The brain cannot determine the difference from what it sees and what it remembers. When you see a blue ball and when you remember a blue ball the same parts of the brain light up. This begs the question, who really sees, the brain or the eyes? Every time you remember an event, you are re-writing the synaptic pathways in the brain. Thus, the only truly safe memories are the ones you cannot recall.
This is the newest way to help people with P.T.S.D or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When the brain makes a neural pathway in accordance with an event, the emotional connection to the event is recorded as well. When you remember the synaptic connections are made stronger. More and more neural pathways are changed and rewired to help that memory become stronger. Recalling a painful memory causes you to “re-feel” the event again, often with greater emotion than the original event had in the first place. The more often you recall that painful memory, the stronger it becomes. Helping people with PTSD requires enabling them to recall the event with a change in the emotional or empathic response they associate with it.
Here at the National Gymnastics Championships, I and all those in attendance, are made quite aware of how you “rank” nationally. A gymnasts expectations are a far greater determinant of their happiness after the meet than the score would predict. Everyone would like to get first, but not everyone is willing to work hard enough to be there…and sometimes you just have an off day. Not getting first though is seldom the factor that brings the tears. Rather, it is the desire to “do one’s best” and then feeling as if you failed in that endeavor…thus the feelings of regret.
The converse is true as well. When we have pleasurable experiences after the meet such as going to dinner, laughing, and having your portrait drawn, the emotional release and decompress can be palpable. While we were at dinner I egged on a couple of gymnasts to do a backflip in the middle of the restaurant. By doing so they changed the emotion of what just happened in the gym. The feelings that I am not as good as this or that gymnast changed to the reality that, “I can do some pretty amazing things…in the middle of a restaurant.” Everyone around was impressed by the skill, and although it is simple to these guys, 99% of the people on the planet cannot do those things. This is an important thing to remember. It reaffirmed that gymnastics is fun and amazing.
We had a hard day yesterday when expectations both external and internal were brought to bear with reality. After the meet, I gathered the boys and took them to go and see “The Avengers”. We laughed, raced up the stairs, and in general were goofy. If you will imagine, a bunch of guys, out on the town, and loaded up on sugar. The pain of disappointment were lessened by love and mutual camaraderie. Although minute, the PTSD of the experiences in the gym were re-remembered with different emotional attachments. When they look back and remember their nationals experience, it will be tempered by the hugs and good times associated with being loved.