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Needless Suffering from Unreliable Memories

Updated on June 25, 2017
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long student of the psycho-philosophy of living and a devoted practitioner of many techniques that enhance personal evolution.

Memories Should Inspire Us with Youthfulness---Not Hold Us Back from Growing
Memories Should Inspire Us with Youthfulness---Not Hold Us Back from Growing

Changeable Memories

This morning, as I was recognizing a connection between my nightly dream and the impressive plot of the late night movie I watched---with a smile I thought again how we tend to see movies as "real" events. I also thought how that illusion usually disappears the moment we start thinking about the technicalities of making that movie.

Like, it suddenly stops being important whether the main hero will survive all those perils; or whether he and his female partner will tie the knot with a bedroom scene at the end of the movie---as soon as the script-writer gets into the picture. Just a shift in perspective makes the whole experience different.

Something similar you see with certain tunes which suddenly sound different after their lyrics have been changed. Take the song like "It's Now Or Never" performed by Elvis Presley, which was originally the old Italian song "O Sole Mio". Elvis's lyrics of an "impatient love" have nothing to do with the Italian "sunshine".

Just for another similar example, "No Other Love" with Jo Stafford, sounding by lyrics like an "ode to love" has absolutely nothing to do with Frederic Chopin's classic "Tristesse", which by the title obviously romanticized "sadness". Exactly the same tune, just different lyrics, and there you have two different musical experiences.

As we are about to see, nothing much different happens with our painful memories once when we change their meaning.

We Only Remember What Selectively Stayed in Our Mind at That Time
We Only Remember What Selectively Stayed in Our Mind at That Time

We Merely Remember Our Reactions

Let us start by saying it all in a nutshell: we don't remember what "actually" happened back there, but only our state of mind at the time while it was happening, or our interpretation of it.

Since memories, especially those with a strong emotional charge attached may stay with us forever posing as a "reliable record" of what actually happened, we never bother examining them for their truthfulness. But we should.

You see, in all experiencing where we are somehow "relating" to the something or somebody---unlike that impersonal school or job material that we are memorizing---our mind is bound to process it by a bunch of beliefs and attitudes we have at the time.

Thus, you may not remember your last birthday at its factual value, but merely as the end result of that inner processing. As a matter of fact, our mind is incapable of experiencing anything outside of that computation involving those important parameters of our beliefs and attitudes. We literally have to "believe in order to see", not the other way around---to "see in order to believe".

Now, if any of you may have some traumatic memories from childhood or later in life, you may even derive quite some relief from this logic.

It Takes a Similar Mental Action to Remember and Imagine
It Takes a Similar Mental Action to Remember and Imagine

Memories Are Made of Dream Material

Just try to think in terms of this folly of all our memories which don't allow us to remember "real" events, but only our state of mind at that time---which makes one hell of a difference.

Remember how our process of growing up basically meant dropping away so much of that innocent silliness of young age. So, if I happened to ask you: "What significance has your toilet training in your present life?"- you would laugh at the silly question. But, when you think, I mean really deep about it, all your childhood emotional experiencing should have the same impact on your present emotional repertoire.

Before you protest this strange logicalness, let me assure you that remembering a state of mind from our formative years or even later in life is equal to reliving a dream. Both are equally unreal in your present life---they only meant something at time of experiencing, as even your dream felt as real while you were dreaming it.

My wife is an expert in memorizing her dreams, and I always have to try hard to keep my face serious while she is telling a whole long story with big eyes and excitement in voice, sometimes even wiping something from her eye. Myself, I can only remember fragments of my dreams, and those are not a match to her vivid and detailed stories.

And as I am listening to her, it's almost impossible to tell whether it's a figment of her nocturnal imagination or a real experience, for at times she may even show me her goosebumps as if to "prove" something as real in those dreams. She takes them seriously as a sort of "nightly events"---even though she knows those are only dreams.

Likewise, we all know that our memories are just "water under the bridge"---and yet, on a certain level we take them seriously enough as to allow their participation in the computation of our current experiences.

"Hey, Jude...Take a Sad Song and Make It Better..."
"Hey, Jude...Take a Sad Song and Make It Better..."

Refusing a Slavery to Bad Memories

Unless and until we change something about their significance, not much can be done, because that's the way the brain works, by the principle of association and reference. Whatever we presently experience, brain associates with some similar-by-detail experience in our past.

Since there is always enough similarities in those details, we suffer needlessly, allowing those "bad" experiences to emotionally color our present emotional processing of our current relating to people and situations.

A child's strong impression of not being treated fairly by a parent may later in life trigger the same emotional experience at the slightest boss's mishandling of a situation in which our personal value is at stake. And that emotional causality is bound to stay intact for as long as we don't start dismissing our memories as unreliable.

My personal story, or at least a part of it, could do for a pretty poignant tear-jerker movie---and yet, I just feel incredibly enriched by everything that was happening back there. All it took for me was this realization that I was perfectly capable of switching a "victimhood lyrics" into an emotionally neutral or even comical one---even though the "tune" stayed the same. All over again---Chopin's "Tristesse" turning into something like an "ode to love".

That's right folks, it doesn't take much more but listen to the Beatles' "Hey Jude", and stop at the place where they say: "Take a sad song and make it better". Think of that sad or bitter or scary moment back there, and allow your imagination to go wild with one question: what would it take to make it all comical?

After all, those masters of humor have made funny just about anything tragic---from folks who were handicapped, stuttering, depressed, terrified, to those dead.

"We" Are Not in Any Such Picture---We Are the Ones Looking Today and Remembering
"We" Are Not in Any Such Picture---We Are the Ones Looking Today and Remembering

Our Younger-Selves' Present---but Not "Our" Past

Just for the hell of it, we could even go a little deeper into this whole matter of memories, which are ultimately nothing more than mind's constructs. And, if we would want to visit the truth even one flight of stairs deeper, we would be facing the fact that the whole life is nothing but a state of mind. O.K., we won't go any deeper, because there we might see something like one colossal virtual reality which we prefer calling our life.

But, without digging that deep into the matter, we might examine a little what we mean when we say "my past". Who told us this lie that it was "our" past? We are not that same person of our teenage years. We only got the same DNA, and our fingerprints, giving us that evenly spread sense of "I-amness" thoughout all our ages.

That sense, plus our ability to memorize gives us an illusion that we are talking about the "same" person. Memory initially serves us to learn useful material for our psycho-physical survival, but somehow our "bad memories" became the part of that "learning" as well. While we are capable of un-learning, somehow we choose to stick to our memory of our earlier ages.

Let me put it this way: I am not that teenager that I remember. Every atom of my body has been replaced several times since then. Just because I can remember a lot of Latin language and other high school material, doesn't mean that that teenager is also a reliable memory.

Like for example, that Latin saying invented by us horny teenagers: "Bonus penis---pax in domus" - or, in plain polite English: " Good penis---peace at home". The real value of that saying doesn't make that teenage-me more "real".

My present remembering that teenager is merely a mental act in this present moment, and it completely consists of remembering his experiencing of himself, which says nothing about me-the-72-years-young-dude. The only "me" is this one, I can't "be" a memory, just like I can't "be" a dream.

Indeed folks, in order to set ourselves emotionally free from all those sabotaging bad memories, we just have to junk that Freudian notion of emotional slavery to the past. Yes, we may choose to be exactly that, but to the rescue comes the truth that it's only so as long as we agree with that slavery.

Mature Years Can Be Loaded with Beauty---When Youthfulness Gives Wisdom Its Wings
Mature Years Can Be Loaded with Beauty---When Youthfulness Gives Wisdom Its Wings

Let Us Not Identify Ourselves with Those Memories

It's totally true when we say that old adage: "Today is the beginning of the rest of our life". Doesn't it even sound better than: "We are the sum total of all our up-till-now thoughts, emotions and beliefs".

Yuck! Who wants to get stuck in that Freudian garbage? Even he shouldn't have liked it, because it didn't make him mentally healthy person, but someone who mistreated his wife, and ended up with an arranged suicide. How is that for being a celebrated analyst whose crap is still being studied at universities and professed widely in the world?

Thus, I am not a bona fide scholar giving you some "academic marvels", but instead--- a choice between taking your past seriously or treating it like my wife's long dreams before she gets her morning coffee. Today is the time when all those bad memories can lose their significance.

There is no psychological or neurological obstacle to that. Just think how a good hypnotherapist can instantly cure you from a kinophobia---an irrational fear of dogs. A memory of a dog bite in childhood may haunt you for the rest of your life so severely that you fear even those tiny and cute puppies. How is that for unreliable memories?

But then the good hypnotherapist scoops deeply into your memory bank and turns your memory in such a way that afterwards you are rushing to the nearest pet store to buy yourself a puppy. It's all about the change of the perspective.

Just like a tense movie stops being tense the moment you remember the whole filming crew hidden in front of the scene---those bad memories stop being bad when you accept it on your gut level that memories are not more truthful than a dream you had last night.

Like I said in so many other of my articles: mind is infamous for playing tricks on us. Needless suffering because of some painful memories shouldn't continue---because we have a power to see them as harmless.

I am aware that the material in this article may be a little strange to some of you, because it is within our cultural paradigm to give much importance to memories. Just look how important we see our "glorious" histories, which are really nothing but a bunch of shaming stories.

Mankind should really snap out of glorifying their toilet training phase of development---so then maybe they would stop crapping all over the globe.

Likewise, in a more personal sense, our memories are just dragging us down to those stages of our development which were meant to be outgrown, not perpetuated by suffering in any way.

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    • ValKaras profile image
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      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Larry---Thank you, I am glad you liked it.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 4 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting analysis.

    • ValKaras profile image
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      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Arthur---It's quite a story about your saving the Department all that money. A belated Congratulations!---something to be proud of, Arthur.

      In some of those early books that I read it was named as the "process of incubation"---that time allowed for the new learned material to find its place in the brain, to later on surface even if consciously forgotten.

      But, regardless of all that fancy terminology, it certainly is amazing how we "cook up" a new idea out of thin air, and how it pops up.

      Since I like saying about myself that I am an "out of box" user of my mind ("thinker" sounds too ambitious)---I got a constant outflow of these ideas that are not exactly mainstream. I just enjoy turning things around and seeing them from those "crazy angles". So much fun.

      Especially after I later on realize that some top scientist has debunked the mainstream status of a "fact", saying exactly what I thought was more correct---although in his usual fancy way. Well, let's round it up, my friend, by saying that we belong to a flock of some strange birds---but it feels good, so what a hell.

    • ValKaras profile image
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      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Dora---I like that. It takes a spirited person to go beyond their mind's presentations and alter them. When my mother died, while I was here in emigration 10,000 km away, of course the first wave of sadness was there, plus the regret that I couldn't be there for the funeral.

      But then I asked myself "how I was going to feel about missing her after five years"---and then a little miracle happened in my heart---I still felt sad, but somehow I experienced that shift through time which allowed healing of the worst of it.

      Ever since I got an active interest in self-suggestion, I got a tremendous evidence about that truism how "mind is an obedient servant, but a cruel master"---so we got to "tame the beast", or helplessly take any crap it serves us as "our reality".

      Indeed, we can make things different in the way we feel, we are not emotionally stuck with anything. And in some cases, like you mention---it can all take a value of a dream.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 4 months ago from England

      HI Vladimir, you certainly do seem to have an analytical mind that works on the subconscious level. Your 4th and 5th paragraph in your above comment is my sentiments exactly. When I was young, I felt at odds with people of my own age because their thoughts were so superficial and most just seemed to be predominantly interested in sport. Sport is something I’ve never liked, and I have always had a thirst for knowledge; which I can never make sense of consciously because it’s overwhelming. The technique I developed from a very young age was to just absorb information into my subconscious and not think about it; then at a later date it all just clicks into place.

      In those formative years, as a child, I felt more comfortable talking to adults because they had more knowledge of the world, and made more sense; and I could understand what they were saying. Also the friends I choose to be with, of my own age group, were what would be classified as geeks and nerds.

      A prime example of how my subconscious mind works was just six months before I took early retirement. With my employer being a large government department its electricity bill was huge, but rather than the electricity companies taking hundreds of electricity metre readings across the country (with some metres being in inaccessible places) our Department collected the readings electronically (on behalf of the electricity companies) e.g. self-read; and processed the readings through a database to calculate what we owed, so that it could all be paid from just one point (more cost effective).

      However, when the overall electricity bill suddenly shot-up the Department suspected corruption in the data (computer bug in the software). Therefore a team of highly paid consultants spent six months looking for the software bug but couldn’t find it. It was at this point that my line manager asked if I could have a look at the data to see if I could find any irregularities, because he knew I had a flair for solving this sort of problem.

      When I got the data it was tens of thousands of lines of electricity meter readings, covering several years of data, which included relevant information on each line such as location codes etc. In the first instance (visually) it all looked fine. So all I did on the first day, before I went home, was to just spend half an hour quickly scan reading the whole lot e.g. just scrolling down the pages (about 2 or 3 seconds per page).

      When I came into the work the following morning the first thing I did was quickly scan down the pages again; just on the off chance that anything stuck out as not looking right. It was at that point that I started to see repetitive patterns of data e.g. duplication, cropping up every so often on occasional pages of data. It was the duplication of data that was causing the duplication of payment. But there was no obvious pattern to identify and weed out that data because it just seemed to be randomly mixed in with all the other data.

      Therefore I went outside in the sunshine for half an hour to relax with a cup of coffee; and when I came back to my desk, a concept starting to form in my conscious mind on how to show other people how to find the rogue data. So over the next hour I wrote a simple one page step by step guide that anyone could follow to find all the false entries.

      I passed this back to my line manager who then passed it onto the consultants; and they then spent the next few months identifying all the duplications and with that knowledge back tracking to identify and correcting the software bug that caused the duplications.

      The outcome is that I saved the Department over a million pounds sterling (about one and a half million dollars) of tax payer’s money; and for my effort I was awarded a bonus payment (which is a rare honour in the public sector).

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Some powerful insights here. Truth too. For years I told the story of two sisters who beat me up in elementary school. After I met them in adult life, I choose to accept that it was a dream. It could easily have been the other way around.

    • ValKaras profile image
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      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Ruby Jean---It's true, somehow we all tend to judge our past more by those "bombastic", dramatic events which may also involve some of our bigger mistakes. But then, that's why we have our mind to make us grow out of those tendencies, right?

    • ValKaras profile image
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      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Arthur---Thank you for your interesting comment. Actually, let me tell you something that made me smile with amazement upon watching the video you suggested.

      After those many hundreds of books that I have read on human nature, I never peeked in a single one for an inspiration for my 200 articles---it all gets somehow computed in my mind and mixed with my selective intuition about "what makes sense to me these days".

      Likewise, I could swear, I have never read anything about "memories being unreliable", and there I went writing about "needless suffering from unreliable memories." I don't know from which file in my brain it came, it just came to me as intuitively right to put it into an article.

      Please, don't take it as boasting; I will forever contend that I can't take a credit for anything useful coming from my mind---it's all beyond my conscious efforts. There were times in my youth when I actually wanted that hunger for learning to go away, because it was interfering with my enjoying my crazy young life.

      It made me feel like an odd ball---and this feeling still at times bothers me as I get together with my friends who go enthusiastic about those sport events for which I have absolutely no developed interest. And those "thousand books" regularly just make me wonder about those OTHER thousands that I haven't read---so I am very far from feeling "knowledgeable" about people and life. Never had an ambition to make a profession out of it---retired as a machinist.

      This little story is to explain my amazement after watching that video you suggested. Since you share some pieces of your life story, I hope you don't mind this one.

      I like your reasoning about memories and about going selective over which ones to regard as useful and life-promoting, and which ones are useless.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 4 months ago from England

      HI Vladimir, a very astute article as usual. Having an analytical mind I have a tendency to evaluate my memories (good and bad) to put them into perspective. Albeit I always try to put a positive spin on life because I feel it’s better to be happy than sad.

      I also try to imagine myself in the other person’s shoes to help compensate on the effect our memories have on our judgement. And if it’s a younger person I try to remember how I felt and what I thought when I was that age; often (by doing this) I can see the that the younger persons viewpoint isn’t necessarily any more right or wrong; just a different perspective.

      One thing I am aware of, and have been for many years now, is the danger of the phenomenon of ‘false memory’ e.g. where things are different to how we remember them, and remembering things that are not true.

      We all suffer from it, and it’s a big problem. Therefore, to try to minimise the impact of ‘false memories’ I often reference old documentary evidence when I want to check on a point e.g. old emails, letters, photos, videos etc. Even trying to remember the ending of a film (which you haven’t seen for years) before re-watching the film, can be a good fun exercise to test the reliability of your memories.

      This video is very relevant to your article: Can You Trust Your Memory? https://youtu.be/lkvOMt34hAo

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Boy, I can relate to this type of reasoning. Bad memories have a way of blocking good memories, and they don't define us. Suffering from a past mistake is a complete waste of valuable time. This was a good read! Thank you...

    • ValKaras profile image
      Author

      Vladimir Karas 4 months ago from Canada

      Glenis---You are right, those good memories are the ones that inspire us and often add to our sense of self worth. I mentioned their value in just a couple of places, while focusing mainly on those bad memories, because the whole article was about them and the needless suffering they cause, while not given a right place in our overall inner dynamics.

      And yes, it's the Mindfulness which does that selection of what we allow in every here and now to participate in that inner dynamics. The emphasis of the article was on stripping down the exaggerated importance of memories and treating them like we would treat a dream.

      Thank you for your comment, and go ahead, write that biography, I believe your Dad's story deserves to be read about. It's very noble of you. Decades ago, in her teens my daughter bought me for birthday a gold neck chain with a little plain something that read :"For all that you are, Love you Dad". I never took it off.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 4 months ago from UK

      I think clinging to memories of the past is not a good idea if those memories make us unhappy. But some memories help us to reignite feelings of those fleeting moments when we were truly, deeply happy. And I believe some memories are worth recording for history - which is why I am writing my Dad's biography. Perhaps, though, the way to go is Mindfulness - living in the

      moment. Life is short - we need to make the most of every moment.