Have you ever captured yourself reassessing and reanalyzing the excruciating memories again and again?
When overwhelming memories of unpleasant past experiences have jostled away- little do we know that we left footprints of our past! Such traces are set aside in our storage system-such as the mind. You shove and shove! However, the mind carefully keeps it somewhere in a compartment for future reference.
I keep reexploring such restricted zone-sections of our mind where discarded materials of our lives in the form of memories, incidents, situations, people have been stored. It is like reexploring a library after a long gap where you are searching for a book that might be very old- discarded and might be in a room where all rejected books remained. But if you need the book, you need to enter the room at your own risk. For cob-webs hanging might welcome you with an embrace, dirt not to forget-layers laid down to welcome you to go ahead. Whatever condition the room might be in-if you need the book-you need to dare to enter without worrying about the consequences.
Such dare I do when I try to play with my thoughts where I am a silent spectator playing with my agonizing experience again and again till I get the courage to modify it. When I am alone with my thoughts, I neither push them away nor try to avoid them. For, I embrace my suffering. Sometimes, thoughts play in our minds like a movie that we might not want to watch. However, I purposefully readdress the painful memories to reanalyze and rearrange.
When we experience emotional pain, we seize that incident in our minds-pushing the unpleasant memories of incidents, situations that might have changed the course of our lives or that might have given a psychologically deep wound. But the injury is an injury-we need to do something about it to heal. In the same way, the mind is the mind. If we plan to look into the stored memory-it will not deny access.
The process I go through to reorganize is by selecting an incident to play in my mind. Based on the replay of incidents in my mind, I try to create an alternate reality in my mind by asking a few questions-
What else I could have done in such situations?
What else I could have said?
How can I make the unpleasant situation better for myself?
How can I modify the reality in my mind?
How can I reorganize my painful thoughts?
You must be wondering, ‘why would I do any such thing because mostly we try to avoid what we are not comfortable rethinking? ‘ However, I believe that the more avoidance- the more will be a pain. And my belief is reconfirmed by the research on how the human mind works by Hayes et al. This research suggests that many of the tools we use to solve problems lead us into the traps that create suffering. One such trap is experiential avoidance. It is the process of avoiding our own experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations, behavioural predispositions) even when doing so leads to long-term behavioural difficulties.
‘Outside the body, the rule may indeed be, “If you don’t like it, figure out how to get rid of it, and then get rid of it.” Inside the body, the rule appears to be very different. It’s more like, “If you aren’t willing to have it, you will.”
Excerpt from ‘Get out of your mind and into your life’ by Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith.
It means the more you try to avoid your experiences, the more forcefully it bounces back. The coping strategies we apply generally are to avoid unpleasant thoughts such as burying in distracting activities, alternating thoughts, etc. No doubt, these strategies show results that might be short-lived. And we get caught in a dangerous trap as short-term effects are far more reinforcing than long-term.
I always try to find ways to live a fulfilling and meaningful life with a purpose where I am always ready to confront the not-so-happy part of my life. The replay of a mental replica fills me with joy while assuring me that I still have the freedom to choose -to spend life with painful memories that make one sad or create an alternate reality of painful memories to create happiness for oneself.
It is easier said than done! True! But it is not impossible. At least we can try to take a first step towards owning our live fully-with good and with not-so-good memories of the past.
Such exercise gives me another perspective-when we look into the eyes of fear confidently, it loses its strength to scare us. Hence, revisiting painful thoughts is not always painful if we choose to re-design our memory bank – where optimism is the new theme to attend to.
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About the Author-
She is a Child and Adolescent Rehabilitation Psychologist with an experience of over 14 years in the field of Mental Health (Rehabilitation Council of India Licensed Professional). She writes about various aspects related to mental health and more @ pausementalwellnessstudio founded by her. She is an M.Phil. in Rehabilitation Psychology. She is also trained in remedial intervention, PREP, and COGENT Programs. She has four Publications to her name. She started her career as a Probation Officer at Observation Home for Boys in a Juvenile Aid Centre. Since then, she has served as a psychologist in various settings. Presently, she is working as a health and wellness expert at St Peter’s High School. She is the founder of Locus-Psychology & Education.