Tag Archive: empowerment

Our fickle memory


True story: a man and his fiancé were going out for the evening.  As it happened, his car was like one that was driven by a man who’d just raped a woman.  He also looked a little like the aggressor.  The police spotted his car and picked him up.  The he was put in a line-up, and the victim noted that he looked “like” the perpetrator.

That was enough for the police and he was charged.  By the time the trial came along 6 months later, the victim was now saying he “was” the same guy.  This man was convicted and sent to jail. He was a fighter and managed to convince an investigative reporter to take up his story – and that reporter found the real criminal.

You might be thinking: Whew! I’m so glad he got off and was completely exonerated.  Well, he did and he was, but he couldn’t let the injustice go. It cost him his job, his fiancé and all his savings. He died in his 30’s of a stress-related heart attack.

This story was told by Elizabeth Loftus, a scientist who studies memory.  Ms. Loftus gives more examples on how our memories are faulty.  More to the point, our memories are most faulty when we are in a stressful situation, like that female victim was. She goes on to show how politicians, ad agencies, and the like, use this fact to manipulate others. What I’d like to focus on, instead, is how we can manipulate ourselves with false memories.

I have a story about my brother and father. My brother has a different story. My sister, who wasn’t actually present but heard about the incident has yet a different one.  Which is true? From my perspective, I was attempting to save a situation; my brother was trying to escape it, and my sister may have been trying to support my brother and father.  We were seeing the event from quite different perspectives, and were focused on different things.  We were all excited and even anxious, and that no doubt leant weight to how we saw it.

Which of the stories is true?  I don’t know. I believe that parts of what I remember are true and objective; so does my brother.

That’s one of my childhood stories.  Here’s another one: As a child, I wanted to get my mother a birthday gift and didn’t have any money.  It was early summer, the lilacs were coming into bloom, and I saw an opportunity.  I visited every yard in my neighborhood and cut a few lilac stems from each yard.  Then I went door to door selling back these lilacs.   At the time, I thought this idea was brilliant (and a little cheeky – my excuse being I was a kid), and I made enough to buy Mom her gift.  I like that memory, and remember it whenever I feel stumped.

I have other childhood memories that aren’t as pleasant, and that can bring up feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.  But if I can change the perspective, even a little, those stories cease to trouble me and get in my way.

Part of who we are, are our stories. Our stories provide a powerful context for how we see ourselves.  So it makes sense that if we change that context, we also change who we are. For instance, let’s say a child was hit by a stranger, and managed to crawl into something the stranger couldn’t reach.  If that child remembered the event with the man as huge and all-powerful, and him – the boy – as small and powerless, that will impact him and his life in one way.  If instead he remembered the event as the man being huge and brutish, and him – the boy – as smart and resourceful, that will impact in a completely different way.

Same story.  Which is true?

We all have childhood stories.  Some are empowering and some aren’t.  We have the power to change our perspective on the disempowering stories, and thereby improve our lives.

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Toni Morrisson, Song of Solomon


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Are you aware of your potential? 3 keys to unlocking this awareness


Are you aware of your potential?  There is an inherit need for us, as humans, to want to rely upon experts. We all want to be the best at our craft, or with our health, so we entrust “experts” to help guide us to where we would like to be. The problem I have seen, however, is diving into trusting these “experts” so easily.  First, we have to ask ourselves how we define expert. A lot of online courses are deeming people experts in the medical and business field without vetting experience or approach.  You buy into the program, you get a certificate, and then you go find business. Sounds simple enough, until there are too many unqualified experts running around competing for your trust.

As a therapist, I see the above scenario a lot. It has to do with both wishful thinking, a need for someone else to validate what we’re trying to achieve in life, and from a place of trusting too much. No one wants to think or feel like they were led astray, so we buy into services that are more marketing platforms. Think about the term “health coach”. I am sure there are great health coaches out there, but many of them took an online certificate program and are now leading the decision making process for clients with serious health issues when the coach themselves doesn’t understand the health issues from the get go, yet they are using the term “expert” to sell their services.

We, as a society, buy into things. We are often looking to get paid without doing the work. We may have good intentions, but if there is a quick course to get certified as an expert without putting in years of training to achieve the status – well, most people are buying into the certificate! And we have this need to be perfect, to show off accolades (sometimes that aren’t earned), and to do more bigger and better and faster than our peers who may be competitors.

When you look at human behavior, you start to notice why it is we feel the need to buy from experts or have the best. Consider the iPhone platform. Each year Apple puts out a new phone. Are they stating the one you paid close to a thousand dollars for the year earlier is flawed? Yes, which is why you need the newer- more perfect- one. And the leader of the tech industry, Apple, is the one convincing you to shell out another thousand dollars. Is there really something wrong with your prior iPhone model? No. Can you live without a few thousand more pixels in your camera? Probably. But we buy because we are sold on the concept, not because the product is so much better a year later. Apple reinvents its marketing plan every year- not the cell phone.

Wanting to have the latest and greatest thing, such as a phone or a fashion item, is a part of psychology that is based on want and need. We want to be the best and we need to find ways to achieve it – even if it means trusting so-called experts with our businesses or our health. In order to break the cycle of bleeding money, time and trust, I suggest evaluating why you feel these “needs” when making decisions. Like I stated, there are some business advisers who mean what they say and do what they are supposed to do. There are health coaches who actually can benefit your well-being, but understanding the “why” behind your need will help you become a more selective person when it comes to vetting the people you decide to invite into your personal and professional space.

There are three things you need to understand about the “why” that will help you determine the expertise you really need, or even if you need an expert:

  1. Why do you believe you need an expert? Is it because you’ve tried everything you can think of and still have no answers? Or is it because what you want may not actually be possible? Do you need an expert to help you determine what’s possible and what isn’t? Or are you really looking for an “expert” to tell you that the impossible is probable? For instance, suppose you are beginning to find your energy can no longer keep up with the demands you put on yourself. It’s always been there when you needed it and now it isn’t. You’ve tried diets and exercise programs – even yoga; but still you find yourself no longer able to do what you could when you were 25.  Your doctor checked you out and declares you healthy; your naturopath has you on supplements; your closest friends have suggested that perhaps you’re overdoing it, but you have too much to do and simply don’t believe them.

Answering the “why” at this level requires ruthless honesty, but the payoff is clarity: you’ll have a good idea of what you’re missing, and will be able to eliminate many energy-robbing routes you might have otherwise explored.

  1. What is it that you’re afraid of? The reason why we turn to experts is because we’re afraid we’ll lose something important to us, and that we don’t believe we have the know-how to deal with the situation ourselves. Continuing with our example of energy loss, let’s say you get clear that you need an expert to help you identify what’s critical to do and what isn’t. Simply thinking of what to drop may bring up fears – of dropping the wrong thing and ending up loosing an important opportunity; of losing independence or your ability to support your family; perhaps of losing who you see yourself as – your identity.

This process can be enlightening and painful because it brings to the surface something most of us would rather not know about ourselves – our own vulnerability.

  1. What is it that you want more than anything? Knowing our own vulnerability will give us this answer, and that knowing will, in turn, tell us what we need to do next, which expert we really need, if at all.

By answering these three questions, you give yourself the gift of power because you have taken charge of the process, and are using experts to help you along the way.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .