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The Memory of Love (no, not the book)
December 6, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I can't remember my emotions. I can't remember being in love, for example. I have an intellectual memory of the fact that I was once in love, but I can't recall the feeling anymore like I was able to a year ago.

I also remember (intellectually) having had insane physical and emotional chemistry with someone, but can't recall how I actually felt anymore.

This gas been bothering me for months. Is this something that is common or at least that others have experienced? Having had really strong emotions and yet not being able to recall them at all? Is there any way for me to understand why I can't remember these feelings anymore even though I know I had them?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Human Relations (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same experience, and I've never really thought it that unusual. I equate it to those times when I was younger that I was really, really sick with the flu or something similar. I can remember being bedridden for a week, and feeling so ill my family wanted to take me to the hospital, but there isn't a visceral connection to the sensations, both physical and mental to being that sick. Granted, I have a weird general dislike of Chicken Parm as a result of projectile vomiting it everywhere back then, but there's no real immediate connection other than that.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2013

I have the same problem, but in my case it's been almost ten years since I felt those feelings. Pretty simple explanation for it, really.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2013

If human beings could remember -- like, actually remember pain, very few women would give birth more than once. It's practically an evolutionary trait that we lose the sharpness and weight and impact of emotions.
posted by Etrigan at 11:37 AM on December 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

... This post reminds me of the ditty: "There is no pain so great, nor joy so sublime, that will not yield against the grindstone of time."
posted by Debaser626 at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

I was about to mention pain, too. It's the way our minds are made.
posted by Houstonian at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2013

I preach about this phenomenon. When you look back on your life it's now how you felt, it's what you did. So if you're going through a break up, you may be emotionally upset, but if you get out and DO things, it helps so much.

This isn't a bug, it's a feature.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on December 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

Memory and perception are two really quite disparate things. Completely different things happening in your brain. When you are experiencing an emotion, signals are moving through the Papez circuit/limbic system/etc. which is going to create a completely different experience than just recall, where you're activating a different circuit through the hippocampus, temporal lobe, etc. In short, emotion and memory are two very different modes of being.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:56 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is pretty normal. I remember feeling terrible after my mom died, but I don't viscerally feel those feelings anymore (thank god). I remember feeling happy when I got a job I really wanted, but I don't re-feel that feeling when I remember getting that job offer. C'est la vie.
posted by rtha at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2013

You can recall them. You just can't relive them. This is a feature, not a bug.
posted by headnsouth at 1:09 PM on December 6, 2013

OK, having read the comments thus far, I now think I'm weird because I totally relive my strong emotions (positive or negative) when I watch other people experience similar situations or situations that might evoke similar emotions. Like, I can't watch reality TV at all because if someone even looks like they're gonna cry, I'll break down into a sobbing mess myself because I'm overwhelmed by memories of how I felt when I'd been humiliated, or rejected, or scared, or grieving, or whatever other situation(s) from my life are the closest fit to whatever I'm watching happen to that person.

Just thinking about how I felt in the past without any visual empathetic cues doesn't do as much for me unless I really dwell on it for hours. So, how do you feel when you watch other people experiencing strong emotions? Does that help you recall your own?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:38 PM on December 6, 2013

feelings do fade over time, probably because they are transitory, but i agree with jacqueline that you can relive them. it's why we cry watching movies. different things probably cue those emotions for different people. for some it's going to a place, for others it's hearing a song, etc. i know if i go back and read emails from a certain friend who i used to have near daily contact with i start to re-experience the emotions i felt back then. maybe people who have higher emotional sensitivity may re-experience past feelings more easily than others? idk.

i think this is also why people fall in and out of love. when someone says they want to leave their spouse only because they fell out of love with them i think well if you fell out of love you can probably fall back into love with them. emotions are rather woolly and mysterious things.
posted by wildflower at 4:12 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the most part I agree with the first several comments. Still, I know I've been able to access visceral memories more at some times than at others (I don't mean simply closer in time to the event).

Sorry for lack of source, but I've read that prediction tends to use a ridiculous percentage of human attention. Are you currently stressed or worried?

Are you able to daydream, or does your mind insist on veering toward concern about the next moments, days, months? I think the more emotional I am about what hasn't happened yet, the less I'm able to access emotion about the past. By the same token, angry emotions from the past tend to overpower positive ones in my case. If any of that is true for you, you could try practices ranging from meditation to intentional daydreaming. I'm not suggesting you'll remember years past like they were yesterday, but you may be able to feel more in touch. (Do give careful consideration to whether you want to, though, since we sometimes detach those feelings for good reason.)
posted by whoiam at 10:01 PM on December 6, 2013

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