Scents, Memory and Moving On (or "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair")

Of our five senses, smell is the one most tied to memory. A particular smell can bring us back to other times, places, and people in our lives in an instant.

There's a scientific basis for this, since apparently the areas of the brain that deal with smell, memory and emotion are all closely connected. Some of the top researchers who study this stuff are faculty at The Breakup Coach's very own alma mater, Brown University--including Dr. Rachel Herz, who wrote a very interesting and readable book on the topic called The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell.

Anyway, it's no wonder that the smells that we associate with a recent ex, or the relationship, can stir such strong feelings in us.

In any case, if you are dealing with a breakup it makes sense to "follow your nose" as you work through your stuff about the relationship and start moving forward with your life. Here are a couple of thoughts, depending on your situation.

Aromatherapy Boot Camp

If you're feeling stuck on your ex and having trouble moving on from the relationship, change some of the scents that are part of your daily life. Because we use these products daily, they form a kind of olfactory backdrop for our lives that our brains register unconsciously. Making the switch will help train your brain to start focusing on the fresh, new future ahead of you.

I suggest you change at least 3 of the following scented items: shampoo; soap/shower gel; deodorant; body lotion; laundry detergent (this is a really good one as it affects the smell of your sheets as well as your clothes). If you're strapped for cash try doing a swap with a friend (maybe not the deodorant, but the other stuff would be okay). If cash isn't an issue but you hate wasting, try giving your old stuff away to a shelter where they are always in need of personal care products.

Also since a lot of what we associate with taste is really smell you might also try switching your morning cereal or your regular coffee drink.

Full Immersion Sob Session

OK, this one is only for those of us who are having trouble getting in touch with our feelings. You know, that friend who insists she's ready to move on and start dating just a couple of hours after getting left at the alter, after her fiance ran off with her sister (or her brother!)?

For this one you're intentionally bringing yourself into the memories by exposing yourself to smells associated with the relationship. Get hold of some of your ex's brand of shampoo, cologne, detergent, etc. Sniff some of the same wine you shared on that special anniversary night. Pop a slice of their favorite bread in the toaster. One friend actually slept for several nights on the pillowcase which her ex had recently vacated--if you have access to anything like this and you've been holding back from feeling anything, give it a go, but for ONE night. Then have yourself a good, long cry.

Remember, this is only for those of us who haven't given ourselves a chance to feel the loss of the relationship--the majority of us have already cried enough tears and need to start exposing ourselves to new scents.

So grab that new bottle of shampoo, crank up the soundtrack to South Pacific, and lather away!

Copyright Sasha Carr 2009

1 comment:

Reddal said...

Smell is indeed a very powerful thing. In the movie "Someone like you". Ashley Judd plays a girl that was dumped by someone she thinks is the love of her life. There's a little bit of that movie where she fantazies about going to a doctor to have her amygdala removed, so she can't smell anymore. Its hilarious!

Jane : I want my erotic nose-brain removed.
Doc : I beg your pardon?
Jane : My amygdala, the organ deep inside the nasal cavity, which processes scent which then connects to memory. I'd like it extracted.
Doc : But why would you want to voluntarily make yourself anosmatic?
Jane : Let me see if I can explain this. Um, I had this boyfriend. Ok. And he smelled really, really good. Like soap and fresh laundry and vanilla. And every time I smell any of those smells, I'm reminded of my boyfriend and how happy we were before he dumped me for no good reason. And I get very sad and then I get angry, and before I know it, I'm in the throes of an all-out emotional breakdown!