This is a bit of a story, and I’m not totally sure where or how I want to start, but I think I’ll start with the actual unpleasant memory.
Six years ago, in November 2014, I was offered a three-month nanny position just outside Paris. It was essentially the kind of offer I had been hoping for – a chance to travel and get paid while doing it. I had just finished my master’s degree and was very eager to get away and stretch my freedom-loving Sagittarius muscles.
The whole thing came together quite quickly. I got the offer in November, and was on the plane December 1st.
The husband/father of the family I would be working for picked me up at the airport and we immediately went back to their apartment to start the day (I had just come off a 6+ hour overnight flight). I honestly didn’t think much of this at the time, but in hindsight, it was really not the best way to kick off the working relationship.
Now, in our video calls beforehand, I was under the impression that the first week was going to be about me “shadowing” them and getting a feel for their routine and rules. So that’s how I behaved.
Pretty much before the first week even ended, it was very clear they had different expectations, and I was not meeting them.
They were upset about several things, which I learned about when they kindly offered me a glass of wine at the end of one day, and then berated me for 15 minutes.
So, naturally, that was the end of that.
I went back to the room they rented for me in a neighbour’s house and had to decide what to do next. I was consumed with figuring out my next immediate move, that I don’t think I really had time to process everything I felt.
I ended up stashing most of my luggage at my sister’s friend’s family’s place in Germany and then backpacking around Europe for the rest of my three months (I had already pre-booked my return flight). I couchsurfed almost the entire time (except for booking one Airbnb in Venice), and as I’m typing this, I’m realizing that I never had enough time in one place to actually process anything.
The Negative Association
I want to be clear that I didn’t experience any big-T Trauma during my one week as a “nanny”.
I did, however, walk away from that experience:
- Feeling like a complete failure
- Internalizing how I disappointed so many people
- Feeling extremely guilty for wasting the family’s time and money (the fact that they pre-paid for my room for a month managed to make its way into the one-sided conversation where they berated me)
- Believing I’m incapable of performing a job to standard
- Lacking confidence and trust in myself
And weeks later, when I least expected it, my brain was flooded with a smell and all these feelings came back to me as a giant, crushing wave.
You know how some homes just have this super distinct smell? You can’t really smell your own home, but the smell of someone else’s home totally stands out.
Well, this family’s house had a smell.
I could never place it, but it was a kind of clean smell, like a detergent of some kind.
And over the next six years, it would come back to me when I least expected it. It was most frequent during the first 1-2 years after this whole experience, but never fully “went away”.
Fun fact: In human design, my strongest sense is smell, so in hindsight, this scent association makes a lot of sense.
And then, about a week ago (as of writing on November 22, 2020), as I was snuggling into bed to drift off to sleep, BAM.
I suddenly had such vivid memories of the family’s apartment. More vivid than I’ve had in years.
I could remember the exact layout of the apartment, see the children’s rooms, remember what inside the little girl’s wardrobe looked like and see perfumes lined up, see the clothes her mom laid out for her on her bed, see the little boy bouncing around the apartment in his shoes…
The smell was so strong, I couldn’t escape it despite my efforts.
And then it hit me – it was coming from our dishwasher.
We had recently run out of dishwasher pods and bought new ones (Tide, actually), and they smelled exactly like that apartment.
So, I was finally able to name the smell after six years, which was actually kind of helpful.
The name of the smell was not “failure,” or “inadequate,” or “incapable.” The name of the smell was “Tide dishwasher pods.”
Since becoming a certified NLP practitioner, I have new knowledge and insight to apply to this whole negative memory, with a few major lessons coming in loud and clear:
- We choose the meaning we apply to something
- Every time an unpleasant memory resurfaces, it’s a new opportunity to heal
- If a positive association and a negative association are attached to the same trigger, the positive one will supercede the negative one
- We do the best we can with the resources we have at any given time
I had a couple of options now: I could either get rid of all these Tide pods and keep hiding from this memory, or I could change the meaning I applied to the situation with the new resources I have.
I realized that:
- I can choose a new meaning for that experience.
- Simply allowing the smell to exist alongside me in my own home, while making new memories, and living a life I love would create new, positive associations with this smell, which would override the negative association.
- I had an incredible opportunity to heal everything I had internalized about the experience.
- The version of me that had this experience six years ago did the best she could with the resources she had at the time.
This morning, as I was getting some coffee, in my kitchen that now carries the scent of Tide pods…I realized that this “negative” experience was the doorway to one of the most incredible times in my life AKA backpacking solo around Europe for three months.
Without this nanny experience, I never would have learned what I learned about myself, i.e. that I’m resourceful and can handle anything (and also that a location independent lifestyle is massively important to me).
I suddenly felt so overwhelmed with gratitude for this experience that I was tearing up in my kitchen.
I could feel the new association taking over – a smell that no longer lives in unpleasant, internalized feelings, but (working like a chained anchor in NLP) reminds me of my first taste of Glühwein, and European Christmas markets, and all the new friends I made. I also felt especially into the holiday spirit this past year, so when this is combined with the memories of my backpacking trip, the force is strong.
And, yes, in NLP there are ways to work through undesired associations like this much more quickly, but to be honest, I didn’t think I had anything to heal until the smell of Tide pods flooded my condo.
At that point, the healing was already underway, and I simply needed to allow it to happen.
SUPER FUN P.S.
We TOTALLY picked the wrong container when we bought those “dishwasher pods” and they were actually for laundry. Yeah, we nearly poisoned ourselves. Don’t worry, no harm done.