Memory and Perception Articles

What We Lose When We Bypass the Little Moments

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

What We Lose When We Bypass the Little MomentsDuring this past Christmas season, I ventured into Rockefeller Center to work on a project with my friend. I also wanted to immerse myself in the magic that Manhattan has to offer, especially during that time of year when everything around us seems to emit a bit of sparkle. The glorious Christmas tree was gorgeous (as usual), the lights shimmered brightly, illuminating the sidewalks, and festive caroling could be heard.

And yet, the atmosphere didn’t feel quite right. I was being pushed and shoved in a sea of aggressive onlookers who were also eager to acquire a touch of the holiday spirit. Everyone was desperate and determined to snap a photo on their phone or their tablet.

The pace was fast. Movement was rushed. My friend and I wondered: were they really here to absorb the sights, or did they just hope to get a snazzy picture for Instagram and bustle onward?

There’s something to be said for those little moments — moments that can feel special if we give the immediate present a chance.

Memory Help: 4 Simple Tips on How to Remember Somebody’s Name

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Memory Help: 4 Simple Tips on How to Remember Somebody's NameOne of the most common tasks we do as social beings is to meet new people in different settings — parties, the workplace, in class, or in some other social group. So it’s no surprise that one of the skills that will be of benefit in life is to remember other people’s names.

Yet, many people seem to have trouble remembering a new person’s name.

So how do you get over this problem? It’s easier than you may think.

Fun with Data! Spinning the Beneficial Effects of Cognitive Training, Brain Games

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Fun with Data! Spinning the Beneficial Effects of Cognitive Training, Brain GamesWhen virtually all of your data from your study show negatives — e.g., people are getting worse at the task — what does a good researcher do?

Show your intervention helped people decline less than nothing at all. Then ensure the news release talks about “improvements” in these cognitive training tasks — echoing the language you used in your study.

Welcome to the wonderful world of cognitive training, where squishy “neuroscience” means drawing every last bit of statistical significance from your data… even when it has little meaning for real-world impact.

Navigating Relationships & Abandonment Fears: Losing Others, Losing Me

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Navigating Relationships & Abandonment Fears: Losing Others, Losing MeAs I have struggled through some very dark days of trauma recovery, I have come to understand some universal laws that have helped make sense of my chaotic life. The most basic law is that the inner child will recreate the challenges of the childhood until the challenges are resolved. To the inner child, the perception of resolution may be very different from the adult’s logical brain.

But I have learned that the resolution can come in many forms.

For a sexual violence survivor, this law holds no more true than when navigating adult intimate relationships. Sometimes, this law is referred to as “women will always marry their father.”

But it manifests in other ways too. It would be easy to address if it weren’t happening unconsciously. Unfortunately, we rarely know we are recreating our childhood. In the case of memory repression, it is worse because we don’t remember the events we are recreating. Sounds like a losing battle, doesn’t it?

The Holidays & Our Search for Meaning

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The Holidays & Our Search for MeaningThe last time many people took the time to ponder philosophical questions, such as: “What’s the meaning of life?;” “What values do I cherish?;” “What shall I do with my life?” — it’s likely they were with their college buddies, high on pot, contemplating the meaning of life, love, sex, truth, peace and more.

What a luxury it now seems to have the leisure to sit around to ponder the meaning of life. For once you are immersed in the business of life – earning a living, raising a family, maintaining a residence – it’s easy to shy away from reflecting on your philosophy of life. This typically results in feeling empty, alienated and without purpose despite being constantly busy, rushing around doing things.

A philosophy of life is not just for philosophers. It’s for all of us. Knowing what you believe in creates a sense of purpose. It is also a moral compass so that we don’t feel lost when we need to make difficult decisions or deal with trying times.

Meditating with James Austin: Taking the Opportunity to Come Apart

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Beautiful Young Girl MeditatingLast year, I attended a weekend retreat with Zen teacher James Austin. Austin spent most of Saturday presenting information from his book Meditating Selflessly, and from other research he and others have conducted on Zen and the brain. His exhortation to get out of the meditation hall and spend some time in nature looking at birds, or, if early morning, the planets and stars, led to me leaving the retreat on Sunday and disappearing for a few hours into the woods. (Austin’s presentation was over.)

During the retreat I asked Dr. Austin what he thought about people with a serious mental illness practicing meditation. I have bipolar disorder and had scheduled a very intensive, silent retreat.

Austin said that people with a “mental defect” should not undertake intensive meditation. I was surprised at both the language and the sentiment, especially as I have gained so much from my meditation practice. But I have respect for Dr. Austin’s work, and was so influenced by his retreat that I decided to take his caution under consideration.

So I went on the silent retreat anyway.

Time Might Not Heal All Wounds

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Time Might Not Heal All WoundsIt’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.
~ Lena Horne

Think of a painful injury such as a wound — one that’s fresh and open, bleeding. You attempt to secure a bandage and some protection.

You move onward. As time goes by, the wound starts to heal, but you’re left with a scar — a physical reminder and mark of what occurred.

In similar fashion, that’s how I view certain emotional wounds. They’re scars that will always be a part of us, regardless of time and longevity. But that’s okay, because it’s all about how you choose to carry your load, your past.

The Dark Side: Coping with My Memories

Monday, November 4th, 2013

The Dark Side: Coping with My MemoriesEveryone has a dark side. Of course, some are darker than others.

My dark side is pretty dark. Countless rapes and beatings can turn a heart cold. I have known about my anger for many years. I am comfortable with my anger. I know how to express it safely. Nobody gets hurt. I acknowledge the anger. And eventually, I am able to integrate those feelings. And I feel a little more whole.

My latest memories are dark. After six years of recovery work, these memories are exposing a level of rage that even surprises me. It is definitely not my standard anger. It is different. I don’t feel mad. I don’t feel anything at all. There is no empathy and compassion. There is no acknowledgment that others have feelings. This rage doesn’t care if others live or die.

It is scary. And it is probably what drives a person to murder.

The Gift of Adversity: An Interview with Dr. Norman Rosenthal

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

The Gift of Adversity: An Interview with Dr. Norman Rosenthal Today I have the privilege of interviewing Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the noted research psychiatrist about his new book, “The Gift of Adversity,” that explores how life’s disappointments and difficulties provide us with the lessons we need to become better, bigger, and more resilient human beings.

As a world-class psychiatrist, what have you found to be the most important tool your patients can arm themselves with when confronting adversity?

The most important tool is a clear head. Don’t panic. In most situations there is time to think; thinking is your friend, and impulsive action is your enemy. Analyze the situation, understanding what you’re up against and what resources you have at your disposal.

Of course, in emergencies you will need to act quickly, but that’s when your primitive fight-or-flight responses will click into gear and — with a bit of luck and quick thinking — will save the day.

The Self-Blame Game: An Obstacle to Change

Friday, October 25th, 2013

The Self-Blame Game: An Obstacle to ChangeIn my 20 years as a psychologist, I have seen that self-blame is a major obstacle to change. It’s paralyzing and damaging and the enemy of growth.

Often, before I can help a patient address a problem, we have to first climb this mountain of self-blame, and then find our way down to the other side.

I have seen that the people most prone to self-blame are people who grew up with childhood emotional neglect (CEN). This is because CEN is invisible and unmemorable, yet leaves people with significant struggles in adulthood.

What is Behind the Hype of Autumn? Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

What is Behind the Hype of Autumn? Pumpkin Spice Latte?So many of us gravitate toward autumn’s pull; we fall under its magic spell — and it’s understandable. We can immerse ourselves in beautiful apple orchards and pumpkin patches during the day, and bake delicious pies at night. We can curl up on the couch with a book when it’s stormy and absorb all that’s cozy, with a capital C. We can walk outside and feel awake, pining over nature’s eye-candy and the red and orange trees that sparkle in the sunlight.

And while we relish these lovely scenes, what’s under the surface?

Why does the fall season generate so much, well, hype?

I Forgot What? Healing Through Memories

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I Forgot What? Healing Through MemoriesA couple of weeks ago, my external life took a back seat to my internal life. Although my external life is pretty good these days, my internal life is pretty ugly. It is a series of traumatic experiences with emotions to match.

When it is time to pay attention to the internal life, it means my childhood memories are coming back.

And I had better pay attention. I had better be ready for some depression, some sadness, some anger that rivals a toddler’s tantrums, some anxiety and some intense exhaustion. Needless to say, the external life starts to slow down a bit.

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