A question came up on Soul Pancake: “Why can’t we let go of those memories which have brought nothing but suffering and pain?” This is an expanded and edited version of my answer there.
This is a question that interests me a great deal at the moment. I’m currently in analysis and I feel that one of the purposes of analysis is “letting go” of the past.
When we say letting go I don’t think it’s the memory itself but the burst of pain that comes with it that we need to let go. Memories will always fade with time, the problem is that some memories can actually hurt in the here and now – not just a memory of the pain of the moment but real, new pain.
That’s what we need to free ourselves from, the pain that remembering some things brings us.
So how do we do that?
Over the years I’ve read a great deal of psychology and some philosophy. I’ve also undergone therapy with psychiatrists and psychologists and taken part in a large amount of group therapy.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt is that “reality” is entirely subjective. It doesn’t matter what “really” happened or what someone else believes happened. To me (or you) the only thing that matters is how I remember it – that’s reality.
The second thing is we need to be understood. Back when we were small children we needed Mum to come and say “Let me look at your knee. That must have hurt, but it’ll get better.” When we grow up that need doesn’t go away. When we are hurt we need to be heard, we need to be understood. This is where therapy can be so useful, it provides a place where you can be understood.
The final thing is to accept that the past can’t be changed. It’s done and dusted. No point in beating yourself up about what you may have done wrong or things you may have done differently, just recognise them and hopefully learn from them. This is the hard one, this takes some serious work. Personally I find this an ongoing process that never really ends.
So the truth is that we can let go of the pain in those memories but it is hard and it will take time and a sympathetic ear.
The other win from all this is that once we can do those things it’s possible to properly learn from the past and hopefully not play out the same process and make the same mistakes.
None of this is easy. In the past I’ve found that the best way of moving through it is “talk therapy” or “analysis” with a good therapist or a good psychodrama group (indeed psychodrama is the only group therapy I’ve known to work).
I think I could go on editing this piece forever, it doesn’t feel totally right but I guess when you’re trying to make inexact language fit the complexity of human emotion that’s always going to be a problem. I hope you can forgive the failings of my writing and find some help and understanding in my words.