Do we need our bad memories?

Imagine - you wake up one day and you’ve completely lost your memory. Do you think that will be an awful thing to happen or will it be helpful? Depends on how much of what you remember till now was actually serving you.

In psychotherapy, revisiting old memories is common. It aims at helping us resolve whatever happened with us. However, Neuro Linguist Programming(NLP) has a contradictory take on this. Richard Bandler the co-founder of NLP wondered how remembering old memories can actually help us.

Every time we go back to an incident we don’t just remember it, we relive it.

Which means that our entire physiology changes to the way it was when we first experienced the event. Elaborate research has been conducted on this subject by connecting people to machines that can read which parts of the brain get activated on remembering events. It turns out that the same results were found each and every time a happy or sad memory was recalled. Its not just that, the breathing pattern, heart beat, pulse, blood pressure and all measurable parameters were consistent when measured at the time of the event and on remembering the event. This indicates a lot. It goes on to prove that what we remember affects us at a cellular level, with the same intensity each time. Hence, we can deteriorate our bodies beyond repair by just playing back an unpleasant memory over and over again.

Bandler challenges the purpose of the recall. He agrees that our present is a result of our past. However, if we can accurately point out the past memory that has caused the damage, how will that help us? If I know that a person has issues trusting others as a result of some abuse that happened in childhood, what good will that do? I got thinking as he does raise a good point. If every time I go over what happened to me and my whole body goes through the trauma all over again, will that make the trauma go away magically? Probably not.

I would like to share the NLP way of dealing with old, unwanted memories. They have a concept of movies playing in the mind’s eye. Every person has holograms running through his head which are colored, 3-D and high definition. Based on the movie thats playing, a feeling is generated. So, if I replay an old movie that I don’t like its natural that it will create a sad feeling state in me. The NLP way is to remove colour, sound and dimensions from the image. Slowly shrink it and put it far away from you. Observe your feelings as you do this. Repeat it till you can no longer bring the memory back.

One important question here is the value of the memory that is being discarded. Your subconscious mind stores information in your memory in order to protect you. So, if you burn your hand by putting it in fire once, it reminds you to be careful next time. Naturally, these kind of memories are useful. So, when we get rid of old memories may be there was some lesson in that for us. What do we do with that? Shouldn’t we make a mental note of the lesson so that we dont repeat the mistake? Well, of course. Our experiences teach us a lot. NLP has a way of making sure that the lesson is kept while the exact memory is shrunk away. Our subconscious mind doesnt care what exactly happened to us as long as we can assure it that we wont make the same mistake again (after all our survival depends on that).

Our memories are useful to us while they are stored in the form of lessons. They help us make better assessments of given situations. Memories are used by our subconscious mind to choose what will help us survive. Reliving exact memories isn’t good for us at a physical or emotional level. Going back there one last time and modifying the memory helps. Either getting rid of it totally or replacing it with another happier one. It is due to replacement that most people think that NLP makes a person delusional. They say that NLP coaches deny the misfortunes people have faced in their lives. Well, yes and what is wrong with modifying memories that no longer serve us? Isn’t denying old bad memories making us happier today? What good is it to relive all the bad stuff that happened with us?

It helps to remember the past only in a way as to make our life better today.

Whenever I suggest this to someone I usually see them confused and defensive. They say, “….but all this has actually happened to me. I cant just forget that” Exactly! Have you ever wondered why we are so attached to what happened to us? Its our subconscious mind trying to protect us by holding onto what happened. It cant let it go. It believes that if we did, we would die. So memories have to be clung onto. While actually, the memory isn't required.

The lesson learnt from the memory is enough.