I've learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou (RIP-5/28/14)
Actions and words are more easily forgotten than feelings, or the feelings that are elicited by those words and actions. Feelings live in the body at a cellular level and have their own kind of memory. We may over time forget the content of conversations or activities with others (or of their actions), but we retain a deep and almost instinctual memory of how they made us feel.
When we think of someone, we may literally feel warm, open or relaxed or closed, cold and tense. We may literally "light up" when recalling someone who has loved us or been special to us, and conversely a dark cloud may come over us as we recall someone who has hurt us. These visceral feelings are our bodies' way of keeping our experiences alive, of orienting us toward or away from others.
Long after many memories have faded, the feeling we had with that person remains alive and accessible. And of course, this is also true of how we are remembered. What really counts, what endures over decades, is how we made someone feel. That is what really matters!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley