What we remember from childhood we remember forever –
permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.

~ Cynthia Ozick

You can’t deny it. There is not one of us who escapes our family without some sort of emotional baggage. The question is not whether you have it or not; it’s how heavy are your bags.

As children, we learn how to communicate, how to relate to others, how to have intimate relationships and whether to trust. These early family experiences significantly affect how we will perceive our adult partners and relationships. This is more than theory; science has discovered a biological basis for this.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that significant life events, whether it is the trauma of a car accident or the excitement of your first love, are remembered by the brain in a different way than normal memories. The brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, interacts with memory regions of the brain that create indelible emotional memories.

Studies found stronger, more consistent activity between the emotion- and memory-related brain regions during the formation of the memory of a significant event than when a neutral memory is forming. Brain scans reveal that emotional images are more strongly encoded than neutral ones.

Starting in childhood, our memories are recorded in the conscious and unconscious parts of our brains and we carry them with us. When our partner inevitably triggers our childhood feelings of rejection, anger or sadness, we are biologically transported back to these old biologically imprinted feelings.

Why is that, you ask? To attempt to repair the old damage and create a different outcome this time, unconsciously of course. We have a drive to recreate the patterns or traumas from childhood, and put ourselves in the same position so that we can work them out. Freud referred to this as the “repetition compulsion.”

If we are aware of this, we can create a different outcome in the present. If not, we may get stuck in the same place and repeat. We all search to repair our childhood hurts and are working to unload our baggage; some of us are just more conscious of it than others. It is this awareness that can prevent us from repeating old patterns and help heal the old wounds by freeing us to respond in healthier ways in our present relationship.

At a conference one of our psychologist friends said, “If you want to have an interesting evening, sit around with your therapist friends and ask them if they went into this field to save themselves or to save someone in their family.”

A very true statement. As therapists, we heal ourselves and pay it forward to help others do the same.

Read more about emotional baggage.

For more in-depth information on the biology of the brain we recommend the following books:

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life
Joseph E. LeDoux

Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
Joseph LeDoux

Mapping the Mind
Rita Carter


Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.

Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, info@relationshipswork.com.


Photo credit Colin Behrens on Pixabay