How Do Memory-Triggers Help Us?

Ever walked down a road in a hurry and felt your heart race in panic when you saw someone pass by, because they reminded you of a person who broke your heart? Ever seen a flower and felt sad because someone you lost gave you the same kind of flower years ago and you preserved it within the pages of your favourite book and never looked at it again? Was there ever a time when you picked up a stranger’s pen and felt overwhelmed by emotion, because it revealed a never-remembered image of seeing your dead father use a similar pen when you were a child? Human mind has a curious way of associating things and memory-triggers remind us of those emotions and memories that are buried deep within us.

So why bother with something long forgotten? Why care about something that reminds us of things that perhaps we would rather not remember or talk about? Because accepting who we are and what our life means to us, starts with facing all that we would rather forget. It’s about accepting our flaws and forgiving ourselves. It’s about realising that just because we put ourselves out there once and it did not work out the way we thought it would, it doesn’t mean that we should fear being vulnerable again.

When I was planning my move from London to Oslo, I met someone who came to my home to do some work. After we finished discussing what needed to be done, he was ready to leave and was wearing his shoes in my hallway. As he did so, he looked up and saw the huge wardrobe in a room straight ahead. He asked if the wardrobe came as part of the house. We had bought it separately and I thought perhaps he was looking to buy a wardrobe. Instead, he sat there kneeling on the floor for the next several minutes as he told me all about the problems he was having in his life.

Image of a woman in a wardrobe
Photo Credit: ro_buk [I’m not there] via Compfight cc

He had bought a house. He had initially planned to go back to his native country but he met a girl and she became pregnant. He had managed to repay the mortgage on his house quickly with help from his parents. So he stayed in the house and had a daughter. However, a few months earlier, someone had contacted him on Facebook. This woman told him that though he didn’t know her and she didn’t know him, and she was sorry to do this to him, but she has proof that his girlfriend was having an affair with her partner. At that time, his girlfriend had been on a holiday with his daughter.

Though I felt terrible for him, I was a bit confused. What prompted him to tell me, a complete stranger, such personal details of hurt and betrayal? He was shocked to hear about his girlfriend’s affair, but he contacted the woman online and she sent him pictures of his girlfriend and her partner. She also sent him the messages that the two had shared and he found out that his girlfriend went on the holiday to see the other guy. He told me how he confronted his girlfriend, after which she made his life difficult and has been trying to claim his house ever since, and how she complained to the local council that he was not paying for child maintenance, even though he was paying for it and was letting her stay in his house rent free till she could find another place to rent. He had to get a solicitor to deal with her accusations. Now, he is just waiting for her to leave and he is thinking of selling his house after that.

I realised that telling me all this had visibly lifted a huge weight off his shoulders. He sounded positive when he told me what he was planning to do in the future. As he left, I wished him well for his future and he finally said that when he bought his house, he had spent a lot of money on custom-made wardrobes. But when he got an agent to sell his house, he found that the wardrobes added no extra value to his house. It struck me that my large wardrobe had become his memory-trigger. It had helped him talk about his problems and feel a sense of hope that things will get better.

It’s strange, but when we are young, we are taught that some things are dangerous, that we should not hurt others, that we should take responsibility for our mistakes and not lie. As we grow up, those memories and lessons, stay with us and help us lead better lives. Yet, when we make mistakes as adults, when we fail, when we have our heart broken, when someone betrays us, we choose to bury it deep within us. It fills us with shame just to think about it. And we lose the valuable lessons we can learn from those experiences. That’s why memory-triggers are important. They mirror what our subconscious knows, but we constantly deny. They might seem to work at the most inconvenient of times, but really, would you be able to say ‘Now is a good time to face painful memories and get over them’?

Don’t let memory-triggers scare you. They are our friends. They help us stop running from life-crippling memories. They give us a chance to embrace life and feel whole again.

How has a memory-trigger helped you ? Share in the comments.

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