By Denise Wade Ph.D.
Do you find yourself remembering how great it used to be? Perhaps it’s the memory of a loved one, or the hurtful memory attached to betrayal from someone you trusted. The pain won’t seem to lessen over time. What do you do with this emotional burden? How do you release this crippling memory that keeps you from loving or trusting again?
Did you know that your nervous system has a memory? Every cell in your spine and everything throughout your entire nervous system has cellular memory. Your emotions are connected to this unique structure through your limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for interpreting emotional responses, regulating hormones, and storing memories. The amygdala, an almond shaped mass of brain cells, determines which memories are stored. Some painful events are stored in the brain and some in the body, depending on the emotional response and the intensity a memory or painful event evokes.
For instance, if a past partner cheated on you, most likely the intensity of the hurt is so painful that the limbic system stores it in your hypothalamus. This is the emotional center, the busiest part of the brain, the seat of all emotional activity. The hypothalamus and the amygdala get to work and connect any smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and associations to that painful memory or person involved.
Each time you experience any of the associations with this memory, such as the smell of his or her cologne, the hypothalamus causes you to have an emotional reaction (anger, hate, sadness, fear) and a physical reaction (increased heart rate, sweating, nausea, decreased appetite, rapid breathing). This is the mind’s survival mechanism against perceived threats.
In the beginning of new relationships, your brain “overrides” this protection mechanism with happy chemicals like dopamine. This enables you to prematurely trust your partner easily, without making him or her earn that trust. This sets you up for betrayal. At this point, you may unconsciously abandon your own physical or emotional needs, which may set you up for neglect or abandonment from your partner, as we train others how to treat us, by how we treat ourselves.
When the hypothalamus becomes unbalanced, so do the pituitary glands it regulates, which is responsible for releasing oxytocin, the bonding chemical. Many times we are fooled into experiencing the relationship better or remembering a relationship as better than the actuality, due to the unbalanced hypothalamus. In reality, the attachment was often from the addictive chemical high of the relationship and not the actual person.