Sue Murphy said, “Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you walked in? I think that’s how dogs spend their lives.”
I think we can all relate to this experience. It turns out there is some science behind it. Research in 2006 put two control groups through the same exercise, picking up one object and moving it to a new table, putting the object down and moving another object to a new table. The only difference was that one group had to walk through a doorway to a new room to change objects. The group that walked into a new room war FAR more forgetful about the first objects than the group that didn’t change rooms.
So this is good news. It’s not just you, and you’re not losing your mind. You’re forgetful but sane, like all of us. We all have our battles with memory. Sometimes it’s forgetting, and sometimes the battle is with not fully forgetting. When it comes to forgiveness and moving on, sometimes we get lucky, and time or a poor memory eventually solves the problem for us. But that’s often a slow, toxic leak and it leaves a trail of scars.
What if you could be more proactive? What if you could take steps to actively heal memories and speed up the process of forgiveness so that you don’t waste so much time and energy finding your peace? Life is so short. Don’t you want to live as fully as possible? To live fully, requires a major shift in the way we remember.
Lewis Smedes said this about forgiveness and memories, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
So what does it mean to create a new way to remember? Think about the doorway as a metaphor not so much for forgetting but remembering in a new way. In other words, the doorway is your reframe.
- Don’t wait to forget
Have you ever had the experience where you think you’ve forgiven someone, and then a memory dredges up all the old feelings? You run into the person, or go somewhere that triggers a memory, or even just have unexplained memories and realize you’re still bitter. Your first reaction might be disappointment; after all you thought you’d put it behind you. Instead of seeing this as a setback, see it as an opportunity to reframe.
If you wait to forget before you forgive, you will live a life of torment and frustration. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on forgetting. It depends on making a choice to let the past be what it was and not give the memory so much power in your life.
Oprah has a nice way to define forgiveness, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
Forgiveness doesn’t depend on forgetting the past or changing the past, but moving on surely depends on forgiveness.
- Partial Truth
Memories are part fact and part fiction. Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal Dreams, “Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”
Notice the way memories change, and how over time the details becomes sketchy. With some honest self reflection, you can quickly realize that memories aren’t capable of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
You are a story teller, and memories are one of your tools. I think all of us wrote those stories as kids where we didn’t know how to end the story, so we took the shortcut, “And then I woke up from the dream. The End.” It’s a very convenient way to resolve the story. And why not take short cuts?
You can do the same thing with your memories. Wake up to the fact that you only have part of the story. Things may not have been as bad as your memory wants you to believe. Or maybe they were, but the ogres in your memory had their own story playing. Give them the benefit of your memory’s doubt. Then choose to take the story in a new direction.
- You Learnt More Than You Think
You don’t ever have to be thankful to people who made your life a living hell. You likely stopped all contact for good reason. You also don’t have to continue to let them live in your head. You may not have given them permission to hurt you. But at this point you may be giving them permission to keep hurting you.
It may be time for a reframe of the memory. Would you be as strong as you are today without the experience? Would you have learnt what your friction points are without the experience? Would you have been as wise and mindful, as compassionate and liberated, as you are now without the experience.
It doesn’t take much imagination. You wouldn’t have met your partner, started the new business, moved to a new neighborhood, strengthened your relationship with your kids, etc etc if the trauma from the past hadn’t forced you into action.
Focus on what you learnt, rather than on the pain, and you will quickly reframe bitter memories into memories of how much better you are now.
And if you’re still in the middle of the trauma, use your memory of the future to imagine an empowered life and start living it with every step and decision. This too shall pass. But not necessarily by itself. It might need a little nudge from you, and why wait. Start now. Create memories now that fill your mind with your own power to choose.
Philip Roth wrote,
Each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthing windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint.
The way you relate to your memories is a reflection of who you think you are. Believe in yourself and your life’s meaning enough to fast track the reframing of traumatic memories. You’re worth it.
You can’t change what happened in the past, and you can only work with memories as they come to you. But you ALWAYS have the power to reframe memories, decide how much power you give them and choose the meaning they have in your life now.