Can You Ever Forget Painful Memories?

I have read a tremendous amount of personal development books over the years as I have searched out not only the mechanics of being better at what I do and who I am but also for the inspiration to continue on my path in life.  One of the authors I have come to know and love is Og Mandino.  He has written many books and probably his most successful and best known book is “The Greatest Salesman in the World“.

All of his stories are heart-warming tales of inspiration and each have a powerful message on which we can draw strength.  I was recently thumbing through another of his books called “The Twelfth Angel”.  It is about how a successful businessman with a high powered career recovers from losing his wife and son through a relationship he develops with a young boy who plays on a little league baseball team he starts to manage.

On reflecting about his past and the tragedy of losing his wife and son, the hero ponders on the concept of memory:

“….Memories!  Here I go again.  All our lives, it seems, someone is trying to teach us how to remember better.  There are even scores of memory courses and lectures on the subject, but I’ve never heard of a course on how to forget, and I am certain that for some it would be a very popular seminar.  Many of those who are so proud of their great ability to recall people and dates and events may well admit, someday, that their blessing has become a curse…”

It is true there are often things that we wish we could forget.  At one end of the spectrum there are things like the embarrassing moments in our lives when things happen that we really wish hadn’t (for example like putting petrol in your car when really it takes diesel!)  At the other end of the spectrum there are the painful events in our life such as losing a loved one.

One of the reasons that these events stick in our mind so much is because of the strong emotional connections that we have with those events.  If you recall last week on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 I talked about how when we are in a high emotional state, either positive or negative, what is around us gets firmly linked into our memory.

Of course with such a strong presence in our memory, the painful events of our lives will keep coming back to us.

So can we forget those memories that cause us most pain?  Well I am not sure that we can ever completely forget them because of the amazing power that our brain does have for the storage of those memories.  However what we can do is to change what those events mean to us.

The tragedy of losing someone close to you is a very difficult time and what separates those who forever struggle with it and those who come to terms with it is the meaning that they create for themselves.

In the research I have done and the experiences I have had working with some of the world’s leading experts on performance psychology and self-development we have the power of choice when it comes to our emotions.

When something tragic happens we can either choose to let that define us in a negative way or we can choose to help it shape our lives in a positive way.  We can even choose for it to have a neutral effect on the way we live.  The key thing is that we have a choice.

Now that choice is not easy to make and I don’t for one minute want to trivialise the struggles that people go through but I do know from painful first hand experience that once you change what it means, you change the power it has over you.

When my mother died suddenly from a brain tumour just weeks before I was due to compete in the World Memory Championships I chose to draw inspiration from her life and the impact she had on those around her and dedicated my performance to her.

To this day I continue to acknowledge the positive impact she had on my life and celebrate my fond memories of her.  Of course I miss her and I’d rather she hadn’t succumbed to cancer but I had no choice in that matter.  I do however, have a choice of how I deal with that and the meaning it has for me.

If you find that you are struggling with a painful memory and you no longer want it to affect you in the same way, then think about what that means to you now.  Then just think of the possibility of changing that meaning and for it to have less of an impact on you – what new meaning would that have to be?

I hope this has been useful for you and at the very least given you a glimmer of hope that as painful as memories of the past might be, they need not control our lives in the present.