You have the capacity to change the past through positive remembering, no matter how horrific it was or how much you’re still troubled by it. This amazing lifehack for trauma is so simple and yet so effective. Your brain is amazing. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.
You have no idea how much your brain is capable of and what it can actually accomplish – it genuinely is the greatest, most wonderful tool you will ever possess. Your brain can actually change and adapt to do whatever you ask it to do – including re-write your history. The darkest, scariest, most nauseating parts of your history as well as the annoying, the humiliating and the humbling. Your brain is the tool you need to heal those old wounds and to get happier because of it. Let’s call it Positive Remembering, and it’s such a powerful lifehack to cure a bad past.
All of us have bad memories from our own lives – some of those are little snapshot memories of one particular incident (like almost stepping on a snake in the woods) and some are entire chapters (like that whole relationship with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, or that little thing called “childhood”). For many people these memories are there, but not called upon. Stuff happened and they’ve moved on and it doesn’t really matter. For others these memories are part of waking life – popping up at random times and interfering with emotions, happiness and even health. Positive remembering is the key to reducing the impact of those past traumas on your life now.
Positive remembering is a way to free yourself slowly from these negative memories and re-frame the whole experience into something less harmful, less emotionally charged and to allow some healing to happen.
Positive Remembering in the First 24 Hours
The first 24 hours after a trauma is a powerful time to impact the way your brain holds and stores that information. In those 24 hours if you can focus on the good things that are happening, the people who love you, the help you received, the blue of the sky while you were flat on your back, the wonderful things in your life. By doing this the overall impact of the trauma will be greatly diminished because your brain lays down that memory differently and with less emotional charge. Of course this is also the hardest time to focus on the good things, and for many of us the traumas that concern us were years, if not decades, ago. Never fear, positive remembering works for long-past memories too.
Changing Your Past To Change Your Present
If you know that some negative part of your past is still there, haunting you then it’s time to take some proactive steps to changing that situation. Nothing you do can change the past, but the great news is you don’t have to. You just have to change the way you think and feel about the past. We’re going to call that Positive Remembering. Here are some of the tools you can use to change those memories. Try to use one of these, quickly, every time you are confronted with a negative memory and soon that memory will lose it’s power over you:
- Feel Your Body – Notice what reaction your body has to the memory. Often you’ll clench your jaw, tense your shoulders, your heart rate will accelerate or your stomach will start grinding because your body is re-living the stress, anxiety, sadness or fear from that moment. Consciously bring your attention to that part of your body and instead of focusing on the memory, focus on relaxing that body part. You can pretend there is a warm, soft light shining there, or the feeling of a warm blanket, or just imagine that part turning to water or melting. If it’s your heart rate think of something that would calm your heart rate down like lying on a beach or getting a massage. I know, there is a little bit of a “go to your happy place” feel to this, but if your body lets go of the tension from the memory then you’ll start to re-wire your brain to let go of some of the tension too.
- Banish The Boggart – For anyone who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, a boggart is a type of creature that takes the shape of whatever you fear most (your memory). To banish it, you must laugh at it in a genuine and meaningful way. This produced all kinds of hilarity in books and movies as the boggart of a hated teacher was forced into a hideous and embarrassing drag-grandmother ensemble, thereby giving Harry and friends a great laugh. Much like boggarts, memories can be changed too. If you had a horrible car wreck that still wakes you up in cold sweats, you can positive remember it: picture the same scene but in bumper cars and give the whole thing a cartoon “boing” noise. Make the whole thing as ludicrous as possible. This works even with the really scary memories too. Just be creative – what would make that scene silly or ridiculous. Every time you have that negative emotionally charged memory, banish it with your newer, sillier version. It’s really hard at first, espcially if those memories are still raw but the more you practice the easier it becomes and the less that memory bothers you.
- Give Yourself a Gift – Memories are yours to play with. Nobody says they have to actually look like what happened. They can look like whatever you want them to. So why not give that story a happy ending? Chances are in your bad memory you needed something that you didn’t have at that moment. Positive remember it! If you’re remembering childhood trauma you may have needed a big hug from a kind adult and a teddy bear – so just add that part in. Any time that memory pops up, just add in the part where you get what you need at the end. Sure bad stuff happened, but start telling your brain that at the end you got what you needed and your brain will start believing you.
Positive Remembering: Your Memories are Just Stories
I know this sounds kind of silly and ridiculous, but the point is that the things in your memory are over – they aren’t happening right this second. Right this second you’re just fine. You are breathing, your heart is beating, you’ve had enough food and water to stay alive until this moment. Whatever that bad memory was, it didn’t actually kill you and at the end of the day that means it’s all kind of okay (I believe at the end of the day it’s *always* okay even after the whole death thing, but for the sake of brevity we don’t have to discuss that part today).
Essentially those memories are just stories you tell yourself over and over again so lets just change the story into something you can live with, something that doesn’t make you feel hollow, something that will let you heal and move forward. Positive remember it and start to get out of the clutches of negative memory. It’s your story – so make it whatever you want it to be: RE-member it differently. You’re not trying to sell yourself on this new version being the truth, you’re just softening up the whole picture every time it comes up and by doing that, you also soften up the effect it has on your overall level of joy. Positive remembering helps you rediscover the joyfulness buried under the rubble.