fragments. Scents and music can make it do its thing, as well as strong emotional responses.
It was terrifying to be in my darkest days, as my memory would keep recalling the most horrendous things. All the grotesque scenes I saw in the shadows of the corners of my room. And to have it blended with reality in ways that made me really doubt my sanity.
These days I take this mind of mine as a blessing. It helps me navigate the streets, the world, and Life itself. I cherish the memories of sorrow I have of my friend and beloved puppy. After all, when I see a memory like that, I know the moment mattered.