Updated: Oct 2, 2020
‘Memories make us who we are…’ or ‘our life is the sum of memories from the day we are born…” some of the quotes that make me wonder if forgetting some memories deprives us of our identity. The connection between personal identity and memories has always been a complicated issue. An individual can define himself by recalling things that have been stored in his memories, but this is not enough to equate memories with identity. Memories are significant to one’s conscious identity, yet we all have things in our past that we'd like to forget like traumatic experiences or tragic losses. No matter how hard we try, these memories can continue to haunt us, occasionally triggering conditions such as anxiety or stressful ailments. However, with the advancement in science and the discovery that our memories aren't as permanent as we once thought, scientists now believe that every single memory is locked up in connections across the brain till we reflect upon it or reassess it.
These long-term memories are not stable.
In fact, every time we revisit a memory, that memory becomes flexible and is rearranged making it more graphic than before, something known as re-consolidation which shows why our memories can change slightly over time. We disrupt our present moment for the things that had happened way back, when we play that same scene over and over which only increases our fear that we have done or experienced the wrong thing. There are many painful memories that we replay in our mind: conversations with our partner, disagreements with parents or arguments with friends.
When you dwell on your problems, it magnifies your misfortune leading the way to your own pity party, spouting your agony.
Just as our body stands on the foods we eat and drink, our mind is made from our memories and experiences. The remains of our experiences are either beneficial or harmful, therefore I believe that if a memory does not serve the purpose of enlightening your day or helping someone out, then it is not worth evoking from time to time. Some bad memories may prevent people from making the same mistakes, so unless there is a need to recall a memory for the sake of an inquiry or teaching a lesson, the harmful memories need to be shut down every time you hear yourself recalling them as they are doing more harm than you can imagine. Mental toughness is the ability to control thoughts, emotions, and behavior by substituting a memory where people practice redirecting their consciousness towards an alternative memory. Suppressing a memory involves closing parts of the brain that are involved in its recall.
The most compelling feature that makes me judge the authenticity of a memory is that when we describe our memories to other people, we use a creative certificate to tell the story differently depending on who is listening. We might ask ourselves whether it is essential to get the details straight, or whether we only want to make the others laugh. Its also amazing how people change the story’s narratives depending on the listener’s attitudes or political leaning. How accurate can be the memory when the message has been altered? The ‘Audience-tuning effect’ shows that our memories can change instinctively over time, as a result of how, when, and why we contact them. If people spend as much time checking the authenticity of a memory as they did in recalling them abruptly, they would be able to focus on the positive or negative impacts of these memories.
This memory-based version of identity is strong, deep-rooted, yet dangerously limited for the description of an identical event by two different people is completely different. Recalling is an act of storytelling and our recollections are only as reliable as the most recent story we have told ourselves. Talking about these stories that we tell ourselves Brene Brown says, “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity....”
Recalling memories is an act of self-preservation, not spiteful alliance where shutting down painful memories does not rob us of our individual identity. While self-reflection is helpful, brooding is harmful. It is not our intelligence or our knowledge of the past that defines us, but instead our lessons that we have derived from them. So basically, personality or identity is not what we have come to know, but what we stand for. An individual’s personality is based on the values he holds and the way he thinks, not on reminiscing the past that was meant to be faded over time. The bitter bits of the past can be a human fate, but they are never strong enough to oppress the sweet melodies of our existence.
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