You’re out to lunch with your friends, minding your own business and having a fantastic time, and all of a sudden you remember that one thing you did when you were really drunk 6 years ago and you can’t help but cringe. This phenomenon, I have learned, is called an involuntary memory. That’s right, after something embarrassing or traumatic happens, we cope by pushing these memories to the back of our minds, hoping they will stay there forever. Unfortunately, that cringe-tastic treasure chest likes to pop open at the most random times and leave us feeling awful. Oh how fun the human psyche is!
Is there a reason we retain these memories?
Surprisingly, yes. As humans, we’re shaped by our experiences, no matter what the emotional outcome of them may be. Embarrassing memories serve us in a very interesting manner – they keep us from repeating those specific actions in hopes that we won’t embarrass ourselves again. Funny, isn’t it? (Okay, it’s not that funny – I wish the memory of me vomiting all over the chalk board, in front of my whole first grade class would never come up again). While some people experience embarrassing memories similar to the one I just mentioned, involuntary memories can be extremely traumatic to some of us, especially if they have substantial impact on our lives.
What can I do to better deal with this cringe-fest?
Great question, Srna. You can sit at the pub while everyone’s enjoying their drinks and think about that super awkward hookup with that one boy five years ago, or you know – you can try to occupy your mind with something else. Anything else. I have a handful of these memories that like to pop up ever so randomly, and I find myself feeling sad or cringing every time. If I’m in a social situation, it is a lot easier to brush it off and remember that the specific memory is in the past and has nothing to do with who I am today. I actively engage in unrelated conversation until I completely forget about my troubled and / or cringe-filled past.
But what about when there are no imminent distraction? Say, I’m sitting at home on my couch, sipping my coffee and eating a cookie (as I often do, don’t judge me), and all of a sudden as I’m minding my own business, I remember the time when I was 12 years old and a random boy told me I needed to lose weight or nobody would ever love me. Twelve years have passed, and I can still remember the warm tears streaming down my face as I walked home. This is when trying to distract myself doesn’t quite work as well as I would like it to. In moments like these, I actually like to sit down, journal about the experience, and try to get it out of my head and onto a piece of paper. Then I go on to have a pamper session or watch a happy film, basically try to keep the feelings of my twelve year old self from taking over.
Okay, but what if the memories aren’t funny and are so traumatic that they’re borderline obsessive?
There are some memories that we’ve repressed so hard, that when they do pop up, they hit us like a ton of bricks. If you’re ever in a situation where a past memory is so traumatizing that it affects your day-to-day life, please seek out professional help. Therapists know how to walk you through situations like these, and can help you cope with any memories that you don’t want popping up. If you’re unable to find a therapist near you, there are always alternative options such as BetterHelp.com.* If you can’t reach out to a professional, reach out to somebody you trust. Getting things out of you head space and off your chest is such a liberating feeling, and you deserve that.
*I am NOT sponsored in any way by BetterHelp, but I have used their services in the past and they have helped me tremendously.
Do you ever find yourself cringing at something that happened a long time ago? Let me know in the comments below! I did a poll on twitter and over 90% of you guys said you could relate. Truth be told, I am not surprised!
Until next time, keep that chin up.