Words by: Hannah Schauder Art by: Gabrielle Poh
I would be lying if I said I had a solution to combat the greatest enemy of our subconscious: recurring bad memories. Moments in time where you said something, did something or witnessed something happen (or the consequences of it), and now the moment plays like a never-ending loop in your head. Taunting you. Haunting you.
A lot of the time these memories contain actions or moments that are either completely irrational or no longer relevant to our life. But yet, they niggle at you, causing emotions like guilt, regret, shame, embarrassment and humiliation, on top of the frustration in having to relive this memory over and over again.
In moments of quiet or calm it’s hard to stop these bad memories from resurfacing. It’s hard to ignore them because they’re right there. And it’s especially hard to get rid of them.
But these guilt evoking memories are one of those things that you simply can’t rid yourself of. Attempting to will it away or suppress it can be unhealthy and coincidentally, may even cause the memory to return even stronger.
Perhaps we can approach these memories in a more productive and positive manner — turning these feelings of guilt into a learning experience and possibly, learning to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes?
Firstly, rather than tackling the memory itself, try adjusting your experience of it. This may involve learning to distance yourself from the memory, thereby viewing it as its own entity. You could try this by envisioning the memory as a cloud, drifting past you with the rest of your thoughts, or as if you’re watching the memory in a movie cinema, completely separate to the events being played out. By turning yourself into a mere spectator of these incidents, you may learn to see the memory objectively, causing it to loosen its grip on your consciousness.
Secondly, a bad memory might refuse to go away because you need to understand it, or because there’s a bigger picture to be unveiled. If you want to try to completely resolve a bad memory, the key may be to change the memory’s meaning or what the memory represents. This will entail analysing the different components of the memory: people’s perspectives, the circumstances, words that were said, how you felt. By cross-examining the different factors of your own memory, you may understand why these events occurred in the first place. For example, an argument you had with a friend may have been the result of a bad day or a miscommunication. Giving a memory a new representation may minimise the significance of the memory or provide insight into yourself or others.
Finally, wanting to face these memories directly may involve learning to forgive yourself through deep introspection. This means delving deep into the underlying meanings and themes of the memories and learning to understand your situation in the moment. How were you feeling at that moment? Was it a situation out of your control? Were there external factors at play? Finding these answers can be done in different ways: talking about the memory out loud with a friend or professional, writing down the experience, drawing what the memory looks like. Learning more about the nature of the bad memory can help develop an acceptance of yourself from these regrets, and potentially prompt forgiveness for these past actions or decisions.
Forgiving yourself for past choices is by no means an easy feat, and something as complex as inbuilt past memories won’t disappear at the click of a finger. But learning to accept these memories as valuable lessons that made you who you are today can be an enormous step in personal growth.