The perception of memory

P1110584I slowed to let the young lad on the bicycle pull out onto the roundabout. That looks like… I raised my hand to wave to my son’s friend and instantly realised my mistake. It might have been his son, but it certainly was not the boy I had known. It couldn’t be… he would be in his thirties now and this youngster was little more than a child. Even worse, he looked like my son’s best friend when we had first known him, almost twenty years ago, not as I had last seen him a couple of years ago, well over six foot tall and as broad as a tank.

Memory is a funny thing. I recalled a recent conversation where we had discussed how the images that we hold in our minds of people we know are not always accurate. Sometimes we picture them from a single moment in time, often the first time we met them. Sometimes we build up a composite picture, snapshots from across the years we have known them, all melded together and occasionally shifting from one angle to the next. Then again, we always look through the eyes of emotion, seeing a face that may reflect more about the true depth and nature of our feelings for that person than what they actually look like.

Memory and emotion are intimately linked. When we look back from the now, we see both events and people through the emotional eyes of the then. Our memory of events will inevitably be skewed, coloured by the emotions of that moment, rather than being the accurate record we think we hold. In many ways, that does not matter; what we remember is true… for us, as whatever we recall is what will have affected us as we moved through that moment and forward into the rest of our lives.

Some of those impressions will change us for the better, teaching us love, happiness, hope and understanding. They are gifts upon which we will build, little by little, for we are made of such fragments of memory, each one adding, as we grow, to the picture of who we will become. Some of them will leave a darker mark and a deeper scar, especially when we are very young, when we are not always equipped with the experience to see beyond the surface and simply react to the emotions.

Take, for example, the very small child who does something to upset his parents. He does not truly understand, only that he has upset them. He may feel he has let them down and disappointed them. His parents may simply be doing their best to teach the child or keep him safe… but the child cannot comprehend the adults’ motives. He only knows he has failed them…and that is what he feels. He feels it too when he knocks a glass of water over at school and the teacher is disappointed in him… That feeling is stored away as memory and becomes one of the most formative moments for him, though his parents may well have forgotten what was to them just a minor incident.

The child grows, always feeling that he can/has/will let his parents down. He does not necessarily remember the incident either, but its effects are carved on his heart. He tries hard, harder… so much so that he almost inevitably ‘fails’ to achieve his goals, in his own eyes at least, though to all others he seems to be doing well. That insecurity, that feeling of never being able to make his parents proud may go on to colour the rest of his life, actions and future relationships… and neither he, nor his parents, will ever know where it came from.

It is a tragedy that is played out in a hundred different forms, through almost all of our lives.

It is not always what we do that matters, but how it makes other people feel. It is that which imprints itself on their memory. Yet we are not responsible for how others interpret our words and actions, that responsibility lies solely with them. For ourselves, we can only act with consideration and thought, letting empathy be our guide. We will not always get it right… and if we did, we would learn nothing, but we can try.

But what to do about all those invisible scars that have formed`and created fragile places in our hearts and minds? A trained therapist might take you safely back into the trauma of childhood dealing with the perceived events and the misconceptions that may have arisen. For most of us, that is probably a step too far and rather unneccessary… we are who we have become, based on our experience of life so far. It doesn’t really matter what or where the cause, what matters is to see the patterns that have formed and begin to address those that are having a negative impact on our lives and wellbeing.

One of the ways we begin that journey in the Silent Eye is to break down the human personality into ‘bite-sized’ pieces, so that we can learn to understand them, relate to them…and see how, where and if they relate to our own lives.

We do not have to delve into the deep and murky memories that are buried beneath the weight of years. We do not have to reopen painful wounds. We can simply find the effects and work with them until we can see that the bars they have placed around us no longer hold us. We can learn to see them as gifts, for every experience adds to the richness and depth of our personalities and our possibilities of understanding both ourselves and each other. In this way we can free ourselves from old misunderstanding and, like a flower when the shadows of weeds are removed, grow to our full potential with a better knowledge of who we truly are.

 

12 thoughts on “The perception of memory

  1. Interesting post, Sue. I think it’s certainly true that for the most part, we build a kind of composite impression of who other people are and then react to that. When I think back to some of my classmates at school, for example, I have positive or negative feelings about each one, even though in many cases I can’t remember any of the specific interactions I had with them.

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    1. Odd, isn’t it? I remember all my cllassmates faces, but the only names II’ve never been great with names) are those of best friends and those with whom there were problems. Memory seems to work best with extremes and ‘normal’ seldom registers as important enough to make the same mark.

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  2. Really thought provoking. I am finding now, as an adult, just what an impact these early impressions can make, and how you judge people by what you have already attached to that previous experience..if that makes any sense! Great post 🙂

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  3. I am one of a very lucky child to have both a very loving parents and I never experienced of such from them. But that experience of failure or failing was later the worse of all experience I had when I got married to my first husband. I was only in my twenties and I was not equip with anything that protects me from it. And even if I did have all the best armour to wear, still the heart has nothing to protect it from being hurt and broken – I was then, devastated.

    I got lost for a long in so many years after and I am still struggling even until today with the scars from the past that still bleeds and never really heal. It effected every bits of me and it has beginning to become like some kind of deadly disease if I am not careful with it. That is if I am neglecting myself and does not taking care of myself good enough. I would fall down too easily.

    But in time as I am getting older, I have learned to get over it and instead I used my pain as my own strength, the wisdom of life and making myself a better human being. It is quite a very slow journey for me, but what matters the most is that I am healing bit by bit along the way. And of course, my children existence in my life had had something to do with it too. They are everything to me that done so much healing than anything else.

    It did take a longer time, but that longer time is worth my time. It taught me more about myself and that experiences I shared it with those who need it the most.

    Reading this while vacationing made my day with a beautiful entrance, Sue. Thank you for sharing!

    (✿◠‿◠)っ

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    1. The fact that most childhoods do, unconsciously, leave such traces in or minds is part of the process of learning to deal with them. In that way, even negative experiences can be a gift. As you say, for those who do not meet them early on, there is no natural protection when they come into our lives later…as they always will. A child learns in small ways and builds up resistance in the same way that we would through immunisation… a little bit now to protect against the greater onslaught.

      Yet is is in facing and overcoming the various challenges and traumas of life that we build and learn to know our own inner strength… ‘the wound is the place where the Light enters you’ … and it is from there that e can turn experience to good, being there for others with genuine empathy and understanding. x

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  4. In an attempt to define their children, and no doubt without malice, our parents labeled us very early in life. One was the smart one, the funny one, the great personality, etc. We spent a lifetime trying to overcome those labels, and bloom in our own way, but we never forgot. They were right in some cases, very wrong in others. Your post brought that back for me. Very interesting, Sue. thanks.

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