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A tone of voice or a look in another’s eyes can activate powerful implicit memories. The person experiencing this type of memory may believe that he is just reacting to something in the present, remaining completely in the dark about what the rush of feelings that flood his mind and body really represents. Implicit memory is responsible for much of human behavior, its workings all the more influential because unconscious.

― Gabor Maté

Implicit memory is an evolved survival mechanism of the brain. Understanding implicit memory allows one to reframe a rush of feeling one recognizes as a brain response outside of one’s conscious cogitative control. The brain’s fast-acting revival of a feeling informs one about one’s past response to a similar stimulus, and can be protective; however, it most often clouds the perception of now. The understanding that these feelings are protective in inception, and not necessarily pertinent in the present, allows a person to recognize they are not applicable to now.

Understanding implicit memory helps one recognize that one’s interpretation of the motive and meaning of this now feeling might lie in the past and not in the present. This now feeling may have a very different motive from those in his past in spite of the similarity of action. The significance is that there is a more here-and-now chance of really understanding what is happening. One is freed from the past interpretation and is now able to give the stimulus and oneself a fair assessment. This phenomenon is often called conscious awareness.

To understand the importance of implicit learning and memory one needs to understand explicit memory. Explicit memory is the memory we all know. Explicit memory produces images in the cortex. When we see these pictures of past events we know we are remembering. The explicit memory relies on the hippocampus (mid brain) and is not mature until eighteen to thirty-six months of age.

Implicit memory, operating from birth, is a remembering of feelings and procedures. Implicit memories are familiar, yet not experienced as memory, only feelings. While implicit memories are stimulated by something in the present, they are old feelings that are being revived. Often one thinks an object or person in the present has caused the feeling. This phenomenon is called transference. The fact that the present is being given meaning through past experience is completely missed.

Implicit memories sometimes accompany an explicit memory but often arrive without any explicit memory. One may remember the feeling of swinging high in the air, but might not remember any time one did it. Implicit memory does not produce “pictures” or representations in the mind. It is generated deep in the brain stem with the instinctual emotional circuits. Emotions and movement, like all implicit memories, cannot be visualized. One cannot see RAGE or PANIC or internalized movement. We can paint our FEAR, compose music to express the feeling of joyful PLAY. Others recognize the symbols because they can comprehend cross-modality. But, I repeat, we cannot visualize feelings per se.

I have learned that people will forget what you said - forget what you did
But [they] will never forget how you made them feel.

— Maya Angelu

We must presume that rather than the psychical trauma — or more precisely the memory of the trauma — acts like a foreign body which long after its entry must continue to be regarded as an agent that is still at work.

— Sigmund Freud

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