I Still Find it Tough on Mothers’ Day

Reader’s Question

Q. I am a 60-year-old male. My mother passed away when I was about 9 years old. I am married and have two grown daughters. I still have a tough time around Mothers’ Day. I would like to know what type of syndrome this may fall into so I may do some research for support groups, etc.

— T.O.

Psychologist’s Reply

A. There’s no syndrome here. There is however, a psychological and neurological explanation. It’s called “emotional memory“. When your mother passed away at such a sensitive age for you, your next many years were filled with very difficult anniversaries associated with your mother. Mother’s Day in particular was very difficult for you due to the school emphasis on celebrating holidays and traditions.

When we have an emotional trauma, the brain memorizes both the details of the event AND the feelings experienced at the time of the event. That’s why at your age, the song “My Girl” brings a smile (hopefully). With the arrival of each Mothers’ Day, your brain recalls a ton of miserable memories associated with your childhood years — all related to your mother. Those memories also contain what you’ve thought over the years …what would she have been like, would she have liked your wife and children, etc. This is a normal, but uncomfortable, natural memory process.

I’ve addressed this concept in an article called “Emotional Memory”. The program is used in clients with traumatic memory and PTSD. One remedy is to reorganize your memories for that day, including a special day for your daughters and wife, with a brief statement or memorial for your mother. When we make our own personal, emotional memory related to an event, the new emotional memory can gradually replace the old and calm the soul.

I’d recommend reading my memory article. I think it will explain very clearly why that day is difficult for you. Everyone who has had any kind of life has very specific, personal days that trigger both emotional memories of joy and sorrow.

From a clinical standpoint, the presence of depression will significantly amplify those uncomfortable emotional memories. If you’ve been dealing with depression, those memories will be very intense. Just something to watch out for.

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