I read something recently where it was suggested that people who have problems based on their past history, simply re-invent the past. By that, the idea was to take a painful memory, and change it, replay it over and over in your head in a new happier version. Apparently, this will take the edge off the sting from the past and you will feel better in general.
Now, I admit it sounded like maybe it could work. And I imagine for people who have suffered abuse or other terrible events that are holding them back from progressing in life, perhaps it could be a good thing. But… re-inventing the past? Where does it stop? Do we tell out children, if you’re sad because Janie said something mean to you, just pretend she gave you a compliment and it will all go away?
I’m not so much challenging the idea as wondering what others think about it. Do you think it could be a useful tool for trauma victims? Would it even work in their case, when the triggering event is so firmly rooted in their memory?
What about the small stuff? Small, but persistent. Imagine that as a boy or girl of 16 you missed the Prom, and all your friends attended but you. And what if you found yourself 10 years later, still shy, still feeling bad about yourself, low self esteem, all because of that one event? So, someone tells you, hey, you can just re-invent the past. So you do. You daydream that you did go to the prom, with an old crush of yours, and you imagine it in all detail, and re-live it over and over in your imagination. And what if, doing that, you find yourself more open to others, feeling better about yourself?
Is that okay? I’m really questioning this, because I honestly don’t know.
Personally, I want to keep all of my memories just as they are. But I also realize that we humans, in general, already do some re-inventing, some of it conscious, some not.
I once wrote a story, supposedly fiction, about the one most painful experience I had ever encountered in my life. And I changed the ending – it was fiction, after all. I changed it to what I would have wanted it to be, instead of what it was. Still terribly painful, but with a resolution of sorts. I didn’t pretend to myself that it had actually happened that way, but writing that story was a catharsis for me. The old pain didn’t so much as lessen as it was my way of resolving an inner sorrow of how things had been handled by me. I know the truth of the past, but this re-invention helped me abundantly, without changing the past – but mainly because I knew it was fiction. I can’t even imagine trying to convince myself that things happened that way. The idea of doing so is almost like… blasphemy. I own that past, it is part of me, and if in retrospect I might have chosen to do it differently, I didn’t do so at the time. I need to remember the truth, to own it, because it is my moment, and it’s honest.
So… what about when we re-invent the past unconsciously? Do you realize that memories can change with time? Sometimes it’s in little ways, other times it can be in big ways. We remember the events of our lives, some more clearly than others, because they are implanted into our brain cells – but the more we replay them, do they become more implanted? Or does our changing perspective sometimes change the memories, ever so slightly, so that you don’t really realize it – and the next time a little bit more, and so on.
Think of the whispering game where there are a line of people, one gets a message, then whispers it into the ear of the next one, and so on, so that at the end of the line, the message is often very different.
I’ve seen this happen. And I have proof that it does – well, not scientific proof, just my own experience. I’ve kept written journals since I was 15, often filled with details of events past. I don’t read them. I have occasionally skimmed them to find recorded dreams, but in general I am not one to go back and read my past – though I imagine it would be interesting one day.
However – on more than one occasion, something or other would trigger a memory, and take me back to a past moment – usually something long past, as in 20 or 30 years ago. I would daydream about it a bit, remembering what happened, mostly good memories. I’m sure it happens to you from time to time. Well, one day I decided to check up on a memory.
The memory itself doesn’t matter, just that it was pleasant and very clear, and I saw myself in a particular way, handling a situation with a certain amount of wisdom for my then young age. I decided to check it out, as I knew it was something I would have recorded in my journal. I knew the approximate timing of it and I found the entry in one of my notebooks. Imagine my surprise when I actually read it. Not only was I not as wise and adult as I remembered, but I had recorded a completely different perspective on the whole situation.The details were more or less the same, but the “me” I remembered was not.
So after that, I occasionally checked back on my memories. Some of them were exact, some not. There didn’t seem to be a specific element that I could spot as to why certain memories were different, and others not, nothing tieing them in together. All I know is that our memory does play tricks on us. We do, ourselves, in the most natural way, re-invent the past.
So, back to the original question – is it a good thing, a bad thing or simply one of those “each person’s choice” things, to want to consciously re-invent the past? If we do it already to a degree, why not do it as a kind of self therapy? I don’t have an answer, and I think it really is something that would have to be a personal choice. Still, something in me finds it worrisome, that we could so easily dismiss the lessons of our past. Because aren’t they just as much what make us who we are today as the easy times? Perhaps even moreso.
Personally, I wouldn’t change a moment. And I’ve had some painful ones, believe me – if you’re my age or near it, you will have too. No one gets through life unscathed, but I’m proud of my scars, because they are part of what forged me. Part of who I am.