You may have heard of Pavlov’s theory of association where Ivan Pavlov studied the behaviour of dogs and developed a theory of classical conditioning, which explains how people associate two stimuli in their minds and react to one of them as though it was the other? You might wonder what this has to do with you?

I’m sure you have listened to the radio to an old song, and immediately you are whisked back to that time and place, remembering smells, an old girlfriend or boyfriend, a college or school experience.

These memories often come flooding back to us affecting all our senses causing us to experience several mixed emotions all at once. Sometimes if the song, noise, smell or other trigger is from a bad experience we can often be transported back to being in that time and place, finding it difficult to break out of the ‘spell’ we have suddenly been caught in!

Just as Pavlov explains in his theory, when the dogs began salivating with the noise of the bell without even receiving the food, making them react in the same way, we can react emotionally hearing something from that memory. Some of these associations can be harmful to our well-being, particularly if we haven’t ‘dealt’ with them in our past.

They seem to haunt us and ‘interfere’ with our present living distracting us from where we are now. It can unsettle us to the point of being the main thought that comes to us when we wake and perhaps affecting our sleep.

How can we manage these associations? There are a couple of ways we can do this:
1. We can expose ourselves to the experience; trying to de-sensitise ourselves to become less sensitive, by gradually exposing ourselves to the memory that is feared or dreaded, so we are less likely to feel the shock or distress when they appear
2. The other is avoidance, trying to put the memory in a box, to the back of our mind, working a way to put it into bury so it doesn’t escape!

The key thing is to be aware of these associations we have and try to manage them the best way we can so we can manage our present day lives more easily.