Emotional Memory

Self-Enquiry Series – Inner Work

Emotional Memory: The Imprints That Trigger

An Emotional Memory is created by events in our lives that carry a noticeable emotional charge. Most times when a traumatizing emotional experience occurs, there is a corresponding Fight, Flight, or Freeze response connected to the incident. If we have not fully processed a traumatic event and our minds have not healed, these emotions create reactive neural networks within the limbic system of our brain. In turn, this carries an energetic Fight, Flight, or Freeze signature response connected to that memory.

The result is the consolidation of our beliefs and perceptions, in our subconscious mind, leading to corresponding thoughts and behavioural patterns. When emotional memories become embedded, a personal shadow is created. Once created, the shadow will automatically react whenever the emotional memory is triggered by similar circumstances and events throughout our life.

The Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

The Fight or Flight response is a biochemical reaction that exists in humans and animals when we experience intense stress or fear. 

The sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones (epinephrine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine noradrenaline) into the bloodstream causing a chain of reactions throughout the body. Examples include increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure. This is a physiological reaction that prepares the individual to respond to attacks or events that can be perceived as harmful or a threat to survival.

Humans, unlike animals, are not properly equipped to manage the stress hormones that are generated by The Fight, Flight, or Freeze mechanism. Because of this, our past experiences often leave traces of trauma within the psyche, brain, and physical body.

Animals, on the other hand, have built-in mechanisms to rid themselves of the built-up energy and stagnation of stress hormones after a Fight, Flight, or Freeze response incident. Once out of danger, they release their trauma by vigorously shivering  – literally shaking it out of their body.

The Fight, Flight, or Freeze response in modern humans is mostly triggered by fear-based beliefs created by previous experiences of emotional trauma. This often results in poor decision-making and the projection of false reality,  usually resulting in physical and emotional suffering.

The Shadow: The Disowned Parts of Ourselves

When we talk about the shadow, we are referring to the part of ourselves that we are either consciously unaware of or have chosen to hide from the rest of the world. 

Our shadows contain both positive and negative aspects. Other terms used to describe the shadow may include “the inner child”, “soul loss”, “wounded self” or, in the Western field of psychology, a type of “personality disorder”, “archetypes of consciousness” or simply “parts of the psyche”.

The Shadow is often formed by self-limiting beliefs that generate patterns of thought and behaviour. These can go on to create suffering through repetitive, negative experiences and cycles we establish in our everyday lives.

The shadow aspects of our psyche run like an underlying program in the background of our subconscious mind. Previously experienced trauma may create limiting beliefs and negative thought patterns that affirm themselves in our day-to-day lives, and lead to the experience of suffering and destructive behaviours as we try to ‘cope’. Examples include aggression, depression, addictions, and escapism.

When these processes are repeated, we end up in a feedback loop of mind-chatter; a state of false perception which leads to destructive actions and consequences.

The Shadow exists because we have become disconnected and unaware of these parts of ourselves, while we are subconsciously triggered to remember and re-experience pain from previous emotional memories.

Everyone has their shadows. A part of the inner work is finding the courage to take responsibility and be accountable for them. Once we accept and embrace them as a part of ourselves and commit to the inner work needed for transformation, we can befriend and integrate the shadows side of the Self.

The Unmet Needs of the Shadow

Another aspect of the Shadow is the parts of our psyche we have ignored and suppressed, creating unmet needs in the process. Common examples include deep-rooted emotions like shame, guilt, fear, or anger, plus instinctive urges like sexual and creative expressions. When we neglect our personal needs and core values in life, the balance between our mind and heart becomes unstable and we wind up feeling discontented.

When we fail to acknowledge the roots of our own humanity and our natural instincts, we create compulsive disorders and habits in an attempt to fulfill our needs. We often keep these compulsions hidden from the world, creating another component of the Shadow.

By recognising and accepting the forgotten emotional memories of our past, our unmet needs, and the hidden natural instinctual expressions of being human, we can begin to heal the deeper aspects of ourselves.


​​Article by Louie Valotti – Co Founder of Genesis & Facilitator 

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