Memories are a funny thing. They can be triggered by the least amount of stimuli. A smell, a noise, or even a colour can bring something back to your mind that has been long forgotten. In the regular course of a day we see, hear, taste, and experience countless sensations that our brain’s processes.
Some are trivial, others important. But all of them are stored away in our memory to help form the picture of what happened to us that day. We may not remember specific details, even immediately after their occurrence, but somewhere down the line any one of them could be the trigger that enables us to recall an event.
Although we may censor feelings and sensations during the moment of experiencing on a conscious level, our brains take in everything. There’s no way we could cope with the amount of information inputted otherwise. Take a moment and think about the information that you are recording right now.
Aside from reading this article what else are you experiencing? There is the chair your sitting in and how it feels, the sound of your computer’s fan, the taste of your coffee or what ever your drinking, eating, or smoking at the time. This is all aside from any mood that you may have brought to the computer with you when your sat down to read. If your focus is on what your reading then that will be what you remember of this situation.
But what if your partner came into the room and you have a fight? Or your child hurts themselves and you have to tend to them? Either one of those events will quickly supersede reading and retaining the information in this article. As incidents become more personal, ones with greater emotional investment, they become more important to hold on to, and or make a stronger impression on our awareness.
Therefore if you were to look back on the events of sitting reading this article, you’ll remember being at the computer, maybe that you were reading something, probably not the content, won’t remember how the chair felt on your butt, or what the computer’s fan sounded like. Even though all that information was available you will think of it as the time you and your partner had a fight, or your child skinned her knee.
Of course as with any good theory there are exceptions. As a means of protecting itself the brain is able to shut off receptors so that it doesn’t overload, so that we don’t get over stimulated. In times of extreme stress we will go into a state of shock which will enable us to block out primary sensations. Although our physical memories may remain, the pain of injury for example, the events surrounding the cause will be either eliminated or buried so deeply that we have no recollection of them happening for years.
Sometimes a person will live out their life with the memory never reviving. Often it takes a shock equal in magnitude to the initial trauma to revive what had been suppressed. In other instances they will be reflected in our unconscious mind in the form of nightmares. A person may go for years in this manner never understanding the cause of their night time disturbances, until some event or instance triggers the memory.
Using the earlier incident of reading this article and the argument with a partner as an example, lets say that this had developed into something traumatic. The partner became abusive, either emotionally or physically, and in the aftermath the incident was repressed.
Some years pass and you’ve started to have peculiar nightmares, violent or disturbing, that make no sense. Then one day your sitting at the computer and something about the way the seat feels, or the fan of the computer sounds, or what your reading on the screen triggers the release of that memory.
Those minor details that we didn’t even realize were occurring were part of the picture our mind formed of that event. Stored in our brains along with countless other impressions formed over the years they serve as the stimuli for remembering a specific incident. When the incident has already started to work it’s way back into your conscious mind via the nightmares it doesn’t take much for their relationship to the larger memory to be established.
There’s a saying that runs along these lines: “Your never given more then you can cope with”. In other words some part of you knows when you are going to be able to come to terms with past traumas and begins to gradually release them from where they were buried. On an unconscious level you are able to figure out when enough time has passed or you have gained the strength that the hurt will be minimal in contrast to the immediate aftermath of the incident.
When people develop Alzheimer’s decease the initial signs are the inability to remember things from their daily routine. Then as it progresses they lose track of themselves and the present day world. More often or not they begin to associate people and events with memories of their past. Perhaps it has something to do with the earlier memories are formed the more potent they are, or that there is so much information in their brains the old stuff can no longer stay in storage and is forced to the surface.
What ever the reason they have definitely travelled back in time mentally. I think we can probably devise some clues from their behaviour at this time as to what type of childhood or youth they had. So many people have been shocked to see their sweet talking aunts or mothers develop into angry, swearing, and close to violent creatures. Until recently it was just assumed that this was a natural state of the disease. They were forgetting the moral code dictating behaviour.
But now it’s believed there might be more to it. In the incidences where people have taken the time, and had the patience, to sit with these people and listen to them for extended periods it has become clear that they all had experienced some sort of abuse at one time or another. In most of the cases it was sexual abuse at the hands of a family member.
Due to the mores of the time they had repressed these memories so successfully that they have laid dormant until Alzheimer’s had broken through the walls they had built around their childhood. They were never given the chance to deal with the anger and grief in a constructive way and so now they are lashing out. With these memories being the only mementos they have of their lives is it any wonder they are so angry?
In the movie The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Eye the two main characters erase the memories they have of each other and their relationship. They hope to obtain happiness by forgetting those memories that caused them pain. But it ends up not being that simple for either one of them. The bad had been accompanied by a lot of good which neither of them want to lose in the end.
We all have times in our lives which we would prefer to forget. But most everything that happens to us has gone into making us the person we are today. The ability to remember mistakes we have made allows us the chance to never repeat them, by learning from the consequences of our actions. We could never achieve any growth without memory.
It’s amazing the lengths people will go to in the quest to erase memories. Alcohol and drug abuse are two of the more common solutions. But that’s only finding temporary solace at best. They end up being just as unhappy for other reasons. Repressed memories have a way of coming out in some manner at some time. Wilfully suppressing them only makes things worse in the long run.
We have the ability to retain information for a reason. Whether to help us perform tasks, interact socially, learn from experience, or to relive pleasure. Sometimes a memory will be unpleasant and complicate our life, but we have the ability to resolve these situations. It is better to have good and bad memories then no memory at all.