Use Episodic Memory or Lose Your Emotional Balance

The Safe Place in your Mind

Other cultures depend upon narratives and storytelling to emotionally connect the individual with his or her culture, traditions and victories and explanations of how the world works.

In the Western world, storytelling is used less currently because of time pressure, scheduling the day’s tasks etc. It is a valuable tool for children to have and to keep in their minds; stories about the child having achieved goals, narratives about the youngster’s strengths and the families loving relationships are vital points of reference for a youngster when they are troubled.

Repeating these stories with positive emotion reinforces their power. Repetition strengthens the link between neuronal systems that can be called upon when the child needs to feel strong.

Adults may reinforce their episodic memory systems in similar ways and, again, repetition and calling forth the positive emotional memories will give them the power to change your mood and get your thoughts on track.

You will feel hopeful and balanced and in better control. Telling yourself a story may seem infantile, but it works and there are numerous resources on line that help you to go through the steps that incorporate visual, tactile and movement components to boost the power of the memory.

The CEO of PepsiCo and the first female to head that company was born and raised in India. As a child, her mother had her write a speech at the dinner table and it was a story about what she would do if she became the prime minister or president of a company.

At the end of the meal, she would recite the speech with passion and it became embedded in her episodic memory. This storytelling became a powerful resource for her and played out throughout her life when she was faced with stressful and difficult situations.

Mary, a 38-year-old client, had a busy childhood with parents who worked until late at night. She was a sensitive, warm and loving child who adapted to her parent’s hectic scheduling and the love that they did demonstrate.

When she felt badly or lonely, she simply had to bear it until her mood gradually improved. She experienced the sudden crib death of her baby brother and, even though the family grieved together, and dried her tears, the traumatic memory lingered.

She had support but no positive foundational memory in her mind. When triggering events occur, without notice and in full force as they often do, she has no foundational, safe and comforting place in her mind in which to go.


When episodic memory, a critical part of the memory system, is firmly linked to negative emotions and thoughts, then the past, present and future becomes a stressful, threatening and depressing place.

The aim of the treatment in cases of dysfunctional fear-memory reaction is to change the valence and the intensity of the traumatic memory and to increase control of memory retrieval.

The goal of the treatment is to weaken and replace the negative emotional episodic memory with a positive or neutral emotional memory.

The effective process of transformation is called re-consolidation and CBT strategies have been used effectively.

The emotional memory is accessed and re-experienced; it is then in a labile state that is amenable to change by bringing forward the comforting, visual and sensual story, image and narrative that one has constructed for this specific use.

With practice and repetition, it can be re-consolidated as a new memory that does not produce fear reactions. It can also be reinforced with positive fantasies about the initial event, thus creating associative links to alternative effective experiences

The use it or lose it concept applies to brain function and in this case, we want to lose the connection between a negative episodic memory and a fear reaction and strengthen the link between a positive memory and a neutral or positive reaction.

Tips for Improving Memory Function

1. Write it down
2. Speak it out
3. Use music or dance when repeating the item to be remembered
4. Predict your success in remembering

Boy with cat photo available from Shutterstock

Use Episodic Memory or Lose Your Emotional Balance

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). Use Episodic Memory or Lose Your Emotional Balance. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Sep 2015
Published on All rights reserved.