There is an old proverb, “Confession is good for the soul”. But is it really?
It sounds odd but can talking with somebody make you feel better? It can and it does. But why does it work? Why can just something as simple as talking about something that you are worried about, or feel guilty about make you feel better and less stressed?
To understand that question you have to understand how memory storage in our brains work. Doctors as far back as the 1890’s have recognized some memories fade into nothing and some memories resist that fading away. Mostly the memories that won’t fade are ones that are charged with emotions.
Simply, there is a part of us that feels and there is a part of us that thinks. Generally, we want to keep these things in balance. However, in life when we are scared, worried, guilty or sad we feel those emotions strongly. When your feelings are strong it diminishes your capacity to think; especially, your ability to say what you are feeling.
Have you ever seen a parent tell their screaming child to “use your words”? The parent instinctively recognizes that a child has to calm down and talk before they can stop being hysterical. That is because when the part of your brain that feels gets overwhelmed your body will actually shut down parts of itself in order to conserve fuel. When the “fight or flight” part of your mind is triggered, energy is diverted from other parts of your brain systems in order to give you energy to fight of run. One area that is impacted is your ability to think rationally.
So, let’s say you got in an argument that escalated. Or that you made a mistake at work and are scared you will be fired for it. So, in that moment you are feeling strong emotions instead of thinking. If you do not communicate with anyone about it, after your emotions have calmed down, you will be putting that memory into the bookshelf of your mind with an emotional charge.
So what does an emotionally charged memory do? An emotionally charged memory is one that when you think about that memory you feel that emotion all over again. So you could be lying in your bed after having had a great day but start thinking about something from your past and BAM! Right there in your bed you feel what you felt then. Despite the fact that you just a moment ago felt at peace with the world. That is an emotionally charged memory.
Going back to the initial question, why does talking help you feel better? Because in order to take the charge out of a memory you have add thought to that memory. Remember that you both think and feel. A memory that is all feeling and no thinking will remain a charged memory. But when you talk about the past, especially when you think about what you were feeling and why, it helps add thought to that memory . A memory that has thought and feeling in it a memory that can be put on the bookshelf of your mind and just fade into the thousands of other memories there.
When you talk to someone who influences you to think about why you felt what you felt it can make that emotional charge go away which feels wonderful. This is why the whole practice of counseling even exists. To help people remember their past without feeling what they felt in the past.
Do you feel that you are haunted by your past? Do you feel that there are things in your past that you will never get over? Let’s get together. I can help you move forward. Contact me today!