Deep Diving into the Mind
Now we go on to learning how to further facilitate you identifying the contents of your implicit memories, and in later sections, techniques to alter or direct them to more adaptive and healthy ways of being.
This section provides a template for how to explore your implicit memories. Begin by reflecting and writing a list of the situations or times where you do or have had (and may still have) challenges such as lack of confidence, low self-worth, excessive tension, anxiety, low mood, difficult relationships, etc. If you cannot think of any that is fine as you do not necessarily need to.
Utilize the tools in the section below underneath the template to help facilitate your exploration. Imagine yourself in the situation either solely in your imagination, or through a simulated experience combining imagination and physical movement. Ensure to do both if you can as each method enhances exploration. The imaginal method allows for deeper exploration because there are not as many attentional resources, and the role-play allows for increased activation of implicit memory.
The point of the exploration exercise is to help elicit the subconscious material to be arise so that any maladaptive implicit beliefs can be identified and/or reformed in the moment they occur. Implicit memory can only be reconsolidated in the moment the implicit memory is activated, but this does not need to be conscious – if you are simulating a context then the implicit memory will be activated.
However, conscious attunement can help enhance the experience so you can focus on your emotion that is present to help foster exploration and reconsolidation. Conscious involvement is only a tool to help facilitate the conditions that foster the formation of implicit memory through engaging in contextual, perceptual, procedural, and somatic simulated lived experiences.
Another requirement for reconsolidation is that a new distinguishing experience must replace or disconfirm the previous implicit memory. All this needs to be done during a simulated, embodied and lived experience because this is how implicit memory is formed – it is not formed by abstractly thinking about it or changing an explicit conceptual memory. It is important to go slowly and linger and explore a feature when it arises or else it is overlapped by other mental experiences and not processed (experiencing an adaptive or realistic automatic interpretation and experience).
Understanding does not have to be verbal and analytic. It can be based on procedural knowledge and impulses to behave. You can first use your felt sense to understand what you are feeling, believing, and thinking by becoming aware of the feeling stamp of it in your body, and beginning to move or express what your body wants to. Just begin slowly, gradually, and enjoyably moving or expressing, and constantly monitoring and checking if this feels accurate. You may not like what comes up, but you might be able to recognize whether it is accurate or not.
This is called the physiological flow of meaning. We have a tremendous ability to recognize whether something is accurate when it relates to what our personal beliefs, feelings, or thoughts are. This does not necessarily apply to what the external reality is, as feelings and automatic thoughts are by no means accurate in relation to external objective reality. Reality testing with your 5 senses and using science are great ways to check your beliefs and expectations to see if they are likely true or false. You can modify the variables such as the distance, location, time, persons, and qualities in the scenario to assist with reducing arousal for better exploration, and to gain different perspectives on the issues that come up.
A focus on the felt sense is helpful as ‘feelings” are a combination of core emotion and internal perceptual-spatial simulations (perceptions and automatic interpretations) and are the anchor that drive associations in implicit memory. To an extent, and dependent on the degree of dissociation (whether mild/common, moderate, or acute), one can have associations without feelings being grounded in the association, but these associations, if they are not connected with emotion can be random and based more on the features of the association rather than the features of the particular implicit memory.
When exploring associations you are not looking for an explicit, factual reason. Focus on elaborating what the implicit (often termed as emotional) perceptions are. These may feel foreign as if it’s a different person because you may not associate these types of mental experiences with your conscious mind or conscious experience. Whether these “feel” that they resonate even if you don’t know why, is what the litmus test is for the relative degree of accuracy of whether the association is, to a greater degree, from implicit memory rather than a categorical association of an external fact.
Procedurally engaging in the experience is key even if you do not know what you want, or how to be, or what to do because: 1) The implicit memories and emotion will arise when you are actively engaged in a slow and reflective manner, or 2) You will get a felt sense of what resonates or does not resonate as you are engaging in the experience from moment-to-moment. This also means that when you are applying the various “change” tools this will also elicit implicit memories and perceptions into conscious experience – not just when you are using the “exploration” tools.
When you role-play the situational context in a slow, controlled, and relaxed way, the implicit memories automatically elicit. This is a bottom-up way to uncover core beliefs and implicit memories. Often people don’t have the explicit memories of the events. There is no need to have these as the implicit memories are present in sensory-motor, experiential, and emotional memory systems that are triggered when the context and engagement in the context are present. When this engagement is done in a slow manner this allows the content to more easily permeate into conscious awareness.
Exercise For Exploration
Tools for Exploring Implicit Memory
The most important part of understanding the contents of your mind is reducing your level of arousal, and becoming aware of your body, impressions and feelings one piece at a time. Otherwise the unconscious thoughts and emotions get overlapped and you just interpret a generalized reaction of mood or anxiety. These overlap during real-time because your conscious mind cannot contextualize that quickly under duress and because cognitive resources are being used for other stimuli or activities. So, it remains in an emotional/procedural state that still exists at a physiological and subconscious level.
There are several additional techniques to further help with understanding and identifying the contents of your mind. A cautionary note is to go super slow and gradual with your exploration. If there is any hint or feeling that you might lose control, stop right away, do some breathing, relaxation, and positive influencer techniques, and consult with a physician or registered mental health professional in your area.
Slowly and gradually become aware of your body and any tension present. Ever so slightly, and in a gradual and gentle way, just as you begin to relax, notice any feelings, thoughts, impressions or anything else come into awareness. It is very important to go slow and be aware of the first thought, impression, or feeling – otherwise it becomes suppressed and results in a general feeling that is unidentifiable and not consciously associated with the connected emotional perceptions creating the automatic belief. Even if it does not make sense just monitor yourself if it “feels” accurate.
This is a simple recognition of whether it jives with how you feel. It may be irrational and unpleasant as our automatic thoughts and feelings often are irrational and based on generalized interpretations, primitive instincts, and beliefs that were formed at an early and limited stage of intellectual and physical development.
The brain is set up to interpret in a generalized way, in the worst-case scenario, and based on our past experiences. The evolutionary intention for this is to protect the organism from danger by automatically illuminating potential danger so the organism avoids it. The brain seems to remember those experiences where we felt powerless, and this results in a form of trauma where we interpret current reality through the lens of these past experiences – even so far as to feel and experience our sense of self on a physiological, perceptual, and emotional level the way we did during the first experience that formed the trauma.
When we attempt to engage in a more adaptive way of being the implicit beliefs and blocks often arise. One way to do this is to imagine what you would want your child or loved ones experience to be in the situation. Actually imagine that you are your child in the situation in their embodied experience. What would you want their experience to be in their body? Imagine experiencing this. How would you want them to feel? Imagine feeling this. What would you want them to believe about themselves? Imagine feeling and believing this. How would you want them to perceive the situation? Imagine this from an embodied point of view. How would you wish they could behave? Imagine doing this and notice what automatic feelings, impressions, thoughts, beliefs, and sensations arise.
Sometimes we can fall into the belief over time that we like someone or something because our social structure or power dynamic at the time has required that we engage with them or with the stimulus repeatedly or have been expected to like it. We may even forget whether or not we like it, or have not had the opportunity to consider it apart from the social structure or power dynamic in the first place. To re-align with what you as an organism intrinsically like apart from the influence of the social power dynamic, become aware of your body, sensations, and for what and when your impulses are to approach or avoid. Engage in the action as you consider this is imperative because it is not a conceptual exercise. It must be experiential in order to identify this.
When our attention is lightly and relaxingly attended to something else, automatic thoughts, feelings, images and other unconscious phenomena arise. Think of when you are having a shower and a thought pops into your mind. Or when you are reading in a relaxed state and other thoughts and feelings come into your awareness. This state can be replicated and utilized for helping with introspection.
Bring attention to the thoughts and feelings in a slow and relaxed way. Become aware of what is going on in your mind, body, and feelings – just a light curious attention. Allow your eyes to soften and muscles relax a bit. Be aware of any feeling or impression that comes up. It may feel foreign as many people block their emotional selves out so it doesn’t feel part of them. Emotional implicit memories can create a feeling of a different person inside us eliciting the automatic thoughts, feelings, and sensations as this part of ourselves is not under conscious control.
To tune into this part of your subconscious self, start with reflecting on what you feel right now in this moment as you are engaging in the experiential implicit memory exploration exercise? Lightly bring your attention to your imagination (i.e., your mindseye) even if it’s just a felt sense of it. You may only see rough fragmented aspects of the image, or colours, but the imagination and feeling or sense of it is what is important. Begin to explore different features of the sense or image of it in your imagination. Whatever feels emotional drawing for you. If could be the clothes, the expression, a vague colour, etc. These might only be a vague and low resolution fragment of an image or even just sensation. The image does not necessarily need to be a visual image; it can be a felt sense of a spatial and tactile (or other sensory) awareness of something. Explore the sense, feeling, or image of whatever comes up and notice the emotional experience you are having as you do this. Keep exploring in this manner and notice what arises. This often triggers deeper thoughts and feelings that are more about the self. You might not even be able to verbalize it. That’s okay. You just need to explore and experience it because this will register at an emotional level in you even if you cannot verbalize it.
A very important concept is something called the felt sense. This is a mixture of meaning and sensations and feelings. This is called the physiological flow of meaning. We have a tremendous ability to recognize whether something is accurate when it relates to our personal beliefs, feelings, or thoughts. This does not necessarily apply to what the external reality is, as feelings and automatic thoughts are by no means accurate in relation to external objective reality.
Reality testing with your 5 senses and using science are great ways to reality check your beliefs and expectations to see if they are likely true or false. Think of a time when you were trying to recall a word, but couldn’t quite think of it though you had a sense of what the word was. Did you have a sense or feeling stamp of this? This is what a felt sense is.
To continue this exercise, become aware of your favourite memory with someone you enjoyed being with. Become aware of the sense of this memory – the feeling stamp in your body and senses. Become aware of your body in a light, gentle, and easy way as you are doing this. Becoming aware of your body in this way and lingering on the memory and feeling helps to impact your emotional and implicit memory so that it is automatic and sticks in your background mood and beliefs.
Think of a time when you were trying to recall a word, but couldn’t quite think of it though you had a sense of what the word was. Did you have a sense or feeling stamp of this? This is what a felt sense is. To continue this exercise, become aware of your favourite memory with someone you enjoyed being with. Become aware of the sense of this memory – the feeling stamp in your body and senses. Become aware of your body in a light, gentle, and easy way as you are doing this. Stay with this experience and notice the emotionally rewarding part of the experience of it to help stay with it.
Thinking in possibilities relates to brainstorming. This type of thinking is also called “lateral thinking” and harnesses associative memory. This type of memory mirrors the structure of the neural network in your brain. Just as many neurons are connected with one another, so are thoughts, feelings, and beliefs interconnected.
Many people seem to have difficulty with thinking in possibilities because of the fear of making mistakes and failing resulting in feelings of shame and low self-worth. Techniques for changing a shame-based reaction to self and others to a more constructive and facilitative response are addressed in a later chapter. As you think of anything right now, what is something else that is “like” what you are thinking of? Become aware of your body and feelings as you do this because the shift in association often arises as a shift in a non-verbal felt sense of meaning.
This is often an effortless process. However, you can also direct the associations as well because there are often many features and therefore cues that can elicit an associative link. For example, pretend you have a thought about someone you don’t like. What is the first thought or feeling that comes to mind about them. It could be that you felt they were inconsiderate. Think of the opposite of that quality, and who exhibits consideration to you. You have successfully used the natural rhythms of your associative thinking to think more positively.
Another strategy is to become aware of some of the features of the thought that arises. What is the most prominent or first image you see? What feeling are you experiencing as you see this? Start with whether you like it or dislike it. What do you dislike about it? Become aware of your body and feelings and sensations in a light and general way. Narrowing in on the feeling activates the left hemisphere. We want to activate a more global perspective (right hemisphere) which contains the underlying beliefs, emotions, and body feelings. When implementing new beliefs, we would activate both the left hemisphere and right hemisphere so that integration occurs.
Associations that arise may also contain worries, fears, or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This may be because there are underlying beliefs causing these. However, background mood and the brain’s way of processing information (i.e. negativity bias) can also cause or contribute to such worries, fears, etc.
Non-Directed Metaphor and Analogy
Think of what this feeling or impression you are having is like or similar to. This is a trial and error process and you will have a recognition type of understanding if it feels accurate. This can be based on past experience, or what you have seen, or even simply pondered in the past. Pay special attention to what images come up.
It is super important to do this in a slow and comfortable way or else you will not be able to become aware of the automatic thoughts and perceptions that come up. This is because when the stress response is up or you are going at a fast pace this causes the auto thoughts to take a backseat because your physiology believes that there is danger externally that it must deal with first and the auto thoughts are suppressed and just revert to a generalized sensation or numbness.
To go back to an example, I might liken what I’m trying to identify as being similar to a dynamic I had with a friend in the past. It’s almost like a reference point, but be wary sometimes as reference points don’t always accurately correlate with current circumstances. It is a useful tool to begin exploration though. You must assess in detail. This practice of assessing the emotional reactions is a constant necessary process. The conscious can provide the necessary context to the generalized and threat-biased interpretations that come first.
Even choosing an arbitrary word or picture can help because there may be features or elements of the word that remind you of aspects of whatever the contents of your mind are. Dreams seem to operate in the metaphorical or analogous realm, which are related to the right hemisphere of the brain.
This hemisphere is also implicated in being the seat of our implicit or unconscious memory. It develops first, does not understand verbal language very much, and is more connected with the body, which means that it understands through metaphor, felt sense, procedure and movement. Choose an arbitrary word that comes to mind. For example, if I’m trying to understand what this “pit” in my stomach is, I’ll choose an arbitrary word such as:
Sometimes it can be easier to sum up what we are feeling or thinking in just one word, and then working from there to narrow the accuracy of it. It could be “afraid”, “sad”, “stressed”, “stuck”, etc. This is a starting point. From here you can ask yourself “I am ____ because ____”. Using these sentence stems can harness the tendency of your mind to draw conclusions.
Of course, the results need to be checked subjectively as to whether they seem accurate to you. This would be done simply by becoming aware of whether it resonates or not – meaning whether it feels true. And, it could help by looking externally about what evidence there is in the present and past in how you have behaved, in order to verify if it is likely accurate. There is a requirement of introspection, critical thinking of looking at the evidence, and self-honesty that is needed for this identification to work.
Imagining a Double of Yourself
This tool assists with reducing arousal and gaining a third person perspective. Imagine you are looking at a double of yourself in front of you. Imagine seeing this double engaging in the problem scenario. Look at your face and posture. What do you see? What is going on underneath the expression on your face? How is it impacting you? Notice even a hint of a feeling, thought, or reaction you have. Often it is the first thought or feeling we have, as it is an automatic, visceral reaction to what is seen or imagined.
Two-Chair & Empty Chair
Find a private space where you can move around a bit so you can switch chairs or places where you stand. The “two-chair” tool involves imagining interacting with a representation of yourself – in other words, an aspect of yourself. This can be helpful for exploring the child, parent, and adult parts of self. The “empty chair” tool involves imagining interacting with another person. This can assist with exploring, expressing, and ultimately gaining perspective (i.e., processing) on experiences with others in the past.
For both tools, become aware of your body, your sensations, and your approach and withdrawal impulses and slowly move your body and communicate both vocally and with gesture. Don’t worry about what you think you need to do. Just start slowly moving and expressing even if it is not accurate at the outset as your job is to assess what resonates (i.e., if it’s a positive or negative value) while you are engaging in the experience. Continually, monitor and modify the movement and the expression in an attempt to find what resonates. As you do this, become aware of your feelings, and any impressions, images or automatic thoughts that you are experiencing. It is a continual process of exploration and modification moment-to-moment. In other words, this is an ever evolving process of self-attunement.
Imagery and Eye Movement
When we have a thought, feeling, or combination of the two (which is usually the case), it can help to become aware of the very first thought or feeling and then noticing any partial or fragmented images that come to mind. If any do, explore these images to see if there is any other detail in them. It can help to let your eye movements follow the pattern that feels good when you are exploring this image.
You don’t need to concentrate too much on this, as it is just a reminder because we can sometimes get used to inhibiting our eye movement (and therefore processing) due to suppressing thoughts and feelings. Suppression can be adaptive for coping (and is usually automatic) in the short-term or until you gain professional assistance, but over a longer period, suppression tends to be less helpful when it is more so out of habit.
Meta simply means multiple layers. When we have a thought or feeling we can have another thought or feeling in reaction to this, and another, and so on. This indicates the interconnected web of worries, fears, and beliefs one may have. This tool involves becoming aware of how the issue or feeling makes you feel. And, what it feels like to feel this, and so on. This tool can help with further exploring a feeling or issue if you get stuck.