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Emotional Memory - Take Control of Your Thought Process

Updated on March 20, 2014
Are you in control of your emotions, or are they controlling you?
Are you in control of your emotions, or are they controlling you? | Source

Emotions are the rollercoaster of life. They take you up and down with a range of feelings that cause certain reactions. This especially happens when one is reminiscing and thinking of something that happened and caused a certain emotion. Whether it’s good or bad, a reaction takes place which can usually lead to another occurrence; if it’s a good memory it can bring a smile and put you in a positive mood for the rest of the day. Unfortunately for a lot of people, this thinking process usually takes place with negative emotions. A tragic event that took place during childhood, the death of a loved one, a car accident or a major disappointment of a friend are prime examples. Each time you think back on these negative memories, your thinking process is often left scarred. Your ability to learn, retain information, and communicate effectively is effected by the way you process bad memories. Fortunately, there are effective ways to turn it around – it depends on the choices you’re willing to make to accept things that have happened and let them have zero effect on you and who you are today.


What is emotional memory?

Emotional memory is one of two ways your brain functions. One part is dealing with factual information and the other deals with the emotional part of an event. Our brains basically have organized memory files that not only contain the details of the day, time or location of an event; it also has the emotional detail of the event. Every time an event is remembered, the emotion associated with the event is triggered which causes joy, pain, or even something in between. Do you remember where you were on 9/11? What about when the Space Challenger exploded in mid-air? Name five songs from your favorite music group/artist. What kinds of emotions are associated with your responses to these questions?

So in essence, many things are maintained by the brain because of the emotions associated with it, not just for detail alone. For example, I don’t recall how many times my family and I attended church for Sunday services, but I vividly remember one Sunday we were getting ready for church, and my brother, who was only 1 year old at the time, got burned by an iron that was left plugged in and within his reach. For years, I shuddered every time I thought about it because of the emotional details associated with the event. Everyone heard a painful shriek, ran to see what happened and saw that the iron slid down the side of his face, taking off a layer of skin and exposed the red flesh on his little cheek. My mom was hysterical and my dad rushed to get his son to the hospital. Naturally, everyone was one edge and feared for my brother’s well-being as my mom tried her best to comfort him during the ride to the hospital. Even though he was treated and is doing fine now (the scar disappeared completely over the years), needless to say it was a traumatic event for the entire family which brought tears anytime it was recalled.


Emotions and Your Senses

Our five senses – smell, taste, hearing, sight and touch, are all triggers for emotions to manifest. The smell of a certain perfume may remind you of someone you used to date and all the memories associated with that come flooding in. The point of this information is to show the brains capability to create an amazing filing system of your memories and emotions. Although senses are very powerful at pulling files, remember that emotions also pull files and can have a continuous effect without stopping. If you’re spring cleaning your home and come across an old photo of someone that has hurt you in the past, the emotions will keep presenting themselves – as long as that file stays out. So it depends on what you do with the file once its pulled. If you continue to pay attention to it and not put it away, you’ll have another negative flashback.

Emotional memory manifests the most in your relationships.
Emotional memory manifests the most in your relationships. | Source


Emotions that have been filed away aren’t triggered in any other area of life than in relationships. Whether it’s a marriage, a good friend, or a co-worker, emotions rear themselves the most in these relationships once they’ve been triggered. A lot of the times the person doesn’t even realize there is a file on a certain emotion until something happens and they react. At times you’ll have a bitter fight with someone close to you and the fight may not even make sense. You’ve expressed emotions you didn’t realize were there and the person is saying things that easily upset you. You’ll know a file has been pulled because the emotions or mood do not fit the current situation. A couple may fight over one person in the relationship not being able to go hang out with their friends because the other has a problem with it. There are feelings of jealousy and insecurity that was filed into the mind from a previous relationship and now has been triggered because someone wants to go hang out with their friends. No one is being heard during this fight since there is a huge communication block – as long as the file is being held up and acknowledged, no real communication can take place.

Unfortunately, it seems like the negative emotions take control of the situation and overshadow original intentions of a conversation or situation at hand. This happens all the time, files from childhood, bad relationships and past hurts tend to present themselves in relationships – particularly marriages. There is no one that wants to remain in this type of cycle, especially in relationships that they want to work out. Steps can be taken to eliminate some files and re-create new ones. We have the capability to make these changes.

Take control of your mind and clean out the memory file cabinet

Do a self-check. Do you really need to stay mad at that one co-worker who ticked you off last year at the company Christmas party? Not really. Do a mental spring cleaning. Some things that may have infuriated you a year ago may be silly to you now if you think about it. Let some of the files tied to anger, jealousy, and resentment go! I’ve mentioned this before, your health pays the price in the long run and you don’t want that to happen. Remember, emotional memory is a chemical process conducted by the brain. Any imbalance of your brain’s chemical can affect you in these areas:

  • Mood
  • Physical energy
  • Sexual Interest
  • Sleep (waking up in the middle of the night)
  • Toxic thoughts (guilt, dying, accidents)

Some files simply do not go away, but that doesn’t mean the emotions related to the file have to stick around. Time may be a factor in eliminating the emotions and having the facts remain. WE see this all the time when a world war veteran recalls events that took place during combat. They can talk about what happened in a factual sense, but they do not carry much emotion with it like they may have done earlier in their lives.

Balance is imperative to managing emotional memory.
Balance is imperative to managing emotional memory. | Source

Types of brain memory functions

memory of emotions connected to an experience
Remembering how to drive
includes details of the experience
What you were wearing on the day you were involved in an accident

Take steps to outweigh the negative with positivity

There are several steps you can take to better manage emotional memory in your life. Are you ready to let certain things go? Where do you want to be emotionally? Are you ready to accept healing from old wounds? These are questions you need to ask yourself before doing the following:

  • Identify how your emotional memory and files work – remember each of us has a file system of emotions that constantly have our brains at work. With our senses at work, a file can be pulled in an instant and link itself to places, things, and people.
  • Re-label certain files so that they can be associated with other emotions – believe it or not, your brain does what you tell it to do! The story I mentioned about my brother's accident earlier is a good example. Initially, the emotional memory was tragic and sad, but over the years we were able to associate that day with other emotions by using humor to dilute the negative aspect of it. After being treated at the hospital, my brother was the apple of everyone's eye in that hospital and kept the staff entertained until it was time for him to be released. We often recall those moments when we think back on that day. The negative emotions took a back seat to the humorous side of the memory.
  • Always keep the positive happy memory files at the forefront of your mind – this may be easier said than done, but it’s possible. Even when a bad emotion is triggered during the day, it’s only or a moment so follow up by reminiscing on something good that happened or the vacation you’ve planned for next month. This will help keep you in a better mood.
  • Regroup certain types of files – over the years, we’ve all had our fair share of bad memories such as toxic relationships, bad childhood, being fired from a job, etc. Why not just group all of those occurrences into one file, label it and put it away? If you went through certain experiences for a number of years, label it “The crazy times that are done and over with” and move on.
  • Practice triggering positive memories – sometimes those old photos can help you recall happy times or a funny event. It’s okay to look back in this case.
  • Create new files – this step relates to my previous post on creating one’s self. You can create a new mindset to control what you decide to react to. Remember, it’s okay to daydream and think about something that makes you smile

Take Your First Step Towards Healthy Emotional Memory


Carver, J.M. (2014). Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory. Retrieved from

Lamia, M.C. (2012) Intense Emotions and Feelings. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Richards, J.M. & Gross, J.J. (2005). Personality and emotional memory: How regulating emotion impairs memory for emotional events. Journal of Research in Personality. Retrieved from


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    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Hi Denise. Unfortunately a lot of people don't realize the power they have over their minds. We're so used to operating out of our emotions we tend to lose sight of what really matters. I'm glad you found my hub useful Thank you for your feedback.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is amazing the power we actually have over our memories, our emotions, and our ability to make something different with our lives. This hub contains a plethora of ideas and techniques that can be used to improve emotional health. I have used many of them and find them to be extremely helpful.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Hi Glenn,

      We know that the negative thoughts will come, but we don't have to entertain them. Thank you pointing out that they can be ignored. It's important to periodically clean things out, whether it's in your home or in your some point certain things need to be thrown out so that the cycle of replaying painful moments can stop. Thank you commenting and I appreciate your feedback!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      This is a very well-written and complete discussion of how emotions are saved in our memory and can be triggered with any relationship to a particular experience.

      You also brought up some very important points, such as how our health is negatively affected by holding on to negative emotions. It is very important to learn how to eliminate these types of emotions from our memory. Or at least to ignore them when they tend to come to the surface. The best way to do that is to remove anything from our life that might trigger a memory of the events that bring out those emotions.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Hi Scott, it is easier said than done, but it's possible. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

      Sue, thanks for the comment! I don't know if I consider myself a teacher, I just like sharing what I've learned. You're right though, practice makes a huge difference.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 

      4 years ago from Andalusia

      Re meditation and mind control. Just do it Scott, practice. Training is the key to learning any technique and good teachers like Zainab can help us do just that: to practice and practice to achieve a specific goal.

    • Scott P Williams profile image

      Scott P Williams 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Easy to say and hard to do. It's like trying to meditate and not think about anything.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      The mind is very powerful, yourhealthmatters. I think a lot of it hasn't even been discovered yet! Thanks for voting up!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      The power of the mind, and how it can impact our physical and emotional health, never ceases to amaze me! Voted up and interesting!

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Thanks for your feedback, ChitrangadaSharan!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Wonderful hub on an important topic!

      Human mind is such--It makes heaven out of hell and hell out of heaven. It is in our good interest to erase the unpleasant memory and remain positive.

      Very practical thoughts and thanks for sharing your words of wisdom!

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Thank you so much, janshares. Your feedback means a lot to me as I have profound respect for your profession. The mind can be a very complex thing to deal with, especially when it comes to trauma and abuse. Thanks again for voting up!

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Excellent hub, well done, Zainab Tarawali. I love the concept of emotional memory as it is a very real thing. I've used the term a lot in my profession. Most of the time, that's all children have in terms of recalling trauma and abuse. Thanks for highlighting a worthy topic. Voted up and interesting.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile imageAUTHOR

      Musu Bangura 

      4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Hi FlourishAnyway, thanks for reading. Yes, my brother is fine - I should have included that in the hub! Lol! I'll go ahead and include that update. Thanks again.

      Hi Sue. You're right, every time we think back and bring up bad files, the negativity does get reinforced and makes it harder for that feeling to go away. After a while, the file will still be there, but the emotional ties should just die off after a while. Yes, we know it happened - and that's it - it just happened. I see you have an effective way of keeping your files in check. It pays to take control of them and not let them control you.

      Thanks for commenting and voting!

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 

      4 years ago from Andalusia

      I like this article very much because I too have often thought what a shame it is we cannot just press a "delete" button to get rid of negative memories that keep hurting us unnecessarily over and over again every time we recall them. In fact, every time we think about a bad event, we re-inforce its memory. So my solution is a little similar to yours Zainab. I just plonk all the stuff I want to forget in a particular file that I have labelled "Sandra Caverly", a person I used to know a long time ago who I have no feelings for either good or bad and who is no longer a part of my life. It really seems to do the trick and stops negative memories in their track when ever they are trying to creep up into my present awareness.

      Goog work, good advice, voted up and thank you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Interesting hub that made me recall memories in my own life. I can definitely see how you recall the iron incident with your brother. I hope he is okay.


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