Remember the old saw, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood?” Brain research offers hope that this statement has some truth to it. Think about it, where does your childhood exist now? In your memories, right? How can you have a happy childhood, whatever your chronological age? Change your memories! “What?”, you wonder. “How can I change facts and events that happened years ago?” Well you can’t change what happened, but you can change what you think and how you feel about what happened and in doing so you can change memories and heal.
Scientists used to think brains were formed and static by the time we reach adulthood. Back 15 years ago when I was in grad school I recall one professor counseling us to expect little change in the lives of those who have reached middle age. Well now well into middle age myself, I can attest that, as brain research now shows, brains continue to change throughout our lives. I am still growing and healing old wounds and you can, too. How can we do this?
Our habitual and patterned responses to things that happen to us create neural pathways in our brains. When our early caregivers are healthy, strong, loving, and caring, our feelings about ourselves mirror what we feel from others and we develop loving, caring, resilient capacities with ourselves and in relationships. When early caregivers are unable to attend to our basic needs for food, comfort, and positive emotional mirroring, we feel insecure, lose trust, and think maybe we don’t matter. Those earliest of responses become the way we respond to people and events throughout our lives unless we intervene and change our responses. Changing our responses actually changes the neural pathways in the brain. I like to think of these old patterned childhood responses as being like ruts in our brain like ruts from tires in a dirt road. Do those ruts need to remain in the road? Of course not. When the cars go down a different road, the ruts fill up and grass will grow through the dirt once again.
Likewise as we change our ways of engaging ourselves and our thoughts, we can change the pathways in our brains. Affirmations and guided imagery are two ways of changing our brains. Another way is to notice when we have a strong uncomfortable feeling and then trace back through our memory bank to the first time we recall feeling that same feeling. By working in the present with the stored memory, we can change the impact of the memory on our thinking and emotion and change our brains as we do so. Consult a book or psychotherapist for more details on how to do this. One of my favorite books on this topic is Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well–Being by Linda Graham, MFT. Have fun with this!