Memory reconsolidation is a relatively new finding in neuroscience. It has a big impact for you because it makes incredible change possible. You can download a free guide to memory reconsolidation here.
Here is a long form interview with Alun Parry on memory reconsolidation:
It used to be thought that, when a traumatic event happens, the brain would cling onto it forever. It couldn’t be overwritten (or so they thought) and so the same bodily responses and upset wouldn’t change either.
After all, if something was significant and upsetting, the brain doesn’t want to unlearn it easily. The brain is acting in service of your survival. So it wants to keep a record of what circumstances were dangerous.
This is useful, but also makes change after trauma very difficult.
It meant that change was always counteractive. The old distressing stuff was still there. A new, healthier system was built alongside it to challenge it. It was like setting up a tennis match between the old brain system and the new, and hope the new would win.
Sometimes it would do. But the old system was just as likely. Relapse was common.
The Good News
We now know that we can overwrite the old stuff. The brain is still reluctant, but therapists who understand memory reconsolidation now have the road map for transformational change to happen.
Memory works in two ways. First, there’s the facts of the matter. “This happened, then this, then this…”
But there’s also the emotional learning that goes with it. The upsetting responses and the fight/flight or shutdown responses that go with it. The beliefs we formed about ourselves are part of that emotional learning too. “Because that happened it must mean that I am/people are/life is….”
Transformational Change Is Now Possible
It’s this emotional learning that we typically wish to change in therapy. With memory reconsolidation, the facts of the event are still remembered, but we have no negative response to it anymore.
Unlike old ways of achieving change – the tennis match approach – we can now directly overwrite the emotional memories of the upsetting event(s).
The tennis match approach is no longer needed because there’s no old stuff to play against. It has been overwritten completely. That brain system now holds the new emotional learning instead.
It’s much like overwriting an old cassette tape. Those old upsetting songs are simply not there anymore.
This is why change is transformational and involves no relapse.
We still remember the events, but we no longer have the emotional response or the beliefs around it and so life changes for the better.