Did you know that your brain stores memories, which you may not even be aware of, that continuously impact your mental health, behavior, and life?
Significant life events — both good and bad — get cemented in your memory. Glimpses of life’s happy little moments can bring back feelings of joy. Other not-so-good memories evoke pain, stress, or difficult emotions. In the latter case, you might make a conscious effort to avoid thinking about the uncomfortable memories — but you’re still aware of them. These are all examples of explicit memories, which you can consciously recall — even if you would rather not.
Your brain also files away implicit and repressed memories below your conscious awareness and while you can’t actively retrieve or recall these memories, they can still significantly impact your life.
All types of memories influence your mental health, behavior, perception of the world, response to new situations, and interaction with others. Read on to find out how.
Explicit memories are memories that involve conscious thought, can be recalled, and are declarative. Explicit memories include factual and general knowledge about things. Examples of explicit memory include:
- Items on a list,
- Important dates,
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers,
- Learning things for school or work, and
- Remembering an important life event.
There are two types of explicit memory:
- Episodic memory: the recall of life events and autobiographical knowledge, and
- Semantic memory: all non-biographical explicit memory.
Unlike an explicit memory, an implicit memory doesn’t involve the experience of recalling and can be described as retention without remembering. Implicit memory can be behavioral, emotional, perceptual, or somatosensory, and is often felt in your body. A good example of implicit memory is hopping on a bike and remembering how to ride. An explicit memory would be the recollection of someone teaching you how to ride. Alzheimer’s patients can remember how to read, write, walk, and talk even after they can no longer recognize loved ones because of implicit memory.
Marsha Lucas, PhD, neuropsychologist, and psychotherapist, calls implicit memories the “unthought known” and labels them the “unconscious effects of your past experiences.” She writes:
“These memories got quickly and permanently stored, even though you don’t have conscious awareness of them as memories — they’re just kind of “in there,” informing and influencing you without any kind of time stamp, and without your being aware of their influence.”
Implicit memories can be invisible forces in your life, impacting you in powerful ways. Because they are unconscious, bodily memories, when they are triggered in the present, you don’t realize that your reactions are coming from the past. Instead, you feel the emotions and bodily sensations from the memory when triggered by present circumstances.