woman afraid of big dog

The Amazing Power of Imprints to Change our Lives

Each of us has experienced thousands of imprints over our lifetime, many of which have changed the course of our lives and may have regularly impacted our decisions. Imprints are stored in our memory banks and are activated when something happens that is related to what has been imprinted in those banks.

Author and researcher Cootaire Rapaille in his best-selling book The Culture Code shares an excellent description of what creates imprints that become part of our memory system. He states the following: Henri Laborit, who drew a clear connection between learning and emotion, showing that without the latter the former was impossible. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly the experiences learned.… The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion creates something widely known as an imprint… Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of imprints defines us.”

Recently I was discussing this with a friend and it brought to mind for her two life experiences that made strong imprints on her. The first happened when she was 4 years old and a large dog in the neighborhood got loose and chased her, knocking her down and terrifying her. She found that every time she was around large dogs, she would have a very strong emotional reaction because of the imprint of that early experience.

She even added that when she was beginning to share this story with me that she noticed her heart racing and her hands getting clammy. She experienced a time when a large German Shepherd bit her requiring medical care and took months to heal. Her reaction was much stronger than it might’ve been if she didn’t have that original imprint. To this day she especially fears German Shepherds and now her trigger is for all big dogs, even very gentle ones. Her reaction is instantaneous, which is a trait of imprints.

She then shared a story of recently taking golf lessons. In her first lesson she realized she had motor memories of how to swing a golf club and a vivid memory of her father taking her golfing when she was about 12 years old. Back then she not only gained information while he was teaching her but also experienced his gentleness and pride in how well she was doing. This imprint laid dormant until she recently took golf lessons.

Imprints can have varying degrees of impact. Those formed in childhood when the brain is actively developing can be stronger than those made in adulthood. Some of them form around experiences that are frightening or even stronger ones that are traumatizing. Others are created when experiences are exciting, joy filled, or those that create a sense of power or connection with others.

I found this information enlightening because it provided an explanation for the experiences I have had when an imprint is brought to life because of an earlier experience. Having explanations for why we feel and behave as we do can be enlightening and reassuring helping us and others see that we aren’t exaggerating or attempting to get attention when we instantly react to something. Imprints once made are difficult to change but we can be prepared and raise our awareness of what is happening and why. My friend may never be able to totally quiet her fear of big dogs but when her reactions happen she can quickly remind herself that it makes sense because past experiences are imprinted in her mind.

I think the more we understand ourselves, the more we have power to enhance those things that are emotionally and relationally healthy and to address those things that cause us pain.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. As you read this information, did it resonate with some experiences you have had where you now can understand they were the result of imprints?
  2. How have these imprints impacted your life? In what ways have they strengthened you?
  3. Now that you know more about imprints, what specifically can you do to manage those that cause you fear and limit how you behave in life?
  4. What can you do to reinforce and celebrate those imprints that have positively impacted you?