I’ve probably written about memory before, but I’ve forgotten when and how I actually did. Which is funny in a way but starts to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of recall and our expectations of our own mental memory traps. Whether it is from your distant past, or earlier on this morning, our memory can support us (or betray us) and colours the way we see and recall the world.
Memory is Flexible
The idea that memory is a firm and unchangeable picture from the past is an error that we have more recently discovered through scientific research. The idea of the ‘big fish’ story that keeps getting bigger in each telling is actually closer to what we have discovered. So the question needs to be asked – are we all liars? When we talk about the past do we ‘touch up’ the details so that they may or may not resemble the actual happening over time? It seems we can and we can direct it in many different ways. We can make a negative event more horrible, or a past love affair much more romantic, or add and delete areas of the event that underline or work contrary to our way of thinking right now.
This is often why married couples have the eternal issue of “that’s not what happened!” when recalling mutual (in location) yet separate (to the subconscious mind) instances. Neither party may be right, or wrong for that matter, with each mind selecting aspects of the whole that seem to align with internal programming.
Memory is Emotion-based
Memories are more deeply seared with higher levels of emotions. Because the subconscious mind is the feeling mind, when we feel or emote something, then that situation tends to be more acutely remembered. This is why an embarrassing or frightening memory from our long-distance past can stand out for us decades later, while some of the lower level, content days are less tightly held.
Our subconscious is always picking up bits and pieces below the subconscious mind so we’re constantly scanning and placing small shards of information within our massive, processing subconscious. This is another reason why arguments between people and spouses can get heated. Often times one individual is more emotionally attached to the outcome (usually me) while the other is less ‘interested’ or more detached in the situation (usually my husband). Which begs the question – wouldn’t my memory be better because I’m more emotionally (subconsciously) holding all the cards in a situation? While I would love that to be the case, I’m afraid not necessarily so. When we get emotional, sometimes our subconscious kicks into overdrive and searches for similar (if not identical) situations and fluffs over the details, so the result may be biased or just plain off.
To Err is Human, to forget divine?
There is a reason that the word ‘forgive’ is, or should be, in the phrase. When we forget, we eliminate something from our memory banks. At least for the most part. That is, until a similar situation pops up for us. Because the subconscious works by association, it tends to ‘remind’ us of past situations when we least expect it. The difference in forgiving a situation, is that we take a part of our history and put it into a different perspective, are able to take back control of the way we feel and react to this influence from our past, and move on from it, more clearly and emotionally aware. Usually over time, we tend to lose the power that past memories hold for us once we’ve forgiven all of the players (including ourself) who participated in the event. That makes us seem to ‘forget’ the situation in ways we can put into a better perspective for us, that can work for us, that can support us. And if our memory is in flux much of the time, isn’t a better viewpoint to take to help us into our memories of the present (which we’ll carry into the future)?