Got memories? We all have them stored deeply by the truck load.
And what about our favorite memories? Our child’s first bike ride? That amazing trip to the Grand Canyon? Our critical role in winning the championship game? The truth is that these events did not happen exactly the way we remember them.
In fact, if we truly cherish our memories, we need to stop thinking about them because they will never be the same again if we do.
Obviously, that is both undesirable and impossible, but I say this to make the point that our brains constantly betray us by transforming our memories every time we recall them.
According to a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience, our emotions color our experience -and therefore our memory- the very first time AS WELL AS each time we recall it. Every time we take a memory out of your personal data base, it is saved someplace else in our brain in a slightly altered state based on how we are feeling at the moment.
Consider the implications of this in dentistry. Some of our new patients report horrific stories of trauma associated with their past treatment. Personally, I have heard a story similar to “the dentist stood on my chest with both feet trying to get my tooth out” about 20 times now.
Of course, this never happened to these patients exactly as described, but to them it is absolutely real, ( and in this case) represents a recurring existential threat to this day.
Which leads me to my final point. Our patients have memories and stories about which we must listen carefully -without judgment – regardless of how unlikely this may represent the truth.
Because WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS WHAT THESE MEMORIES MEAN TO THE PATIENT TODAY, as it is this meaning which will potentially drive future behavior if it is not superseded by a more accurate and relevant experience.
If the meaning fully blocks their openness to experiencing something new, comfortable, predictable, and safe, as well as something which helps them grow past these distortions, then where exactly is their relationship with us going in the future?
Conversely, if individuals have come to us with an openness to addressing their past distortions, with an intention to grow toward greater health, isn’t that one of the most exciting and most meaningful moments we can ever experience?
Paul A. Henny, DDS