Neuroscience tells us that 80% of our memory is negative, full of the bad things we have been through. Apparently the only good memories we have are of holidays and significant events such as marriage, child birth, and the like. Even then, the memories aren't as clear as any bad event that happened to us.
In simple terms, evolution wired our brains to remember bad things to alert us to danger, to keep us alive. Additionally, our brain exaggerated the negative so that we could clearly see the danger to fix it, catastrophisation is the term.
It's all about emotions and that damn amygdala. When the amygdala fires up with negative events there is a lot more thinking involved, our brain processes information more thoroughly in bad events than it does with positive events. It is this additional processing that makes it hard for us to forget negative events, they are burnt into our memory.
Additionally, when we go through a negative event, our physiology is significantly impacted. Our heart rate rises, our breathing becomes shallow, adrenaline and cortisol is released into our blood, our mouth becomes dry, our skin becomes clammy, we may even become cold and start shivering. And when we recall that negative event, we go through the same physiological reactions as we did at the time of the event, thus reinforcing the event.
Hence, PTSD can occur as we continue to remind ourselves of that bad event and we relive the same feelings.
When we have a positive event in our life, dopamine is released into your brain, and we all know that dopamine is a feel-good chemical. So, can we use good memories to overcome bad ones? Yes, but it's not that easy, you have to focus hard. We can use the positive reaction from happy memories to lessen and bury the negative memory.
Replacing a negative memory with a positive one takes time; the good news is that it can be done and is probably the best approach provided you have a strong positive memory. Each time you have a negative memory pop into your head, go to your happy memory to replace it. When you remember a happy memory you will get a hit of dopamine which will lift your mood.
There are some other techniques that you might want to try when wanting to bury bad memories;
- Psychotherapy works - I can personally vouch for psychotherapy, provided it is with a qualified professional, not a counsellor.
- Avoid your triggers - Write down what it was that sparked the bad memory each time it occurs. Once you know your trigger, avoid it as much as possible.
- Don't dwell on the negative - continually change your thoughts to break the neural pathway linked to the negative event.
- Meditation and mindfulness - enrol in a meditation or mindfulness course which will show you how to control your thoughts.
- Don't resist the feelings - For some people, forcing their thoughts doesn't work. Acknowledging the bad memory and feeling the feelings then letting the feelings go works better in the knowledge that the feelings aren't real.
- Look forward to good things - Looking forward to goods things coming up is one that I use. Be in the moment but look forward to things coming up that give you a buzz, that shot of dopamine.
It is important to remind ourselves that bad memories make us who we are today, they have shaped us. Bad memories can make the good times even better. Finally, from adversity can come opportunity. I have many friends who have made successful careers out of their adversity. Perhaps you could do the same?