Our brains are a bit like computer hard drives and storage discs. Everything we see, hear, experience and do is wired into our short-term or long-term memory. These memories stay there but some get reduced or lost over time while some remain fresh and vivid in our recollection all the time. It is interesting what stays in long term memory and what is quickly forgotten….
Today though I speak specifically of bad experiences – the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, divorce, robbery, accidents and so on. All traumatic events that affect us all badly and that have affected most of you. If these memories and experiences remain fresh all the time, we would battle to go on and they would affect us every day. So how do we cope with these experiences and deal with this trauma?
Many of those around us who want to help will tell us that time heals all and that all will be ok – just give it time. I don’t necessarily agree with this. I don’t think it is just time that causes healing and a repression of bad memory. If it were, then all we have to do is wait and the pain goes away. But this is clearly not true. I think it is the replacement of bad memories with good ones that causes healing. That may indeed take time which is why people often say that time heals all. In the waiting, we have to have new experiences – experiences that make us feel better and it is these new experiences that make us feel better.
A traumatic breakup in a relationship can be minimised in our memories by a new relationship that develops. The old experience never goes away completely but its negative impact is offset by the new positive one. A death in the family and experiences around that can be overcome by the consideration of those around you who are alive and allowing those new experiences to replace the old ones. The harmful effects of a traumatic event such as a highjacking can be diminished in time by the positive effects of an experience where you witness someone doing good for others.
If we regard our memories as non-erasable but replaceable in part, it gives us a mechanism for coping with loss – because that is what these events are. Even a robbery is a loss of faith in humankind. A breakup is a loss of trust and faith, apart from the obvious loss of the person. Many of you are carrying a number of bad memories around with you. They affect you deeply and differently but they do affect you. They cause feelings of unhappiness and lead to illnesses such as depression which is now rated as the number one concern worldwide in medical conditions. What if we could reduce the pain of trauma? What I am saying to you today is you need to replace bad memories with good ones. You need to overwrite the one with the other. You need to allow others the space to help you in the forming of new relationships for example and instead of putting up walls to prevent further hurt, to open those walls to new experiences and positive moments that become your new memories.
It is a natural reaction to trauma to protect oneself – to defend and to erect figurative walls around our feelings. Yet by doing that, we keep those negative feelings alive. We ring-fence them and keep them important. Instead – take a moment to acknowledge loss, acknowledge pain and hurt but choose to have experiences that can replace those that are causing pain. Your memories of bad experiences will always be there and indeed they should but the introduction of new experiences often replaces the old.
“In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.”
― Marge Kennedy