What are Memories?
I recently wrote one of my thoughts/quotes on my fan page on, “Above His Shoulders.” Above His Shoulders, is my autobiographical account of my personal experience being sexually abused by my cousin. The quote was targeting why individuals in Western society are for the most part reluctant to cry. “Emotion of sadness. Why do many hold back emotions so others will not feel uncomfortable or one is embarrassed to show the emotion? Study cultures and you will see this is so much a Western issue. You feel sad, cry for goodness sake, you will feel better. Holding in tears is holding in the truth of your soul.” I received some feedback, and one individual wondered why the bad memories seem to flood out or squash if you will, the good memories. This is a commonly asked question and has a variety of variables attached to it. Let us look at memory. There are three distinct different types of memory, immediate recall, which is remembering an object a passage in a book literally only a few minutes later. Some view this as “sensory memory.” Short term memory, the ability to remember thoughts from earlier that day or even the day before. For example, I will ask head trauma victims, what they had for breakfast the day before or lunch. Long term memory is self explanatory and stays with us for a long time. Even in dementia patients you see this fade last. Organic brain syndrome patients will forget what they want to tell you from the day before or minutes before but can tell their history of their Christmas and school events as a child. When life trauma happens; the sexual abuse, physical abuse, or you may observe a loved one who dies suddenly or experience a severe atrocity when in a war situation then one can have a dissociative state. This is when we leave the current traumatic situation and as I like to say, “fly away.” This is what I did during my abuse. I would fly, I could literally see myself and my perpetrator while I was being abused. It was my body, but I would not allow my spirit to be taken. Of course this was not a conscious decision at the time of the abuse, but it is a common phenomenon. Even as I write this, ugly memories come flooding in as well as sensory stimuli, such as the perpetrators cologne, the feel of his beard stubble, and my heart pounding through my frail seven-year-old frame. Memories, that unmeasurable thought that we reflect on and share joy with our loved ones, or that terrible memory. Whatever it may be we should still share with our loved ones so they know us better,really know us. To withhold memories with a spouse is locking away part of your life. You should want each other to be in a totally open and honest relationship. So the question begs to be answered do we hold onto bad memories more than good ones? This depends on many, many factors. The length and severity of the trauma. The support network or lack of at the time of the trauma and how did we deal or cope with it? Was there any emotional resolution? We may say there was but if the issues keep rearing their ugly head in a relationship or hold you from self growth then clearly there has not been resolution.
There are many personality types that develop from life trauma. There are the introverted type, who hold all memories in, not disclosing. The war veteran is a good example. Rarely can I use a guarantee in psychology, however in terms of life trauma , THERE IS NEVER ANY BENEFIT IN KEEPING BAD MEMORIES A SECRET, NEVER. These individuals suffer from frequent night terrors or nightmares, struggle in intimate relationships and are usually non-trusting. They may have a happy veneer about them, but when alone they may abuse alcohol and drugs. feel lonely, isolative and angry.
Then we have the personality type of ”Debbie disclosing downer.” This is the individual who has received so much attention, so much secondary gain by complaining about her unfortunate past that it becomes their mantra of life. There is an unconscious process where they do not want complete resolution. the trauma and drama literally define who they are. Without that , they become nobody. They operate under the delusion that this will be their life story, and their life path. There is an intense fear with these individuals as they do not really know happiness, and are afraid of changing horses in the middle of life’s stream. Their bad memories will always be in the forefront of their mind because that is what they want, although they will fight tooth and nail and tell us that is not what they want.
Can Medication erase Bad Memories?
In 2009 the medical profession found out another benefit from the cardiac-medication beta-blockers. A common beta-blocker, Inderal has been used to lower blood pressure, regulate rhythm and even thespians have found benefit from decreasing stage fright. many professional golfers have used it to decrease the jitters on the course. In the last few years it was observed in surgical patients that they had permanent memory loss if given the medication shortly after a bad or traumatic event. This clearly brings about severe ethical issues. Would Van Gogh of painted such works when he was jilted by his lover if his memory was erased? Would Hemingway of written such works if he could not feel his emotional pain? What about artists who write the amazing songs from the heart? Hank Williams Senior, Jackson Browne and others? Would I be even writing this topic if I could not remember my abuse? Memories all memories serve a purpose. We may not know what they are at the time, but they do serve a purpose. If anyone believes in outcome, karma, the path of life dictated by some spiritual force then life trauma happens for a reason.
Personally and professionally I will never prescribe a pill to erase a bad memory. I would rather teach or walk with the person to look at the benefit that experience may play in their life. The ethical issues go far beyond what I have written on and I have not even touched on the legality when it would come to testimony in a rape case. It is an ever changing society. God forbid we feel bad, fix it as soon as possible. There is always something positive from ALL experiences, I believe that firmly.
How do we get rid of Bad Memories?
From my perspective we should never get rid of bad memories. For myself and my patients I explain we can use them as motivators to not fall down that path, as well as reflect on further teachings. To not assess and rehash bad memories is not learning. Should we as a country not reflect on Viet Nam and the gross errors in judgment? Individuals, cities, cultures, and countries have many bad memories, they are a muse to improve, to reflect and to change paths. Yes they are painful, yes they cause anguish. A philosophy to not reflect, is a philosophy harbored in strong denial. When the memories become debilitating where we cannot work, spend quality time with our loved ones then we MUST act to resolve. Bad memories can be overwhelming, they can blanket the good, and force us to fall into depressive states. In reality they are thoughts, we CAN control our thoughts, we can create new memories, and we can move forward. When we take bad memories, personalize them and take ownership that we are to blame, the pathology then is not the memory but the lack of a strong sense of self. Accomplishments, empowerment, believing in one’s self, asking for help, rely on your best friend, disclose, share and state you need help, are all avenues at your disposal to dump bad memories. Yes, they will come back, yes they can be a sporadic haunt but recognize that for what it is, recognize that it is transient. You can parlay good days into weeks, and weeks into months. You will kick the bad memories squarely in the butt. It takes, time perseverance and trust in yourself and a loved one by your side. Bad memories, without them what do we have to compare the good. Everyone has them, not everyone dwells on them. Accept this life event as just that. A life event that is transient. Move on. Dorothy always had the ability to go home, she had to experience some bad memories on the yellow brick road of life. You have the power to find happiness and dump some of the memories, but remember some of them, they will be an awesome teaching tool for your children and their children’s' children.