Do you remember what you want to forget?

Team IIBP Anveshan, General Psychology, Issue 5

Life is made up of moments and memories. Some moments and memories are so special that all it takes is a small sensory cue to take one to a different timeline of one’s life. This is often captured by the expression ‘madeleine de Proust one of the key passages in Marcel Proust book ‘In search of lost time when a particular sight, smell, food, a song, or an experience unexpectedly unlocks a past recollection.

For instance, the smell of jasmine flowers reminds me of my grandmother and how fondly she used to place them near her pillow. It’s not uncommon when a simple song triggers a plethora of past memories. No wonder when sometimes I miss my mother near me, I try to do or make something exactly the way she does to intentionally create a madeleine moment and then soak myself in the nostalgia and priceless feelings associated with childhood memories. The reverse is also true. There are events or moments of life thinking about which can make one feel awful. It could be related to anything in the past like the unexpected loss of a loved one, changing dynamics of cherished relationships, emotionally taxing incidents or the struggles in the present moment that instantly makes one negative.

Sometimes when a negative situation stays for too long, it can leave one overwhelmed in a way that the person seems to be addicted to negativity or develops a habit of ruminating. For instance, acting as a caregiver where hopes are not high, clinging to a toxic relationship, or sticking with the wrong job because of one’s helpless condition perceived or real.

Rumination is continuously getting lost in a thought loop where you eventually end up thinking about that same negative or sad thought or experience.

Why is it that we end up remembering what we want to forget? Perhaps negative emotions can sometimes be so strong that even when an individual has made a conscious thought to not pay heed to it, it keeps coming back. One of the reasons people ruminate is owing to the belief that by ruminating they will probably get an insight into their life or problem. However, it doesn’t work out because in a state of ruminating the person is focused more on the problems and consequences instead of solutions. The person may perceive it as a natural coping mechanism to adapt to the pain, but one has to ponder whether it’s helping one solve a problem or just trapping back in an unhealthy thought cycle. Dwelling on negative thoughts and engaging in self-blame has been associated with mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Research by Peter Kinderman professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they had experienced many negative events in their lives.

The question is how to intentionally forget things that only serve to disturb us. Can we exercise influence on our memory? Perhaps the easiest way to forget something is not revisiting it in your mind. There are many theories related to the process of motivated forgetting that suggest that people forget things because they either do not want to remember them or for another particular reason. According to Freud, memories that are likely to induce guilt, embarrassment, shame or anxiety are actively, but unconsciously, pushed out of consciousness as a form of ego defense.

The question is how to intentionally forget things that only serve to disturb us. Can we exercise influence on our memory? Perhaps the easiest way to forget something is not revisiting it in your mind. There are many theories related to the process of motivated forgetting that suggest that people forget things because they either do not want to remember them or for another particular reason. According to Freud, memories that are likely to induce guilt, embarrassment, shame, or anxiety are actively, but unconsciously, pushed out of consciousness as a form of ego defense.

Life is fleeting and made up of a collection of moments. Clinging on to negative experiences will only make us miss out on the beauty of ‘now’. Next time if your answer to this question.

‘Do you remember what you want to forget?’ carries away your mind to unpleasant memories and events, change the question itself. Ask yourself – ‘Do you forget what you want to remember?’ Answering it will not only break the thought cycle and distract your mind but transport you to all the beautiful memories and the blessings in the present moment, that perhaps money can’t buy but fills the heart with gratitude.