Emotions are meant to help you remember important events in order to prepare you for similar events later on in life. If you experience something difficult, your emotions will help you adapt to the situation, while at the same time storing this memory so you’re more alert the next time something similar happens. This phenomenon is called emotional memories.
For example, if you are being bullied in school or at your work place, you’re shame can make you feel like sinking into the ground, perhaps signalling submittance to the bullies. This can be adaptive in the moment as it may reduce further harm. Your emotional system effects your brain so that the memory of the situation is stored in order to make you more alert to the bullies in the future.
Emotional memories can be good or painful, but it is the painful emotional memories that causes trouble for us later in life. If you were bullied in elementary school, but still as an adult feel that others don’t like you or that they are out to take you, then the emotional memory no longer helps you to deal with the current situation. The memory can be said to have developed into a problematic emotional memory. It continues to affect you long after the situation is over.
All of us have painful emotional memories that affects us at different times in life. Typical problematic emotional memories are from experiences of bullying, abuse, violence, substance abuse in the family, living with critical or non-appreciative parents, being abandoned, losing someone of particular importance or not being seen for who you are.
If you have too many or too big problematic emotional memories, then chances are that they affect you in a way that impacts your life in a negative manner. These memories can be triggered by your surroundings whenever something reminds you of the painful experience.
It is also very common that problematic emotional memories are covered up by secondary emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger or emptiness. The first steps are therefore to get acquainted with what lies under the secondary emotions, figuring out what the problematic emotional memory is about and somehow manage to make sense of it. And yes, problematic emotional memories can be changed.