The suppression or repression of memory is a source of skepticism for some people, although it seems most psychologists, from what I’ve read, acknowledge that it can and does happen. I admit I’d long been skeptical myself, that is until three weeks ago when I awoke at 1:33am with the intense feeling that my own mind was slapping me upside my head.
It was a very bad dream, not a nightmare exactly… well ok, yes, a bit of a nightmare then. It was jolting at any rate.
I’ve been wanting to write about it, but also have been avoiding it. Writing about it makes it much more real and the more real it becomes, the more a person has to deal with it. Right?
Dealing with it is a good thing, though. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Not dealing with something can just make it even worse. A small problem becomes a big problem, a big problem becomes a huge problem, a huge problem becomes a colossal problem and a colossal problem becomes… just too much to freakin’ deal with!
Why do we suppress memory?
People suppress memory for different reasons. Mostly though, it seems to come down to the brain’s need to not deal with something–often an intense trauma and the pain associated with said trauma. This would separate it from merely just forgetting.
Child survivors of abuse, soldiers returning from war, victims of violent crime–understandably these are popular candidates. But really, virtually any exceptionally unwanted memory can fall prey to suppression or repression.
It’s kind of funny too what the mind will suppress and what it won’t–and apparently the age of the memory isn’t as much of a factor as one would think.
For instance, I did not suppress the death of my mother when I was 17 but I did suppress the details of my biggest failure in life, which occurred roughly twenty years later–a failure that led to a whole series of other failures. Or perhaps it was a culmination of failures, which led to some kind of surrender of will.
Suppression vs. repression
What’s the difference? The two are quite similar in nature, although repression seems to be the most severe of the two, at least from what I’ve gathered.
With suppressed memory, to a certain extent the mind remains conscience of the memory, or memories, in question. Perhaps it’s like that one old dish sitting at the back of cupboard or in a forgotten space in the pantry, that doesn’t ever get used anymore. Mostly it remains forgotten, except for once in a great while when doing some cleaning or when trying to find something else.
Repression is a much deeper form of suppression, almost as if those bad memories had never even happened at all. It’s like that dish just kept getting pushed further and further back until it fell off the back of the shelf and completely out of sight somewhere. It happens doesn’t it?
It’s almost like that dish ceased to exist. That is until something happens to allow it to return to sight again–a deep, deep clean or a move. Or perhaps someone mentions something, a thing associated with that dish–or you have a bad dream one night–and then suddenly that dish hurls itself at you and demands attention. Supernatural-like!
Honestly, I think in my case at least, one may have led to the other. Perhaps suppression can eventually lead to repression. Maybe that’s how it really works. Not sure.
The selection process
Most likely it was my own shame and feeling of humiliation–the feeling of being beaten by the game of life instead of having the strength to fight it and win–that really led to my suppression/repression of certain bad memories. Weakness is a terrible feeling. Failure, especially when it comes to the most important aspects of life, is even worse.
I read this interesting article, How to forget unwanted memories which delves into this subject. The two sections on “Substituting memory” and “Changing contexts” are the ones I found the most interesting and relative:
“Suppressing a memory involves shutting down parts of the brain that are involved in recall.”
Does this mean parts of the brain are not being utilized properly? Whaaat? No way! This would seem like quite a bad thing.
“To substitute a memory, those same regions must be actively engaged in redirecting the memory way towards a more attractive target.”
So, there is some kind of process going on up there, but it still doesn’t sound none good.
Memory suppression makes a terrible situation even more terrible. In order to use the brain to its proper capacity, whatever is tripping us up must be brought to the forefront of the mind in order for us to deal with it. Don’t you think?
Memory suppression is a coping mechanism though. Albeit, not a good one, but that’s what it is.
I will be writing more about all this. Not for the purpose of leaving the thing hanging but to figure out the best way to explain it all. In a nutshell though, and in order to not to leave everything too confusing, it has to do with my career and who I thought I was supposed to be in life. It’s about cruel people and letting them ruin your life and not do anything about it.
How best to unravel the story? It’s not an easy thing, but I will try to get it done. I really must.
Since experiencing this crazy dream/nightmare I haven’t felt like posting here so much, as this is my personal blog. Posting on Medium is much easier, as what I post there tends to be far less personal. Sorry about that.
I will catch up with everyone later this afternoon; we are getting ready to head out to the market before it gets too crazy busy.
The photos are from the royal botanical gardens in Port of Spain, near where the American Embassy resides.
Hope everyone is doing well!
By the way, I do apologize for this as well. In the past when I’ve provided links to my Medium stuff, I’ve been messing up and forgetting to make them “friend” links. These are links that allow a person to access a post without having to worry about the paywall. Sorry about that. I will try and remember to do this from now on when linking to my Medium posts.
This post about my favorite Trinidad munch-ums was pretty popular: Do What Tastes Right — My Favorite TT Snacks. I published it in a Medium travel publication called Globetrotters. How fun is that?