Thursday, 27 March 2014

Under the influence

People are fond of saying "you must put the past behind you", but it's not as easy as you think. You can push away the past as much as you like, but it has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you.

I have a natural tendency to forget about experiences that were unpleasant, or at least to remember the experience but forget the negative emotions that went with it. If someone suggests I might have been very upset, I reflect for a second or two and think maybe I was. Maybe.

All those feelings of embarrassment or rage or shame or betrayal that stick in other people's minds evaporate from my own mind very quickly, as if they never occurred in the first place. It's a sort of mental de-cluttering mechanism that clears away stuff that's no use to me.

But whatever I remember or don't remember, those experiences are still a part of me and still affect me in all sorts of ways. For example, things people have said and done to undermine my confidence, perhaps way back in my childhood, can still dent my confidence even now.

However much I talk myself up and tell myself I'm an intelligent, experienced person who should be effortlessly confident in most situations, still there's this undercurrent of past experience that can lead to nagging self-doubt.

Saying you must put the past behind you is a bit like saying you must forget your gender. It's so embedded in your mind that it continues to have repercussions whether you like it or not.

The best thing you can do is stop the past being too much of a nuisance, like an over-energetic dog that keeps leaping all over you. If you can get it to lie quietly in a corner, not bothering you, you're doing well.

34 comments:

Keith said...

I don't have a problem with my past, good or bad, catching up with me.

Seriously, now that I'm in my twilight years most of my past is shrouded in the fog of time. I don't think I'm senile or have Alzheimer's disease. I think it's just that I have never allowed myself to dwell on the past, in other words I have brainwashed myself over the years to forget the nasty parts of my life and live for the present.

Sometimes the fog lifts when I see or hear of something relating to a situation from years ago, so I find the nearest pub and wash the memory away with a few beers; really! It always works. Naughty I know.

Grannymar said...

Never worry Nick, until your slurds are starting to whirr and you're under the affluence of incohol!

Mike said...

Sometimes dwelling on the past and emotional history is a choice. If I choose to dwell on some things, I can get quite morose -- so I don't.

I agree that our past -- and what happened there -- is part of what we are today. But I don't let much bother me today. Somewhere along the way, -- probably the Navy -- I developed a pretty thick skin emotionally -- on the surface. Things can still get to me, but I don't let it show, and I always try to let it go and get past it.

Or maybe I just have a good case of selective amnesia.

I had a day a few years ago where a number of unfortunate things occurred all on the same day. I remembered all of them -- just not that they all happened on the same day.

Bijoux said...

Like Keith, I'm finding that my memory is not that clear anymore. I can't even remember people's names from the past, let alone what they may have said to me or other hurts.

susie said...

Regarding memory,I often call my son, Geoff. My son is Joe, my brother is Geoff.

Wisewebwoman said...

One of my favourite quotes is:
You may think you're done with your past but is your past done with you?

I don't think it's a choice thing at all, it's the way we're constructed. I recently connected with a group focussing on the history of my native city and I am literally flooded with memories, the good and not so good.

But yesterday? H'm,
what happened yesterday?

XO
WWW

Ursula said...

I like the past. Good, bad and a few ugly memories.

The 'bad and ugly' I liken to wounds. As long as they are open it's not so good. Once those wounds have stopped oozing pusm closed and gone to be scars it's fine.

Having said that: There are moments in my life - if I allow myself to dwell on them - where I blush with shame and regret as to what I said/did. Putting my foot into it. I don't hurt people with intent. But have hurt. Want a trip? Guilt will do me fine.

U

Nick said...

Keith: As I say, I tend to forget the nasty parts of my past and remember only the best bits. Not so much brainwashing as just a natural mental quirk.

I can't stand beer or lager, but washing memories away with a glass or two of wine is just as effective!

Grannymar: I carnt undershtand a word your shaying. And why are there two of you?

Nick said...

Mike: I'm fairly good at putting things out of my mind if I have to, but some things are not so easily banished. And past experiences can influence you in all sorts of unconscious ways you're not aware of.

Indeed, that was a pretty awful end to your vacation!

Bijoux: Some people's names I remember very clearly, other names completely escape me. But most hurtful remarks just disappear into some mental black hole.

Nick said...

Susie: I don't usually confuse people's names, I just forget them. Even if I can remember their face really vividly.

www: I think to some extent you can choose not to dwell on things and to push them away, but often you're powerless. As you say, sometimes memories can come flooding and all you can do is let them flood.

Nick said...

Ursula: I think some emotional wounds never scar over. They go on bleeding and all you can do is keep mopping up the blood.

There are very few things in my life I regret or feel guilty about. I know I did what I thought was right at the time, and I don't blame myself for any unintended consequences.

Jenny Woolf said...

People with no self doubt and uncertainty always seem rather inhuman to me. Very admirable (or very frightening, depending on their beliefs) but I am not sure I would want them as friends!

Nick said...

Jenny: I agree, they seem almost robotic in their unerring decisiveness! But I think the truth is they're carefully hiding all their private doubts and hesitations.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I think how you view the past is partly due to wiring. Some people dwell more on the negative others more on the positive. It's only partially under your control, but I think it pays to put effort into letting go of negative thoughts/memories as they arise and re-focusing on the good. If you want to be happy, that is.

Alan G said...

The best analogy I can relate with regard to my past is to put it into the context of a file cabinet. There are bad things in there and there are grand things in there but they all make you who you are. We are defined in the end by what we do, both good and bad and not by what we think.

Although there are things in my file cabinet which I am quite ashamed of, if I were somehow able to completely discard them, then who is to say that I would not commit the same grievous shame yet again. The things of the past, both good and bad are there to give us understanding and wisdom so that tomorrow we have them to draw on in making the correct decision that is right for us and a true reflection of who we are today.

John Gray said...

Ah mental mechanisms that protect us from negativity
We all have them

Nick said...

Agent: I'm quite good at discarding negative thoughts and memories, but as I say some of them are waiting in the wings to trip me up when I least expect it.

Alan: It would be good if all our past memories and experience enabled us to make the correct decisions in the present, but I don't think we're quite as rational as that, and we sometimes find ourselves making the same daft decisions over and over.

Nick said...

John: Some have stronger anti-negativity mechanisms than others. Some people are unfortunately so susceptible to negativity that they end up killing themselves.

Liz Hinds said...

I was searching for appropriate quotes about mothers for the church notices today and naturally I got distracted and started reading all sorts of self help stuff, which often mentioned not dwelling on the past. I don't dwell on it but when i feel bad about something all my past errors of judgement tend to raise their ugly heads and say, 'yes, well, we told you so.'

Nick said...

Liz: That's what I mean about making the same daft decisions over and over! The trouble is, I tend to see my past errors of judgment as being perfectly reasonable decisions in the light of what I knew at the time. And then I go on to make the same errors of judgment all over again.

Cheerful Monk said...

I'm happy with my life and I figure what's happened in the past has gotten me here. So for me the past is no problem. If some memory bothers me I figure it's just something that still needs to be processed, so I try to learn something from it. I suppose that's unusual, but my hobby has always been personal growth and by now I have a whole bag of techniques at my disposal.

Nick said...

Jean: I'm also happy with my life (despite all my neuroses!) but I feel there are certain past experiences that constantly drag at me and stop me being everything I could be. But that's just something I have to work around, it's not the end of the world.

Rummuser said...

Perfectly natural and this is about how everybody on this planet is unless s/he is enlightened in the spiritual sense. The trick is in accepting that this happens, observe it when it crops up, and allow it to go away as it will in time. I have found that after a few such observations, those particular thoughts do not crop up. Others however keep cropping up to be tackled exactly like the ones that have dropped off.

CheerfulMonk said...

How would you be different if past experiences didn't hold you back? I'm a lot older than you are, and fortunately my ambitions are a good match to my reduced energy level. :)

Nick said...

Ramana: I think recurring negative thoughts, feelings and memories always have an inhibiting effect on us, whether we like it or not. Otherwise we'd all be saints, millionaires or creative geniuses.

Jean: I suspect I would be an artist if my parents had been more interested in art and it had been a more valued subject at school. As an adult, I've never believed in my artistic talent enough to try and develop it.

Suburbia said...

Sometimes the past affects your actions subconsciously - now that's just a pain in the A***!

Cheerful Monk said...

Nick,
Why do you think you need talent? I cheerfully admit I don't have any in art, but that doesn't prevent me from having a good time slapping paint on paper. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Get your ego out of the way and do it! Some of my attempts may not be good, but I like them better than a lot of modern art.

Suburbia,
I learned long ago that it's my subconscious that runs the show, so I've learned to make it my friend. There are all sorts of ways of doing that, but most people don't think in those terms.

Nick said...

Suburbia: Exactly. Sometimes so subconsciously you simply don't know it's happening and you genuinely think you are in control. A pain in the arse indeed.

Jean: No, I don't agree anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. I don't think it's a matter of ego. If I can't do something I'm proud of, I'd rather not bother.

Ursula said...

Nick, I agree with your response to Jean, that doing something poorly is not worth doing.

On the other hand, to find some middle ground for the two of you, sometimes practice makes perfect. Trust me: When you start playing the violin every cat in the vicinity will bolt, your parents wish they'd never forked out the money, and everyone else just turns up the volume to drown out screeching sounds.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: True, practice can make perfect. Not always though. Sometimes constant practice just means years and years of excruciating cacophony.

Jay said...

You are very fortunate if your mind rejects memories of negative emotions. Mine, sadly, does not. It only takes a small thing to remind me of a time or an event in the past, and then the emotions associated with it, good or bad, come flooding back.

Nick said...

Jay: Oh dear, that must be hard to deal with. I hope at least you have ways of damping down the negative emotions.

Rummuser said...

Okay, you are not as old as I am but you will get there and you will appreciate this.

I get inspired about life in general and mine in particular by going back often to Viktor Frankl. I quote and I hope that you will get inspired too.

".....the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfill a meaning, are affected by the irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble field of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.

From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past - the potentialities that they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized - and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past."

Viktor E Frankl - Man's Search for Meaning.

Nick said...

Ramana: Good point that oldies may not have much in the way of possibilities, but we've achieved all sorts of things in the past which we can be proud of. As long as we haven't done anything too heinous, that is.