Sunday, August 22, 2010

(Human) Olfactory Nostalgia

It is first important to understand the physiology of olfaction. The primary olfactory cortex, in which higher-level processing of olfactory information takes place, forms a direct link with the amygdala and the hippocampus. Only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala, which is involved in experiencing emotion and also in emotional memory (Herz & Engen, 1996). In addition, only three synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the hippocampus, which is implicated in memory, especially working memory and short-term memory. Olfaction is the sensory modality that is physically closest to the limbic system, of which the hippocampus and amygdala are a part, and which is responsible for emotions and memory. Indeed this may be why odor-evoked memories are unusually emotionally potent (1996).


Nostalgia is often triggered by something reminding the individual of an event or item from their past. The resulting emotion can vary from happiness to sorrow. The term of "feeling nostalgic" is more commonly used to describe pleasurable emotions associated with and/or a longing to go back to a particular period of time.

Yesterday I was at an Outlet Mall with 5,000 of my closest friends. Beast and Fire were on a Dumbo ride tucked into a corner of the sidewalk between Reebok and…….I think it may have been something like Dress Barn. Anyway, I can’t even describe the smell and can’t even describe the memory. What I do remember is feeling happy. I recognized this happiness and felt sad I couldn’t go back and experience that feeling since it left as soon as it had come upon me. As strange as it may sound I then felt angry. Not because I couldn’t go back to that feeling but because, just for a second, I longed to be back in a situation of the past. I don’t like mourning losses because I feel as if my nostalgia means I don’t want to be in the present or are not looking forward to my future. Losses of good times and regrets of the bad. Looking back and expecting our child selves to have the adult logic, boundaries, or behavior we now carry.
Sing it Eddie:

Ironically, as a Psychologist I assist in bringing forth feelings from the past that may weigh heavy upon the shoulders of the individual. If, as children, we were not taught healthy coping skills we will revert to defense mechanisms that simply helped us survive (psychologically) to whatever situation we were in. Defense mechanisms are not always a bad thing. But, as adults, we may still carry with us defense mechanisms we no longer need anymore. So, in learning healthy coping skills the client may need to go back and work through, not around, difficult parts of our lives. A lot of people I meet say, “I feel like I shouldn’t be here because I was never molested or beaten.” And then the person who has been molested or beaten may say, “I’m not starving like the people in Haiti.” Yes, there will always be someone out there who has it worse.  Listen, many things add up to become a powerful force in our lives. It is disrespectful to yourself to undermine their effects. You might say, “It’s in the past, there is nothing I can do about it now” or “The past is what has made me who I am and I like who I am”. Yes, you are a good person. But isn’t there that one memory that sticks with you like a sliver in your brain? You spend a lot of energy being busy so you don’t think about it or you don’t do anything and think about it too much?  It's not going to go away.  Not on its own.  Some say counseling is for the weak and it's a crutch.  Believe me, if someone comes in truly honest with themselves they will leave feeling emotionally exhausted.  It's not for the faint of heart.

So now you say, Dr. Goose, what is your point? I think the preacher who pounds the pulpit in a certain area creates a sermon they need to listen to. So in that sense I need some counseling. Hhhhhhhmmmmmm……….well, I don’t have the time, money, or energy. Besides, how could I trust a stranger? Maybe later when it becomes a real problem.

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