Have you ever wished you could have a memory zap, like the one in Men in Black? Sometimes we just feel like we need a little help getting over the pain of something that plays like a tape over and over in our minds.
The funny thing about our memory is that each time something is played over, it becomes bigger, more scary and even worse than the original issue.
Like reality wasn’t bad enough.
I did learn a trick that felt like it gave my brain a reset. So much so that even when I thought about that painful event – it felt like remembering a memory instead of reliving pain.
I warn you – it’s not easy, but it works.
My trick is to completely change up your life.
I created a new life essentially. This is how I did it.
I took out 3 pieces of paper. I’m old school (or maybe just a romantic) and still find something therapeutic in the act of physically writing.
On one sheet of paper, I listed everything everything that made me happy. The list was sadly too short.
One the second sheet of paper, I listed everything I didn’t like and wrote a number next to it. You may need a couple pieces of paper for this if you have been living on other people’s terms.
My items after my relationship split looked like this:
- My house. <- This place was all about what he wanted not what I wanted.
- My bed. <- This is probably obvious.
- What I was doing for income. <- What someone else told me I should be doing.
- My social circle. <- I hadn’t talked to my real friends in a long time.
- My diet. <- I ate what my husband ate.
- My hair color. <- He liked blonde. I wanted to be red again. I’m back blonde again but because I want to be not because anyone else likes it more.
- My lack of activities I liked. <- My world had been about what he wanted and I wasn’t even sure what I liked anymore.
I then used my last sheet of paper and using the numbers from sheet 2, I created solutions that would make me feel better.
- I moved. I actually stayed in a hotel until I found a place I really wanted.
- I sold the bed and bought a good blow up mattress. It was awesome.
- I didn’t immediately change what I was doing for income, but I added streams of income in from what I wanted to do.
- Stopped talking to my social friends and reconnected with my old friends. I also actively pursued meeting new people online and on meetup groups.
- I ate how I wanted. I felt so good to be eating according to what my body needed.
- I colored my hair. And loved it.
- I began to get to know myself. I wasn’t the same person I was before him. I tried out new things, even though I was uncertain or scared. I did what I wanted just to see if it fit me. Most things didn’t but some really, really did. The more I became myself, the happier I was becoming – even though the situation was still scary.
I also refused to talk about what happened. I created a new life for myself – a new story. I found people respected that and new people didn’t care because they didn’t want to hear someone complain about the past anymore than I did.
Not everyone is willing to create a new life. Luckily, people can still take the pain out of bad memories with this study printed by the Journal: Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
Rehauling your life is not needed when you simply change the way you think about the context of your memories.
–Quote from IFL Science—
Context is quite a broad thing that can be hard to pin down. Essentially, it refers to everything else thats going on around a particular event, and, according to the study authors, has a huge influence over how memories are organized and retrieved by the brain. For example, if you happen to have a bad experience after drinking too much tequila (itself a pretty effective memory eraser), then its likely that the very thought of taking another shot of the stuff will dig up unpleasant memories of that experience.
While you’ll probably only have yourself to blame for getting too drunk and putting yourself in a particular spirit, people who experience more serious distressing events can sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), whereby certain contextual cues cause them to relive painful memories. If sufferers can learn to dissociate these memories from their context, however, it may be possible to alleviate their PTSD.
To test whether this is possible, researchers from Princeton University and Dartmouth College subjected volunteers to a memory test, in which they were shown a list of words that they were told either to memorize or forget. In between viewing each word, they were shown an image of a natural landscape, such as a mountain or a forest, in the hope that they would automatically associate the memory of the words with this contextual cue.
While this was going on, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe participants brain activity, noting the neural patterns that occurred as they encoded these contextual images.
Subjects were then asked to try and recall the word lists, while researchers once again measured their brain activity using fMRI. Results showed that those who had been told to remember the lists tended to replay the same neural patterns associated with context when recalling the words, indicating that the memory and its context had become intertwined in their brains.
However, those who did not remember the lists did not repeat this neural pattern when unsuccessfully attempting to recall the words, suggesting that the event and its context had not become entangled in their minds. Importantly, the degree to which this contextual recall was diminished correlated directly to participants ability to remember the words from the list.
Lead researcher Jeremy Manning explained in a statement that this process is similar to pushing thoughts of your grandmother’s cooking out of your mind if you don’t want to think about your grandmother at that moment. Having now identified this as a mechanism for forgetting, he hopes to see his work used as a platform to develop a range of new memory therapies.
For example, we might want to forget a traumatic event, such as soldiers with PTSD. Or we might want to get old information ‘out of our head,’ so we can focus on learning new material, he said.
This is a much better (and more adaptable) way of changing painful memories for many people. I still advocate getting to know yourself and even reinventing yourself but this is a good way not to live in constant pain.
Memory therapies hold a lot of promise for many people around the world. Life is too beautiful to be wasted reliving a painful state.