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Our Emotional Attachment To Memories Defines Us - Here’s Why

“It’s okay.”

“You will get through this.”

“You just need to get over this!”

How many different expressions have you heard over the years…unhelpful cliches that provide no comfort, guidance, or support?

Worse yet, do you look back now and realize you said this to someone going through a challenging time?

It’s okay. Our responses to krisis aren’t always well-informed – as the person experiencing the krisis, or the people on the outside looking in.

When we have an emotional attachment to a particular pattern in our lives, it doesn’t take much of an interruption to upset our equilibrium…

What’s on your “memory stick”?

I was meeting with a group years ago. They were walking through ways of resolving grief.

We talked about all the unhelpful things people say to a person when dealing with a krisis.

Remember: the event is never the real krisis; it is the person impacted who determines the krisis, not us spectators!

There was an older woman in the group who shared part of her “memory stick” with us, a message she kept getting as a teen. She told us that her first boyfriend was a carp!

Alright, I thought, I’ll bite…”Was that his first name or his last name?”

“Neither,” she replied, “but he was a carp nonetheless.”

I had to confess that I didn’t understand the point of the story.

She smiled a grandma-like smile and explained that everyone kept telling her there were “lots of fish in the sea”, so he must have been a carp!

We all burst out laughing.

Her emotional attachment to that message was so strong, she had held on to that feeling – the memory of her first love – for all these years. She was amazed by the capacity of that memory to evoke such strong emotions, even though the event was so far in her past. The reality of remembering her first love was to also remember how others had responded when that love ended.

Why do we remember these moments so powerfully?

When we’re creating memories of our past, how does it impact our present…and our future?

Fight, fight, freeze, appease…

It’s simple: if you want to make a memory last, attach an emotion!

That’s why krisis is so powerful…

The event creates a ripple in your life because:

  • it was unexpected;
  • has created uncertainty;
  • threatens your goals;
  • demands change in your normal routines.

We’re uncomfortable with change…so our fight-fight-freeze-appease reactions kick into high gear.

Please keep in mind, it doesn’t matter if the account of the event is accurate or not, it’s the perceived experience of the person recounting the event.

It’s the contents of their “memory stick”…it’s undeniable.

Want to shut down someone dealing with a krisis? Tell them that their recollection is inaccurate…tell them that what they’re thinking and feeling isn’t important….tell them that you remember the event more clearly and accurately, and it’s no big deal…

Don’t be surprised if your relationship with this person alters forever.

Spectator reactions count in a krisis

If your response to someone in a krisis includes phrases like “You’ll be fine.” or “It’s time to get over that.” you’re missing the boat.

How you and I respond to a person when they’re experiencing or reliving an abnormal event creates the same emotional memory that the actual event did.

Let that sink in…

How a person responds to us when we’re spinning will never leave us neutral. We will either become better friends, or the friendship will change forever.

What kind of friend do you want to be?

Think about your own journey.

How many times have you had a significant event happen in your life? You are creating memories along the way.

Think about those defining moments…but don’t think about the moment, think about the people involved.

Think about those people who did not come into your life to fix, diagnose, or prescribe. These people came to you – they ‘got in the boat’ with you, even though it might be sinking – and listened while they rowed.

These are the people who become your real friends. And, yes, some people you thought would come through in a clutch let you down.

It’s true: real friends walk in when the rest of the world has walked out.

What does emotional attachment have to do with it?

Fair question.

Why does this matter? It’s simple:

Emotional attachments reveal what really matters to us.

If people are something to be fixed, if relationships are simply conversations about the weather, opinions, facts – surface matters – then we’ll never get our relationships to the deeper level of emotional attachment, transparency, or vulnerability.

Real life – and real relationships – are only lived at this riskier, deeper level.

So if you’re looking for security, consistency, safety, you won’t find genuine friendship. And you won’t be able to guide anyone through their grief…or find anyone who can help you navigate yours.

What can you do?

1. Listen

Is your friend in krisis describing something important to them? Are you listening carefully, without interjecting with glib panaceas?

2. Check your gut reaction

Are you keeping track of the time, or are you keeping track of their story? Resist the urge to check your phone, your watch, the clock on the wall.

3. Engage your senses

Your ears are plugged in…do you have your eyes plugged in, too? My son used to hold my face in his hands and say, “Dad, can you listen with your eyes, too?”…do you listen with your eyes?

4. Internalize the story

When you get the point that you know their concerns so clearly you could share them like they were your own story, you’ve arrived. This isn’t the same as living their grief…it simply means you’ve reached a level of understanding and genuine empathy.

You won’t always have “the fix”

I can’t emphasize this enough.

People often fall into the trap of thinking they have to “fix” someone who is going through a krisis, and it’s simply not the case.

The greatest tools you have at your disposal are your ears and your eyes. Come alongside the person who is struggling and listen to them…

Your friend, colleague, or family member, is a normal person responding in a normal manner to an abnormal event. There’s nothing to fix…you’re just company for this part of their journey.

Would you like to learn more about managing in a krisis? Contact me, and we’ll talk.

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