Leadership, EQ and Enhanced C-IQ Coach

Rid Yourself of Ghosts of the Past 

‘Our past shapes our present.’

Every experience in early life, is encoded in our brain as implicit memory. All this happens without effort or intention. Later, this memory get integrated into a coherent narrative, a story which makes sense, is called ‘explicit’ memory which can be recalled.

Also, a memory which occurs when we are seized by an emotional trauma or when our attention is focused elsewhere does not get integrated. Our ability to integrate implicit memory is predicted by the kind of attachment we had as a  child with our parents or caregivers.

The fragments of unintegrated implicit memory haunt us. Upon perceiving a situation which resembles the situation when the memory was first encoded, puts us into reactivity. Dr. Dan Siegel in his book ‘Mindsight’ writes ” Implicit memory encodes our perception, our emotions, our bodily sensations, and, as we get older, such behaviours as learning to crawl or walk or talk or ride a bike. Implicit memory also harnesses brains’s capacity to generalise from experience, which is how we construct mental models from events…..The brain summarises and combines similar events into one prototypical representation known as shema. … We filter our ongoing perceptions and prejudge our experiences through implicit mental models. And yes, they are likely to contribute to all sorts of attitudes and beliefs we carry around – whether about ourselves or other people.”

We can begin to free ourselves from the powerful and insidious ways implicit memory creates our present world. This can be done by seeing deeply into our inner world and making sense of the puzzle pieces of the past. This awareness starts the integration of implicit memory into our coherent narrative.

I would like to share experiences of Senior Executive I coached a few years ago. He and his supervisor agreed that every time in a meeting Sandesh (name changed) would freeze and withdraw. This un-concious reaction prevented him to express his opinion. He would meet his supervisor later to express his dissent. This problem was coming in the way of his promotion.

As we progressed with the coaching I found that he wept whenever he spoke of his father who lived with him and was doing well. At that time I did not probe deeper into the weeping.

Later when I read about Adult Attachment Interview in “Mindsight” I invited Sandesh to come over for a chat. I first explained about the AAI and proceeded with the interview. What emerged was that as a child he was mortally scared of his father’s temper. The father was a strict disciplinarian. This memory of the past impacted him in the present and he froze up in presence of his seniors. After some questioning he acknowledged that such reactions had become a pattern. As a next step I suggested that he have a heart to heart talk with his father, which he did. Father expressed his good intentioned reasons. They hugged each other and cried and asked each other for forgiveness. This led to integrating the insidious implicit memory.

The next step was for Sandesh accept the behaviour without any guilt or shame or regret and look at the behaviour in a detached manner. In a manner that we observe a stranger without any judgment. Next, he took my advice and started practicing Guided Mindful Meditation. Besides, Acceptance meditation increased his ability to look inwards with a confidence that he will not let his past dictate his present. With Mindfulness he stopped going on autopilot. Instead he took a mindful pause and injected into the pause the reality of the present. “It is alright to speak my mind without hesitation or fear.” This new intentional action has now become a habit with Sandesh.

P.S.: A friend, who is been practicing Vipassana for 40 years, read this article and said that this was what you achieve through Vipassana. I use Mindful Meditation.

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