“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov.

We ended the last blog talking about what happens when we meet someone for the first time.

Some relationships appear benign, because no big bells or whistles go off. Other relational encounters are characterized by emotional and physiological states that include an increase in heart rate, increased blood pressure and shortness of breath.

What is this excited state really about? Is it love or your soul mate beckoning? Or could it be something in this new person triggering one of your old crime scenes or Limbic System recordings?

The Limbic System is characterized primarily by what is known in medicine as the Famous 5’s. These include feeding, fleeing, fighting, feeling and sex.

As we discussed in earlier blogs, the Limbic System is your 24-hour surveillance system. Its job is simply to receive and send. It does not interpret and it does not use judgment or cognitive skills.

The frontal cortex has the job of mediating with the Limbic System Structures by posing questions of a judgment nature or about the possible consequences. This is the thinking part of our brain whereas the Limbic structures are more about receive, send, store and receive some more.

In relationships, we likely have an old memory that is attaching to this newly found person. It may be her walk or his cologne that invites the Limbic structures to send information about another time and place that was important, memorable, or even traumatic.

People often tell me that they read in psychology that girls grow up and marry someone like their father and boys grow up to marry someone like their mother. I think it is possible, but as a psychotherapist I see this differently.

I find that girls and boys grow up and marry someone like the parent with whom they had the most conflict. So if a girl had an alcoholic mother and a father who was overwhelmed with taking care of mother, the chances are good that she will seek out mother, rather than father. She will be like her father in her care taking, but seek a man who characterizes mother.

This is related to the Limbic structures and to emotional crime scenes. The little girl’s crime scene was that of living with a substance dependent or substance abusive parent. This meant the little girl grew up very fast and developed a wild and wonderful arsenal of coping skills. It may also mean she never had a childhood.

The Famous 5’s are interesting when applied to trauma memory, emotional memory and meeting an eventual mate or partner.

One of the very first things we do in life is to eat. How did that eating go; breast fed, bottle fed, weaned at what age and for what reason? Think of your children and all the things that happen at the dinner table. Is there even a dinner table? Many families I work with admit they seldom sit down and eat a meal together. I wonder what that does to the Limbic system receive and send recordings?

First dates can include a variety of things, but often they include an opportunity to have a conversation. The most common first date appears to be one that involves eating. I don’t think this is an accident. Food was the basis of our first bonding and holds enormous emotional memory for many people. Food and feeding is our very first way to connect with another. The Limbic structures remember feeding and food. A part of our memory is about whether feeding was joyful or not and whether we felt satiated.

We will begin and nurture a love relationship in part by the incorporation of food into dating and even love making. Much of what people do in the early weeks or months of getting to know one another involves the use of food. This will also be placed in the Limbic structures as part of a memory of you and your new love. This will, in effect, begin the bonding between you and another.

So even when he drives you crazy and you swear you will leave him, it will become increasingly difficult to do this. Your Limbic structures have linked the new man to your old memories and you now feel you have known him your whole life. You feel tied to him and unable to leave him.

But what if he isn’t nice to you and he is abusive? Is it still hard to imagine leaving him? Absolutely.

The bond is more intense and the Limbic connection is more fierce when you join together an old memory with a new person and food and sex. If you had abuse episodes in your childhood (crime scenes), you will likely be drawn back to the scene of the crime by way of a new partner; someone different than the original abuser, but someone who reminds you unconsciously of that abuser by way of your Limbic structures.

This is why it is so difficult to know if it is love, an old memory pathway being activated, or…? It becomes very confusing, but there are a number of ways to clarify the situation.

Before we look at how to do this, let’s look a bit at the developmental stages of a relationship. I believe relationships go through stages of development just like children do.

The psycho-social stages of development for children include: normal autism, hatching, practicing, separation individuation, oedipal, latency, adolescence, adulthood and older age.

Relationships, in particular love relationships, go through these same developmental stages. This is why your guy is different after a few months and why your gal is different after a few years. We are intended to change.

In the next blog, we will explore these stages in depth and then take a look at how to map your current relationships and their connection, if any, to your old Limbic memories and crimes scenes of the past.

Thank you, take care, and be well!

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD