Have you ever had a vague memory, which triggered a physical reaction in your body? An example I experienced is when I met a man who wore an aftershave like the one a college boyfriend had. Before I could identify the boyfriend or the smell’s association, I had a flutter in my heart. It momentarily brought me back to the carefree time I spent as a college student. This is what we call an implicit memory. It is a memory that is held in the body, not just the brain.
Implicit memories can be of negative events, like a parent’s tone of voice or facial expression in reprimand. They can also be of positive events, like a soothing memory, such as a mother’s touch or hug. With a talented and sensitive therapist, these implicit memories can be enormously beneficial in therapy.
When exploring the mind in therapy, brain cells fire. When brain cells fire, neurons also activate in the body. The nervous system releases sensations throughout such as a lump in the throat or a lightness in the chest. Those sensations, while occurring concurrently with other information, are often ignored. The armature of the nervous system processes information in feedback loops classifying data into two types of memory — explicit memory and implicit memory.
Explicit memory refers to memories organized with sequential coding to facilitate their conscious retrieval. Implicit memory is retained through ‘clues’ of bodily sensations, not consciously organized. The act of recalling sensations creates new information and encodes the memory in a more explicit format.
In implicit memory, details of events remain fuzzy. However, paying attention to those sensations opens the door to revealing valuable “puzzle” pieces. Implicit memories often have high emotional content associated with them. When associated with high levels of arousal, a trained therapist will utilize tools to calm the arousal system. Gently and methodically exploring the information — while utilizing calming skills with a trusted human — allows us to build stepping stones to new memories.
Deep healing occurs when harnessing awareness of the body in the process of soothing emotional and mental pain. Mental well-being unfolds when with awareness, we invite information to be “digested” with gentleness. Awareness is a uniquely human capacity. Awareness coupled with soothing skills forges new pathways, somatically and emotionally thereby opening the door to new choices. This awareness creates new memories and tools that the client can utilize outside of therapy.
Awareness of the body, the heart, and the mind brings about psychological growth.