Smell Triggers Memories

I’m sure each of us has had the experience of walking through a store, or walking down the street and we get a whiff of something that just takes us back. I remember being in Walgreens once many years ago and I was searching for whatever it was that I needed. I turned around an endcap and was suddenly flooded with memories of my Grandpa. It was so awesome! I realized a few seconds later that I was smelling his cologne. I don’t even have any idea what cologne he wore, but I can definitely tell you that someone in that Walgreen’s was wearing my Grandpa’s cologne and they had recently walked down that aisle. I had to resist the urge to walk up to all the other shoppers and sniff them!

However, just as that day, so many years ago, brought me to a very happy place, we have to remember that some people don’t go to their happy place. Some people go to the exact opposite of their happy place – and that can be traumatizing.

So, why the heck do smells trigger such strong emotions and memories for most people? It has to do with the way that our brain processes smells. Smells are processed through the olfactory nerve and then goes directly to the long term memory centers of your brain. None of your other senses are processed the same way (what we see, what we hear, what we can feel with our hands).

This is why in The Mandt System, we strongly recommend that you encourage people to use unscented soaps and lotions; to refrain from wearing perfumes and colognes at work; and, be aware of people’s trauma histories. Our goal is always to reduce the potential that we could traumatize or re-traumatize people.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty Supervisor

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