Recovering from the Pain of an Emotional Memory

Reader’s Question

Writing and sharing this private information is very “big” for me as I try to hide what is going on inside me regarding this matter. About 20 years ago, I was with a guy that I believed to be the man of my dreams and wanted to spend the rest of my life with if it wasn’t for circumstances beyond our control. We are from two different religions (He was muslim and I was catholic) and his parents had a very tight control over him. We were very close and at times it felt like we were soul mates. Things got rough and he started to lose direction in life, so I knew it was time for me to let him go and get his life together. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, but he just let me go and wished me well. That to me was a sign that we were doing the right thing for both of us. Shortly after, I met a wonderful man, fell in love and got married. He also was muslim and I am now muslim. We’ve been married now for almost 18 years and it started out good. Over the years, it got very ugly between us and I never did get that feeling of deep passionate love for him because when he would hurt me, he would never appologize for anything and so there were a lot of hurt feelings. Our relationship grew into a verbally abusive relationship, which I tried to hide for many, many years. I think he got comfortable with the fact that he believed because we have 3 children (now 9, 12 and 14), I would never leave. And, he was right for many years — I never thought I would leave no matter what misery was going on inside me.

Last October, I looked up my old love and took a chance that it might be him on this website. It turned out to be him and he was very happy and excited to hear from me after all these years. We immediately started to share how much we missed each other over the years and he kept telling me how sorry he was for all the hurt I went through. He even stated how he wished that he could have done something to have made things turn out different at the time but he couldn’t ask me to wait for him to get his life together. Then things in the email turned into open honest feelings and we began to tell each other how much we always loved each other even though we were both married and had children. It was a roller coaster of feelings going back and forth with one minute appologizing for being so open and then again sharing our feelings again. We both knew and understood we could never be no matter what. That’s when I asked him if I could see him and he agreed. We live about 400 miles away from each other, so it took some planning on my part.

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When I finally saw his face and his mine…I felt alive again. As we sat and talked for hours, it was as if we never stopped communicating all those years. We were so connected and we understood each other’s pain completely. We sat for 8 hours straight on a bench and time just flew by. Not once did we get close to each other until we parted with a hug and I couldn’t let him go. He didn’t want to let go either but kept telling me how we couldn’t do this. Yet, he kept telling me over and over “when can I see you again?”. Also, he expressed how important I was to him and how he did look for me over the years and no one would tell him where I was. He was openly honest and vulnerable…I could see the hurt in his eyes. But, it was me that was left standing with shaking arms and nerves afraid that I would never see him again.

We did manage to see each other again around Christmas, but this time he acted very different towards me…very cold and wouldn’t look at me. Yet, he didn’t want me to leave when I told him I had to go and again would turn his face. I could see the side of his face and his eyes would look so sad when I said I had to go. And, he even mentioned that he was sure we would see each other again before New Years. I then got confused about what was really going on with him. I also felt so hurt by the way he treated me…so cold. Just when I was relying on him to help me get through all the pain I was going through with my husband. This time he didn’t seem to want to help me.

I did drop by again to see him and again he wasn’t very pleasant with me, so I said that I would just go but he didn’t want me to go. I ended up leaving in a bad way because I was tired of him ignoring my presence and again his eyes looked very sad when I left but I was so angry I still left. I was going crazy inside because I was dealing with such a difficult situation with my husband trying to figure what to do and getting him to listen to me or I was going to just seriously leave him. And, then dealing with someone who I loved and thought would love me enough to be there for me, even if it was as a friend.

We haven’t spoke since last New Years, and I “think” he’s called my house a few times and hung up but not sure. I’ve emailed him just to tell him how sorry I am that things got so weird and awful between us. I was so confused as to why he was so loving and caring one moment and the next moment so mean to me. I begged him by email to explain to me what I did wrong but he would never answer any of my emails. Last February, my husband actually found one of my emails written to him that I forgot to erase and that I accidentally left on my screen. This opened a whole can of worms and my husband and I talked all night long regarding “why” I was thinking of leaving him and how unhappy we both were in our marriage. And, of course…why I was writing this other man. My husband for the first time in almost 18 years appologized for ignoring my needs and treating me cruelly over many years. It was a “miracle” in my eyes to see my husband so vulnerable and kind to me. From that moment, we’ve been working on our marriage and things are going well. It’s ironic to think that if it wasn’t for my husband finding this “email” written to him, my husband would have never taken me serious and who knows where our marriage would be. It’s a miracle to me.

Yet, there is this huge hole in my heart that misses my true love and is hurting from thinking that he never really cared about me. This open wound that continues to hurt, as I sometimes cry myself to sleep. You see the first time we let each other go many years ago, there was this kind of solace knowing that we were letting each other go for good reasons and we wished each other well. This time, it was so cruel and ugly the way we left each other. He didn’t even explain “why” he wouldn’t look at me and came up with excuses and told me how he didn’t want to deal with my drama. It was like night and day dealing with our emotions. I don’t understand “why” he couldn’t be kind to me even if he didn’t want me there.

I go on with my day and for the most part I’m doing great but I get these moments when I get this deep pain in my gut and I can’t stop crying from the unknown of why he would hurt me this way. I used to have such loving memories of us…and now I’m left with such hurtful ones of him not caring. This is the most devastating part…I still from time to time email him with notes wondering “why” we can’t be friends or just explain to me for closure the reasons for being so cold to me. He never once emailed me back and it’s going on one year that I try desperately to hide this pain. I wish I could just talk to him to figure things out and get some kind of closure but how?

I could write a book on so much more but I’m sure you get the picture. How do I move on in my from this pain?

Psychologist’s Reply

There’s an old saying…”You can’t go back!” You’ve just had an experience with Emotional Memory that’s continuing to give you great emotional pain. When we have an emotional experience, good or bad, the brain memorizes both the events/people and the mood at the time. Recalling a memory also recalls the stored feelings. This is why we immediately smile when we hear our favorite music and frown when asked about a food that made us physically ill. Memories of early romances often contain wonderful feelings, memories, etc. When those relationships end, those memories are stored like our other memories. Life goes on. However, any and all memories are subject to recall at any time.

Suddenly, often decades later, we meet that past sweetheart. Suddenly we are flooded with Emotional Memories — we feel love again, feel “young” again, and are elated by the mood contained in those memories. In the cold reality of the situation — those are feelings in memory — not in the present day. In fact, we don’t even know this person in 2007. Your encounter with your past sweetheart flooded you with your past feelings — accurately recorded and stored over 20 years ago. Keep in mind, he had the same experience. You were reliving a love of twenty years ago.

This is a common experience during high school reunions. We are especially vulnerable to this experience if we are struggling in our life with marital, financial, family, illness, and other problems. The Emotional Memory immediately flashes us back to a time of no responsibilities, love, and a wonderful sense that all is right with the world. You can read more about Emotional Memory on this website.

The majority of experiences based on Emotional Memory meet the same fate as you describe. Once the initial Emotional Memory reaction subsides, real life and reality creep back. We slowly return to 2007. The return to reality was faster for your old sweetheart than for you. You’ve also discovered that as long as you continue to relive those memories, you will remain depressed and stressed.

Your old boyfriend really did care about you — twenty years ago. The feelings in both memories tell you that. You both relived that wonderful memory of a love twenty years ago. As always happens, he realized that he loved other people in 2007 and began to detach. You can’t live in a memory. What happened twenty years ago should remain where is was…in the memory banks.

You have now been given an opportunity to customize your 2007 relationship. Let the emotional memories slide back into the past, as a great memory. It’s now time to make new memories with your husband. Rather than a bad experience, consider this a wonderful memory lesson and an opportunity to improve your current marriage.

Your old memory won’t go away. You can still recall those Emotional Memories and go anywhere you want to go. Using methods I outline in my Emotional Memory article, you can also customize your memory system and actually eliminate negative Emotional Memories. That can be quite an adventure.

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