Can we really forget what has hurt us? Do we forget, or do we just put it somewhere else so we can live without pain? Forgetting might not be a question of will, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help our memory out.
We’ve all been in situations, relationships, and times that made us happy. But the time always comes when that happiness ends. Someone disappears from our life, love runs out, or too much distance gets us. What can we do to make these memories stop hurting?
Maybe the first thing we need to keep in mind is that forgetting “cold turkey” doesn’t work. The louder we yell about not wanting a certain memory, the more it will come to mind over and over again. The memory is there, and it will always be there. It might change shape, but it will still be present. What would be helpful is to learn how to live with it without it causing pain.
Something that is within our power is to give a new value to this thought. We can incorporate it into our life story without it producing pain.
One helpful internal dialogue is the following: “It made me happy, I learned from everything bad that happened, and I will remember the good times. If I try to forget about it, it will be even more present in my mind and it will have more power to cause negative feelings. Everything that is part of my past is now part of my story and that’s why forgetting or erasing is not something I am going waste time on.”
Not talking about something isn’t the same as forgetting
As hard as we try to mentally push aside things that have caused us pain, we are probably not going to be able to do it. Not talking about pain, shutting ourselves off from new people, cutting off communication with someone because we’re holding a grudge, or not forgiving a wrong: none of that is the same as forgetting.
Putting harmful subjects on hold is also not the same as forgetting. It is simply not expressing them in a healthy way. Sadly, they are still there. Boxing them up just means we are keeping our memories in a place that’s not safe. If we brush up against them, they will still hurt.
When we forget, it doesn’t hurt, we don’t remember, and we can’t experience what we felt in that moment anymore. But that isn’t pushing something aside, it’s erasing it completely. This is an impossible task. We don’t have a button in our mind that sends memories we don’t want to the trash.
Instead, we have to try hard to do what is actually in our power to do. What we can do is reflect on the value of our memory, how we want to save it, what is it that keeps hurting us, and why.
You have the opportunity to process your experiences and not let them have control over you. We are more than our memories; we are the ones who give meaning to our memory. We are more than the sum of our thoughts because we are the ones who give them shape.
Now it’s there, but it doesn’t hurt
When we reflect and process, the memory will be with us. We will remember our time with our grandparents, our first love, how we played with our friends, trips to other cities, warm summer nights… These memories are still there with me, stripped of the association with negative memories. On their own, they are even more meaningful.
It doesn’t hurt anymore. We’ve learned that trying to forget “cold turkey” only causes frustration. I don’t want to forget the good things, just the parts that did me harm. This is a process that requires intelligence, time, and patience.
On the other hand, the reason it hurt is that it happened and we felt it. It hurt because we are alive. Let’s not push it out of our minds. How about giving it a new meaning and a new place. Let it be, but strip it of its importance and not let it take anything more from us. Make it a part of your story… in a new way.