Thinking About a Loved One Helps Individuals Cope with Negative Memories

One symptom of posttraumatic stress is the recollection of traumatic memories. People with other mood issues, such as depression, also often find themselves ruminating about negative memories or situations. Many of the negative thoughts are related to past events, but some are internally based and are cognitions of self. People can ruminate endlessly about low feelings of self-esteem, self-worth, or self-love. Managing the recall of negative memories or thoughts has long been a target of interventions aimed at psychological distress. However, sometimes the recollections are too upsetting and cannot be worked through in a therapeutic setting. One theory that has arisen in conjunction with upsetting recall is attachment theory. Experts have begun to wonder if positive feelings related to an attachment figure, such as a parent, child, or romantic partner, could buffer someone from the traumatic or negative feelings associated with bad memories or thoughts.

To test this theory, Vivian Zayas of the Department of Psychology at Cornell University recently conducted several studies that involved participants recalling upsetting memories while looking at or thinking about a positive attachment figure versus a neutral attachment figure. After reviewing the results, Zayas found that the participants were able to recall traumatic memories with less difficulty when they were thinking about a positive attachment figure. “Across three studies, simply imagining a supportive interaction with, or viewing a photograph of, an attachment figure (versus an acquaintance or a stranger) after recalling an upsetting memory enhanced recovery,” said Zayas. The findings also indicated that attachment anxiety influenced recall slightly, but further research is needed to gather any conclusions about that relationship. Zayas also noticed that the most positive outcomes were attained when participants looked at pictures of their romantic partners. This suggests that loving and secure attachments can help protect individuals from the negative reactions that can occur when faced with stressful situations, whether they are from the past or the present.

Selcuk, E., Zayas, V., Gunaydin, G., Hazan, C., Kross, E. (2012). Mental representations of attachment figures facilitate recovery following upsetting autobiographical memory recall. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology103.2: 362-378.

Related articles:
Healing from Trauma: Moving Out From the Shadow of Trauma
Art and Trauma: Creativity as a Resiliency Factor
Phases of Healing

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Irina Z

    August 13th, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    I think that as long as the person of whom you are thinking conjures positive memories for the individual then I can easily see how this could help to dilute the pain associated with PTSD a little bit. I think that for some people you have to be careful though because you know how someone you think you feel really good about, and then you start to work on yourself and really peel away all of the layers that you might feel about this person, and then maybe that isn’t the healthiest person to have in your life after all.

  • bryan

    August 13th, 2012 at 7:34 PM

    while this seems to be a good idea,there is a slight problem.people depressed about something often shut themselves out from good memories and thoughts and try and drown themselves in the bad memories.I dont know why that is but I have seen countless people do that.Why do we humans beat ourselves up further in a difficult time?

  • Leslie

    August 14th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    Thinking about my grandmother always makes me smile.

    She was such a tough lady who lived a pretty remarkable life, and she inspires me to do more with my life than what I might normally do. She lived through wars, depression, bankruptcy, you name it, it hit her home. But she always had a smile and thought more about her family and others than she ever did of herself.

    What an inspiration!


    August 14th, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    Isn’t it nice that when you are feeling blue or partucularly burdened or stressed you can try to think of that one person in your life who means the most to you, and how simply thinking about him or her can make some of that sadness go awa? I think that my husband would feel pleased to know that when I am having the most horrible day, all I have to do is think about how much he loves me or relive some speciallittle moment between us, and that’s kind of like my own little version of zen. Somehow even when he’s not with me he can bring me peace, and I hope that I can do that for him too.

  • Nancy

    August 14th, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    This is the reason why having a good friend you can confide in or a partner who you can really open up to is just so important.They act like antivirus when negative thoughts get to you and from my own experience I can say that friends and loved ones can help so much on a psychological level when confronted with old memories that just refuse to die away.

  • Jocelyn

    August 14th, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    just knowing that you have a friend whom you can always call in your time of need can make such an amazing difference

    it must be really hard to be that person with no friends and feel like you have no one to turn to

  • danny

    August 14th, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    this has to be true!i mean how many depressed and sad people with loving relationships have you seen as against depressed and sad ‘alone’ people?i think the answer is obvious!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.