Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unpleasant Memories

The mind is a very interesting thing. This morning, as I was lying in bed wondering if  I should just get up (waking up with only four hours of sleep), my mind started to wander, and it went to some childhood memories that, interestingly, seemed to have been suppressed for a while, and I couldn't recall much of the detail except for the general impressions.

It seems to me that our minds have a way to block unpleasant memories from fully forming or taking hold. Or maybe it's just me. I remember the details of my happy moments -- graduation, vacation, getting a new job, etc. But when it comes to unpleasantness, my memories are incredibly foggy.

For example, this morning I remembered the time when my family was living in a 250 sq. ft. apartment, in a complex near the slums. I could actually see and walk to the slums from our apartment. And one of my parents' friends and his wife actually lived at the slums. I remember visiting them, and being horrified by the awful conditions (if you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, you'd know what I'm talking about): the roaches, the murky water, the dog shit, the wooden sheds that appeared to collapse at any second. And yet, I couldn't recall the details, as if it was a movie and not a real experience. I only had an impression. And it wasn't until this morning did I remember -- it was as if my mind had deliberately blocked out that information for decades.

I also thought of the time when I witnessed a boy falling to his death. Again, in my mind now that seems like only snippets from a movie, but the boy (probably only a year or two older than I was) died only about 20 feet from where I was sitting. I didn't remember much of how it happened, and it happened rather quickly. But I do remember the images of his twisted body, the blood and the brain matters. Again, as I recall the scene now, it seems to have come from a movie and not real-life experience. My mind has a way of playing tricks on me.

[p.s. I think his death -- an apparent suicide after he had failed his exams -- made me and my parents realize there were more important things than making grades, etc. My parents never pressured me to be "top" students, and I knew that even if I failed, it wasn't the end of the world because the alternative, as I witnessed with this boy's death, was unfathomable.]

That's why I think it's highly likely that people tend to block unpleasant and horrific experiences from their memories. We've heard of child-abuse survivors or rape victims not remembering anything, or missing key elements from their testimonies. Prosecutors or defense lawyers know that, and they use that stuff to their advantages. They understand that people repress their memories as a defense mechanism, and it's not even voluntary. It seems, our conscious minds have a way to control what we can/will access and not. To get to these memories, we will have to go deeper into the subconscious mind (and I've done that, through hypnotherapy -- now that's a whole different blog post to discuss).

As a writer, I'm very interested in how the conscious and subconscious minds work, because they affect how people behave and react. They say the subconscious mind is purely emotional, and I believe that. Normally when people get access to their subconsciousness (through hypnosis, for example), they experience and express the same kinds of emotions as if they were experiencing it for the first time. It FELT real. As opposed to what I'm feeling now about these unpleasant memories of mine:  they're really not that unpleasant, since I don't have any emotional attachment to them, as if they were not real. Just movies. Movies of my life. In bits and pieces.

How fascinating!

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