How Should We Deal with Our Bad Memories?


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by Jayaram V

You cannot remember only the good and forget the bad. Memory is a function of the mind. What to remember and what to forget should be left to the mechanical functions of the mind or Nature, rather than to your clouded judgment. It is possible technically to suppress bad memories using hypnosis or self-hypnosis, but it is doubtful whether it will solve your problems. Studies show that painful memories of our past become part of our hidden consciousness and from there influence our behavior and attitude. Psychologists call them repressed memories. They influence our thinking and behavior and create defensive mechanisms, which we use to manipulate our reality and protect ourselves from perceived threats. In many cases they also lead to mental abnormalities and unusual behavior.

Therefore, suppressing your memories is not a right solution. Besides, why you want to do that? Why do you want to kill a part of yourself, or separate it from yourself? Doing so is a form of self-violence. What enters your mind becomes a part of you. If you keep remembering it frequently, it even becomes a part of your active memory and wakeful consciousness. It may even become a part of your identity. Therefore, my suggestion to you is do not suppress your memories. Your memories are all that you are left with. They are part of your history. They are what you accumulate and carry in your mind. They are part of your karma. Good or bad, let them stay with you. You can cut off your relationships. You can give away all your wealth, but do not try to do it with your memories. Let them stay with you and be part of you.

You may then wonder what to do with those troubling memories? Some of them may be like your nightmares that haunt you even when you are awake. Those bad things that happened to you in the past may trouble you like thorns stuck in your feet. What can you do about them? Let me tell you this much. Neither your memories nor events nor people are responsible for your suffering. You are the source of your suffering. You cause suffering to yourself by your thinking, attitude and responses.  Any external event to which you may attribute your suffering is an excuse, or at the most, a trigger. When it pinches you, you start crying because you learned to cry in the past and have come to believe that it is the best response worth making to find a solution. You natural thinking in any troubling situation is to get rid of the situation or the trigger rather than learning to find a better response to it. The following are the three important truths that I found about myself.

  1. The external world has nothing to do with my suffering. It is a choice I make.
  2. I  cannot change situations after they happen. I can only manage them.
  3. I  can change my thinking, actions and responses. It is where I will find real solutions.

With that understanding, let us look at the solutions to the problem of bad memories. Here are a few.

1. Know that you are the source: Your memories have nothing to do with your suffering. You are the one who uses them to continue your suffering and unhappiness. You may do it because it has become a habit with you, or you have developed an attachment to your suffering. It may also be because you want to justify the notion that you are a victim to rationalize your helplessness or to hide your fears and vulnerabilities. Whatever may be the reason, the truth is you cause your suffering, using your memories to fuel the fire, while you always have the option to respond to it in better ways.

2. Accept who you are: Your warts, deformities, your pain and suffering are part of your identity. You must accept them all and embrace them. You may hide the unpleasant aspects of your body behind expensive clothing, but what can you do with those thoughts that live inside you? I can tell you this, unless you totally and unconditionally accept who you are, you will not be at peace with yourself. You must find acceptance from yourself first. You deserve more than anyone your compassion, tolerance and acceptance. You will have peace and inner harmony when you accept yourself unconditionally, and unapologetically even if you have a thousand faults and cracks in your personality. You do not have to hide your imperfections and weaknesses. You do not have to escape from the reality of you are. Embrace it wholeheartedly and learn to be the unique person, which you are, the like of which was never born before you and will never be born again.

3. Change your response: You have probably developed certain habitual ways of responding to the world around you and inside you. You may be doing it to perpetuate your resentment and anger or to cling to your past so that you do not have to deal with the reality of the present moment. You are probably stuck in your past and do not want to take charge of your life, or looking for someone to come and rescue you. You should examine why you tend to react in certain habitual ways and what is that you collect in return. Once you understand the reasons, you can learn to change your responses.

4. Focus on the positive: You cannot remove memories from your mind. Psychologists suggest that it is possible to rewrite your memories and create an alternate reality so that you can believe that certain events in your life happened differently. It seems many people tend to do it to deal with their uncomfortable past. They exaggerate or falsify their childhood memories to feel good before others. I would probably not recommend it since I do not know its long-term consequences. I watched a movie, in which the main actor suffers from an identity crisis because he becomes so engrossed in his acting that he does not know whether he is now living or still acting. I would rather suggest that you make the best of your life by focusing upon your good memories and positive aspects of your life. Balance is the hallmark of existence. You should balance the negative with positive or strengthen the positive rather than trying to eliminate the negative. It the natural way to deal with the negativity in your mind with minimum harmful consequences.

5. Develop detachment: We cling to many things in the world. Everything we touch repeatedly becomes a burden. This clinging is largely responsible for our fears and insecurities. The world in which we live is unstable, impermanent and subject to decay and destruction. Everything will disappear from your life at some point. If not, in the end, Death will take you away. Therefore, it does not make sense to live like a prisoner of your own attachments. If freedom is your goal, you must learn to take things lightly and let go of the chains that hold you back.

The world is made up of pairs of opposites. Everything in life comes in pairs. Buy one and get one free. When you seek happiness, know that behind that happiness sorrow also lurks. Since you do not have all the information about life and full control over it, you can never be sure what manifests out of your actions and expectations. I want this, I do not want that, thoughts like these are responsible for much of our suffering. Idealists think that they can shape the world and people in certain ways. The truth is the world is made of dualities. You cannot just eliminate one side of it, so that you can live in a bright and beautiful world. Like the world, you are also a mixture of dualities. Both the good and the bad live in you. You cannot tell me that you never lied, never desired something that is socially unacceptable, or never thought of hurting and harming anyone. You cannot kill that dark side in you. You cannot just wish it away. You have to find a way to manage it and live with it without being limited by it. Life is more complex than choosing between this and that. Once you understand it, you will know what to do with the negativity in your life.

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