Unless there is an impediment, we tend to heal when we cut ourselves. When we remove the impediment, the body resumes its healing process. That is why we are willing to be cut open during surgery. We anticipate that the incisions will heal.
The brain is a component of the body. In addition to the millions of memory networks I've just described, we all have a mechanism — an information processing system — for healing hardwired into our brains. It is designed to bring any type of emotional turmoil to a level of mental health, or what I call adaptive resolution. This entails making a resolution that includes useful information that will help us be more prepared for survival in our lives. The information processing system is designed to connect what is useful and discard the rest.
This is how it works: Assume you had a disagreement with a coworker. With all of the physical reactions that come with these different emotions, you can feel upset, angry, or fearful. Negative thoughts about the person and yourself are also possible. You might fantasize about how you'd like to exact vengeance, but let's hope you resist those urges because, among other things, they'd probably get you fired. As a result, you leave. You consider it. You bring it up. You go to bed and possibly dream about it. And you might not feel so bad the next day. You've “digested” the experience and now have a better idea of what to do. That is the brain's information processing system processing a distressing experience and allowing learning to occur. The majority of it occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Scientists believe that during this stage of sleep, the brain processes wishes, survival information, and the day's learning. Basically, anything that is important to us. The brain is hardwired to do that, to put it simply.
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The memory of the argument has generally linked up with more useful information already stored in your brain after uninterrupted information processing. This can include previous interactions with this coworker and others. “Oh, that's just the way John is,” you may now be able to say. I've dealt with something similar with him before, and it worked out fine.” As these other memories connect with the current upsetting incident, your perception of the event shifts. The argument teaches you what is useful, and your brain lets go of what isn't. Because the negative feelings and self-talk are no longer useful, they are no longer present. But what you needed to learn is still there, and your brain has stored the memory of the event in such a way that it can successfully guide you in the future.
As a result, you have a better idea of what you should do. You can talk to your coworker without experiencing the intense emotional turmoil you experienced the day before. That is the brain's adaptive information processing system processing a distressing experience and allowing learning to occur. It's doing exactly what it's supposed to do.
Unfortunately, upsetting experiences, whether major traumas or other types of distressing events, can overwhelm the system. When this occurs, the intense emotional and physical disturbance caused by the situation prevents the information processing system from making the internal connections required to bring the situation to a conclusion. Instead, as you experience the situation, the memory of it is stored in your brain. What you saw and felt, the image, emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts are all encoded in memory in their raw, unprocessed form. So, instead of being able to have a calm conversation with the coworker with whom you argued, the anger or fear returns. You may try to suppress your emotions for the sake of self-preservation, but whenever the person appears, your distress increases.
When such reactions persist in the present, it is often because they are also linked to unprocessed memories from the past. These unintentional connections happen on their own. For example, your initial dislike of someone you just met may be based on memories of someone similar who hurt you in the past. Consider the case of a woman who has been raped. Years later, she finds herself in bed with someone she knows to be a very loving partner. However, when he touches her in a specific way, her emotions and body react automatically. The terror and powerlessness she felt during the rape wash over her. If the information processing system did not function properly following the attack, a touch similar to the rapist's can link into the memory network and “trigger” the emotions and physical sensations that are stored unprocessed memory.
The memory was stored in isolation by the disrupted information processing system, unintegrated within the larger memory networks. It can't change because it can't connect to anything more useful and adaptive. That is why, even if time heals all wounds, you may still feel anger, resentment, pain, sorrow, or a variety of other emotions about events that occurred years ago. They are frozen in time, and unprocessed memories can serve as the foundation for emotional and, in some cases, physical issues. Even if you have not experienced a major trauma, research has shown that other types of life experiences can cause the same types of problems. And, because memory connections occur automatically, below the conscious level, you may be unaware of what is truly running your show.
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You have heard it all before: "Live life to the fullest", "follow your dreams", "be who you are" and "if it is meant to be, it will be". These are all wonderful quotes that are meant to help you live a happy life but they miss the point. Our lives are interconnected with each other and with the world.
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