“When you fear your past, you give it power,” says Marilu Henner in her book Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future.
While this week we are talking about memory, what about those times when we don’t want to remember a particular event or incident? The unfortunate fact is that the event happened, whether we choose to remember it or not. Henner says that you have to find humor and the lesson in everything (37).
Henner warns that some people have stayed in abusive or bad relationships because they tried to bury their emotional pain along with their memories of the abuse (35). For those who have had bad experiences, we need to reframe them and decide to take what we can use from the experience with us. “When we look back honestly at a traumatic experience, we don’t just relive the pain; we also relive the lesson. We learn and grow and become stronger,” Henner says (38).
I will cavet this that for some particular events, post traumatic stress situations, sexual abuse as a child or other horrifying incident, I’m not proposing you go live through these experiences over and over. Some people have been able to move on from those situations without therapy, but if cannot do this on your own, consider psychotherapy or other medical or treatment options to help you deal with the past. In fact, this is where Henner’s advice can really come in handy – you may be burying some bad events so deep that you don’t consciously recall even what they are, but they may be affecting your actions today and you don’t even realize that you’re being controlled by your past.
Now, let’s move on to some more exercises to start building your memory. I realized that in the previous post I didn’t spell out the exercise that well, so we’ll start with that one.
- Previous exercise: write down how you remember. Are there certain sights, sounds or smells that are triggers for you? Do you remember events sequentially or in random order? Are some memories more vivid and bright, while others are dark and dim? Do you remember from the perspective of your eyes, or from an overhead (God’s eye) perspective?
- Next exercise: Work on your anticipation, participation, recollection muscles – think of an event that you are anticipating. Now, think of what you are doing right at this moment (hopefully, reading and doing this exercise). Now, recall a situation from a few days ago. While this exercise may not seem like you’re doing much “memorizing,” Henner says that it works and that a good autobiographical memory can help you keep certain experiences alive and able to be relived – such as in the case of a relative or friend who has passed (Henner 26).
- Next exercise: its time to identify a bad memory that you can use to prevent future pain (Henner 36-37). Think about a memory you can conjure up and hold in front of you the next time you start to head in the wrong direction (perhaps when you’re thinking about hooking up with an ex, or eating or drinking something you know will make you sick, or say something stupid to your friend or spouse.
- And finally, for today, “exorcise” the emotional boogeyman: explore that memory that you push down deep. Henner says that facing your difficult memories reduces their emotional impact through the natural course of repeated exposure (Henner 38). By the way I’ve tried this and it works, just not the way you expect it too – ever been through the “It’s a small world,” ride in Disney World and have the song stuck in your head for three weeks (it’s stuck back there again now isn’t it – you’re welcome). The way I’ve found this memory exercise to work is that I get tired of reliving it over and over and want to put it to rest.
Enough exercises for today.
Henner, Marilu, and Lorin Henner. Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future. New York: Gallery, 2012. Print.