The Gift of Forgetting the Bad Memories

The gift of forgetting bad memories

I once read a myth that a fish has a three second memory. While this information cannot be confirmed, it would seem a fish is rather happy swimming around with no memory of trauma. A goldfish or tropical fish is moved from the tank in the fish store, to a plastic bag, to a new tank with new water at a new temperature. To a gill bearing aquatic creature, this is a large shock to the system. Not to mention having to live in a school with other new fish who do not always get along or an owner who may forget to feed them every now and then. But with a three second memory a fish cannot hold onto any pain or hold a grudge about the past. He swims in peace.

What if you lived every moment as if you were meeting each person for the first time?

What if you had no resentment, no anger, no sadness and no negative memory of your relationship? The first time we meet someone we have no memory of the past. There is nothing to hold onto. Our memory is empty, a plate waiting to be filled. However, our feelings are not neutral.

The first time we meet someone, there are positive thoughts with the intention of a good connection.  In a meaningful world, you would never start out being neutral with a stranger. You would love the stranger as you love yourself. You would want to give out kindness and support and of course, set limits to protect yourself when necessary. Your goal would be to connect through giving and receiving love.

Imagine the moment your husband or wife walks in the room.  

The moment you see your spouse, you are not only seeing the person in that moment, but you are also seeing your spouse through memories from an hour ago, moments past, days past and years past.  It is possible you are holding onto pain, resentments, or memories of painful situations with your spouse. These memories are pouring out in the energy you give to your spouse. They may come out in a tone, a facial expression, or words that are a reaction to a past memory.  

It is hard to forget the emotionally challenging times in your relationship.

Emotional responses are ingrained in our psychological makeup. Often times, this can be beneficial to prevent further harm or engaging in that circumstance again. It can be beneficial for survival at times. However, the idea to forgive but not forget is a cliché meant to protect yourself.  It was never meant as a threat to let someone know you will never let “them” forget what they did.

Ultimately, many of the behaviors from our spouse are accidental, a learned pattern of behavior, a behavior not yet learned, or an automatic response.  Many times your spouse’s behavior is not with the intention to hurt you, even if it sometimes does create pain.  It is understandable that people make mistakes and do their best to correct them. After all, we have our list of mistakes and thankfully we have endless opportunities to change our behavior, time and time again.   

Even a most righteous person will fall multiple times and get up each time.

Not only are we not perfect, we do not even come close, which is why it is such an amazing reality that we get to try over and over to make better choices. While each mistake may bring some pain, most mistakes move through time and begin anew. Being given another chance is one of the many gifts of being on earth. This gift is for you and this gift is for your spouse.

Joshua Foer, a Neuroscientist, writes:

“Memories are not static. Somehow as memories age, their complexion changes. Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged. But in the process, we also transform the memory and reshape it – sometimes to the point that our memories of events bear only a passing resemblance to what actually happened.”

The beginning mind reflects the idea that too often we let our thinking and are beliefs about what we know prevent us from seeing things as they really are.

Imagine seeing your spouse as if you are seeing them for the first time.

Begin to cultivate this practice into your day-to-day life.  The next time you see someone who is familiar to you, ask yourself if you are seeing this person for the first time, with fresh eyes, as he or she really is, or if you are seeing only a reflection of your own thoughts about this person.

Practice. Try to look at your spouse with fresh eyes and watch a beautiful moment unfold.  The next time your spouse walks in the room, pretend you have met him or her for the first time. Give the gift you would give to the stranger, which is a warm greeting that illuminates joy, a smile, a handshake or a hug. Perhaps notice something nice about your spouse and share this out loud.  Let it be heard. Then watch the reaction in both of you.

Be like a fish. Swim in peace.

Lisa Fogel
Psychotherapist, LCSW-R
Lisa has an experience of over 25 years in psychotherapy and mental counseling. She supports people through depression, self esteem issues, relationship problems and anxiety with her therapy sessions. She practices mindfulness and psychodynamic theories to help her patients.
She is currently works as a private psychotherapist. Previously, she had been associated with the University of Rochester Medical center where she provided mental health therapy to groups and other crisis services.

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