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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflecting on Gut feelings as the Key to Recovering Childhood Memories that Enhance Healthy Adult Decision-Making

     Many people say that they cannot remember their childhood experiences prior to age 7 and memory studies by psychologists in the field of childhood development and memory will tell you that this is normal. Dr. Patricia Bauer, Professor of Psychology and Senior Associate Dean of Research at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, has been researching the development of memory in children since the 80s. She has found that children begin to have a significant increase in the rate of forgetting memories of their past life events after the age of 7, or the onset of what was termed by Sigmund Freud as Childhood Amnesia.

For a long time, it was thought that the reason many adults could not remember events from their early childhood was because young children just did not have memory ability. But that has since been explored in research and Bauer concludes children do have memory ability but that memories from earlier than age 7 have an accelerated rate for being forgotten once the child is past age 7 than the memories formed after that age. Why the onset of this forgetting process is at age 7 is still in question and has lead to further important memory studies of children.

What is important here to us is that the memory research now being conducted on children concludes that recovering childhood memories is important to the development of personal identity and adult decision-making. This is a welcome validation of our work developing and using the Somatic Reflection Process on gut feelings to recover memory, with the affect of uniting body and mind in consciousness. The importance of recovering childhood memories is an understanding that we as career counselors have used in our clinical studies with people since the 70s, as we found that the seeds of who we are and who we become begin in early childhood. If we can become conscious of those beginnings, then we have valuable self-awareness information upon which to base healthy and successful life decisions as adults.

We found in counseling hundreds of adults something very shocking to many people who had no prior or very little childhood memories. When we asked people to center their awareness on their gut feelings to guide them and slowly to go back in time and remember when they felt this feeling in their gut before, they would be able nearly 100% of the time to access early childhood memories previously un-recalled. And those people who had previously been able to recall childhood memories were able to continue to recall additional memories using this gut feeling reflection process.

We found that the key to recovering childhood memories was to have people focus on their inner gut feelings and impact of experience rather than the details of their lives. We would  ask them to come in their awareness to a place in their past when they had the same feeling they were centering on in the present (usually starting with a reoccurring feeling connected to an unresolved issue in the present time of their life) and then they would allow the details of the experience in the past to come to their mind. Each time a feeling memory would come up in their consciousness, they were asked to focus on the feeling and continue to go back further in time. It was as if their present feeling awareness was attached to a thread that went all the way back in time to the impact of early childhood. One just had to follow the feeling and see where it landed. My colleague, Robert Sterling, often says that it seems that our feelings are like sausages in a sting, similar impacts of events that are connected.

Often, the early childhood memory in this feeling memory string was completely surprising to the person as the details of the event in childhood would be completely unrelated to the details of the present life issue of the person. But if they focused on the feelings, it was clear that the issue was the same in childhood as it was in the present and the person was often still trying to work out this issue in the present that began so very long ago.

Using the head brain to think back to earlier childhood did not seem to access new memories but feeling back in time, particularly centering on gut feelings of emptiness and fullness, would take people back to feelings in relation to events in their lives that they had not previously remembered. This was usually true in each successive session using the Somatic Reflection Process. The common response after these somatic reflections was amazement at remembering things they had not previously remembered and how useful it was in giving them new insights and perspectives into the present adult issue and decision they may be facing.

How this occurs, that is, how or why neurologically the gut feeling is the key to recovering memory, we never knew when we first developed and used the process in the 70s. We just knew that it worked and that it helped people to resolve issues they had been carrying all their lives and that the acquired knowledge of self through this somatic process on gut feelings encouraged positive adult decision-making.

Although the details of our early lives do come to our consciousness as a result of somatic reflection, the value in doing the inner work of reflecting on our gut feelings to recall our early childhood is not so we can remember these details —where we went on vacations as children or what we did there, the names of our childhood friends, the color of the walls of our childhood bedrooms, or our favorite tree house. But what is important is that our somatic reflections assist us in remembering the impact of life upon us, how it felt, what excited us in life and had value to us, how it felt to be loved or alone or confined or free, what decisions we made about our world, and certainly most important was what we decided as children about ourselves and who we decided that we were or were not. When we remember through our feeling awareness these things, then we have valuable information that is the blueprint for making successful life decisions as adults.

Since we primarily worked with adults, we have not engaged the use of the Somatic Reflection Process with children below the age of 10 years old, so we do not know what the youngest age is that it would be useful to use to explore memory. We suspect that reflecting on gut feelings with young children would be the key to educating the body-mind, our multiple brains, whole person, and to developing intuitional intelligence. We do know that if used with adults to recover childhood memories, the Somatic Reflection Process on gut feelings is both a key to and validates the recent findings that children do have the ability to form memories and that these memories are formed around the impact of their experience rather than around the details in their lives, a bottom-up rather than top-down formation.  We also know that these memories are recoverable and the consciousness of them is valuable, perhaps even essential to good emotional and physical health and longevity.

If you would like to learn more about our work with the Somatic Reflection Process, we invite you to read our book What’s Behind Your BellyButton? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and GutInstinct and please do come join the conversation on this blog and/or email us. The following is a short excerpt from our book that we think you will enjoy reading that relates to the key to recovering memories in childhood: The Impact of Experience, from Chapter 3:

“Today is felt to be the most complicated day in our lives and rarely in trying to deal with the issues of today, are we aware of the impact of the past on those issues. As we try to sort through the details of what is going on around us, we are often unable to see a clear positive path into the future. It seems no matter what we do to take action on the issues the same empty feeling persists or reoccurs and the actions seem only to further complicate the issue, leaving the emptiness to be dealt with later on.”

“It seems to be quite natural for us to try to figure out what is bothering us—to understand what is going on. Usually, as long as we keep the reflection to ourselves, we continually see the details and fail to find the meaning of the issue. Even though we reach out to a friend and ask for attention around the details of the issue, we may gain little or no insight into what is bothering us. Often the attention we get is sympathy for having to deal with the details of the issue. We become quite confused about ourselves and we get hostile at the one to whom we have asked for help and have gotten sympathy. Such an experience with another person focusing on details, serves only to leave us feeling more empty and alone.”

“As we comb through the piles of details of the past, we know in our feelings that the details weren’t the meaning of the experience. Somehow through the external judgments we used in the assessment of the experience, we become too confused to understand this clearly. As a child, we often move into action with our instinctive feelings, often with no logical motive. Others who observe our actions are privy only to the details and often make judgments about us from what they can perceive, without an understanding of our feelings.”

“If we enter experience from our instinctive feelings, we must assess the meaning of the experience from the original feeling needs involved. We must exclude other external logical judgments if we wish to understand clearly what our behavior means. Only by such a reflective process—reflection with the inner gut feelings—is the confusion eliminated.”

“When we can push the details of the experience out of our awareness, we can turn into the awareness of ourselves and reflect on our inner feelings. It is when we can do this that we are able to see the relationship of the confusion of the present to the issues and the feelings of the past. It is only through the process of reflection on our feelings, triggered in the confusion of the present, that we can begin to understand the sources of the feelings that are causing the confusion. By dealing with these past feelings, we may begin to arrive at some understanding with what we are dealing in the present moment.”

“These feelings accumulated from our past, rather than the details of our lives, seem to be the accurate record of the impact of our life experience. Until we perceive these early childhood feelings as acceptable, the patterns that develop with time constantly interfere with our understanding of ourselves in the past. Not until these feelings are validated by another person as acceptable human feelings can we let go of the past and put our full energies into present experience.”

“Fear, guilt, hostility—with an underlying emptiness feeling—triggered in by our present experiences are signals telling us that there is a need to reflect upon the past issues up through time in order to free ourselves from the past unresolved feelings about ourselves. The surface logical feelings of guilt and fear signal to us a conflict between what we think and what we feel about ourselves. A conflict or lack of communication is going on between our gut feelings and logical thinking brain. On the basis of our feeling awareness, the reflection up through time shows us the necessity for the actions we have taken.”

“The instinctive feeling of emptiness is signaling our logical mind that there is unfinished work to be done. There is an inner and outer conflict to be resolved and a reckoning of our two brains, the beginning of which lies festering in our past experiences. Once we find the source of the original disturbance, in the often distant past, reflecting back through time identifying the occasions when the feelings of emptiness matched the feeling of the now—the same feeling and likely reoccurring at several different ages; we need to clarify the purpose we were trying to achieve by the action and what need we were trying to fill. Then we need to work our way back in time in reflection touching the same occasions of emptiness we found before, and clarifying each instance all the way up to the present. It is then that we have become aware of much about ourselves and our environments, which we have been unaware before, and now we can realize the necessity of dealing with experience from our inner center of intelligence as well as the outer sensory judgment of others.”

Click on book cover below to go to Amazon to Buy:

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"What's Behind Your Belly Button?" is also available on Amazon USA and Amazon UK

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and it is on The Book Depository with free international shipping.

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