top of page

Memories are made of this

Did you know that our memories are unreliable sources of information? 

Every day we are bombarded with information from the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep at night. It's a mammoth sensory overload for our brain. In order to process all this information effectively and help us focus on what's important, the brain runs it though three decision shortcuts or 'filters' - Distortion, Deletion and Generalisation. Every single memory we have has been run through these filters, altering it in the process. 

These internal representations of past events have a great bearing on how we react to situations in our present or future, and explains why two people can go through exactly the same traumatic experience and respond to it very differently in the aftermath.


This occurs when we make misrepresentations in our reality. So for instance, information comes in through our senses and we may manipulate it or fabricate new aspects to create a new version of reality. Our recollection of past events becomes changed and inaccurate over time - this is why you can never fully trust your memories!

Distortion may come in the guise of misattribution (when we remember information but attribute it to the wrong source), false memories (memories of events that never actually happened), and suggestibility (whether we have been influenced by external sources of information).

When we experience an event with a high degree of emotion involved we are much more likely to remember something incorrectly. Strong emotions including stress or trauma impair our memory, meaning traumatic memories are much more likely to be distorted.


If we didn't delete some information there would be way too much for us to handle - we'd go crazy! Therefore we selectively pay attention to certain aspects of our experience and not to others. We do this at both a conscious and an unconscious level.

This is why it is absolutely crucial that we focus really carefully on the things that are most beneficial to us, as that means we are more likely to delete the remaining, less helpful aspects. Deletion can also work against us though - for instance, when we choose not to listen to good advice or when someone says something nice about us and we choose not to believe it.


With generalisation, we draw conclusions based on just one or two actual experiences. It can be a useful tool for learning, ("Plates that come out of the oven are always hot" - but can also cause us to miss out on new learnings or opportunities ("I'd never date an accountant, they're really boring!")

You'll be able to spot a generalisation by the use of words like always, never, every, all, can't, nobody, nothing etc. These words take no other outcome into account. Putting it another way - generalisation could also be described as prejudice!

Generalisations can also lead to phobias - all it needs is one traumatic experience (let's say, experiencing turbulence on a flight) and the brain takes a snapshot and causes the same fear reaction every time the person even thinks about an aeroplane or flying.

Knowing how our brain alters our memories of events is really helpful when it comes to understanding your trauma or anxiety response. Did that thing that happened to you REALLY happen EXACTLY the way you remember it, or are you making your own internal representation of it? 

And what new internal representation can you imagine that will help you to respond to that situation differently and give you greater peace of mind?

Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page