Memory reconsolidation for self-affection

Last Thursday, I realized that none of the people who ever hurt me did it because there was anything fundamentally wrong with me.

I don’t mean that as in “realized intellectually”, I mean as in “realized emotionally so that in any shame-tinged memory that I could think of, the other person decomposed to their inner pain and what they did to me in reaction to that pain and then it became apparent that it wasn’t really about me”.

The way this happened, I had been doing a lot of meditation / parts work and came to an early experience where I thought someone didn’t care about how he made me feel. Then that got juxtaposed with later memories of how he obviously did care and OH at that moment he just didn’t realize how I felt.

Then later I ended up at the memory an unrelated incident where a close friend said something that hurt and then I realized that wait, her words had nothing to do with anything that I’d said in the first place, she was obviously just projecting an unrelated trauma on me.

And then when I saw see her inner pain and words come apart, something clicked and suddenly I could see everyone’s inner pain and words come apart and then that generalized to everything and all kinds of memories started coming up to get reinterpreted.

The process was significantly aided by seeing Nick Cammarata post the following on Twitter:

… unconditional self love is about editing every single memory you have one by one going as far back as you remember to have affection as the principal component. Once you’ve done this, integrating affection into every moment of life going forward becomes effortless. After all, your brain thinks it’s already been doing that for every moment of its life. Why stop now?

It feels like being able to project compassion towards the me in the memories is an important part of the process: first I remember a shameful memory, then I project compassion at the me in the memory, then that kind of shifts into a third-person perspective where it becomes apparent what happened and I can kind of see people’s motivations in my mind’s eye.

And for that, having spent time with children seems to help. There’s a memory that comes up of me as a child or young adult, where it feels like I’m fundamentally bad. And then I kind of ask myself, if this was [some kid that I know and have spent time playing with], would I think of them as fundamentally bad for having screwed this up? Well of course not, I’d just want to comfort them and tell them that it’s alright and they’ll do better next time. And then I just apply that same feeling of affection and compassion towards myself in the memory. And if I’m older and no longer a child in the memory, then I can just think of some adult I care about and don’t feel judgmental towards.

Right now it feels like this particular move – of going into that space where I can see everyone’s motivations in that way, and forgive myself of past shame – isn’t automatic, but neither was it just a one-time thing. I got back to it this morning and worked on some further memories. It requires me to find the original incident that gave rise to the shame, which I haven’t yet managed to do with every variety of shame that I have. But on the flipside, once I started doing this, several incidents that I had previously totally forgotten about came up for reprocessing spontaneously.

I think there’s something really powerful in that “go through all of your memories until you can feel love and affection towards yourself in every single memory” frame. I had previously been doing memory reconsolidation on the model of “seek past sources of trauma and do what you can to heal the trauma”, but the mindset of “change the emotional framing of your memories so that you are no longer traumatized” doesn’t go anywhere near as far as “change the emotional framing of your memories so as to feel unconditional affection towards yourself at all times”.

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