Memory is a skill that people rely on and utilize every day. We need it to do our jobs, maintain our relationships, and simply function as human beings. Unfortunately I find more and more of my client’s betrayed by their memories, and I wanted to take this opportunity to help point out some ways that we need to be a little more careful of how much we trust our own memories.
The issue for many is that we’re too quick to believe our memory and accept it as absolute. When we’re asked to recall how our day went, a quick review of our memory before answering the question leads us to our response. Those quick reviews are often influenced heavily by negative events over positives, leading to a very unbalanced view.
Think back over your past 7 days. How would you describe your week? If you described it negatively, think back to why you feel that way. Was every day truly a negative one or is it more likely that one or two bad days affected your thinking? We tend to focus on the negative events and then paint the rest of the week with the same broad brush. This leads to us to feel angry, depressed, or anxious about the week, when it really wasn’t that bad.
We see the same effect when trauma is introduced to our lives. We tend to focus on the traumatic events and make these the focal point of our childhood, our marriage, or lives in general. Instead of using our memories to recall how we survived our overcame these traumas, we end up focusing on how terrible they were to endure. Wouldn’t our lives be better survived to remember ourselves as survivors, fighters, and strong people?
So how do we overcome this betrayal of our memories? We learn to give more focus and attention to things that aren’t negative. Why not try recalling and focusing on the positives. Don’t just let your mind search for the bad stuff- be enthusiastically active in seeking out the good stuff! This can take some practice. The good news is that the more often you do it, the better you get at it. Why not try to focus on positive things from your day or week as part of a meditative activity?
In addition to looking for the good, we also have to practice accepting it. For many people, we see the good, but we find ways to discount it. We’ll often tell ourselves that, “this doesn’t count” or “yea that was good, but I didn’t deserve it”. We find ways to convince ourselves why positive things shouldn’t count. We need to do less of this and be more accepting of the good things that happen in our lives.
We can even create an additional category in our memories to help reduce the influence of negative events. Often we put every memory in a pile labeled positive or negative, but what if we added a neutral pile. Then sort every event of the day into positive, negative, or neutral categories. See how many interactions are portrayed as neutral after you add this category and consider those that may not have affected your life in a good or bad way. The best part about this intervention is it now leaves room for more good memories because anything that’s not in the negative category (those in both the positive and neutral) are pretty good in comparison!
Our memories are very important to our daily functioning, but it’s important to remember that they are not absolute. They’re often influenced by our mood, our thinking, and our general perception. So before assuming that things are the way you remember them, consider whether your memory could use a few tweaks and interventions. This can help you live a happier, healthier life by learning and create a memory that’s more reflective of the person you want to be.
William Knor, LCPC