Moody Monday: What happens when memory suppression ends?

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.

Fusia Bougainvillea -TT- JoAnn Ryan

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.

Fusia-tinged white Bougainvillea -TT- JoAnn Ryan

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.

“James Walker” fuchsia and orange Bougainvillea -TT- JoAnn Ryan

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?


21 thoughts on “Moody Monday: What happens when memory suppression ends?

  1. Suppression of memory is an interesting subject.

    When I was a youngster, all I could remember of my childhood were that bad things that happened. I came to think of it as an unrelenting nightmare. When I thought of my childhood only bad things came up. Of course, it wasn’t. But for some reason, I needed it to be so.

    As years pass by and the immediate pain was no longer immediate, I started to remember good things that happened. There weren’t a lot of them but they were enough. Times my parents actually did show love for me. Times the kids at school were friendly. Times the bully lost. Teachers who took an interest. I developed a much more balanced understanding than I did then.

    I think having a horrific childhood had become part of my identity – who I was. Looked at with some perspective I can now see it was not my childhood but how I interacted with the world that was so negative. That changed everything. There were two big factors.

    One was the realization that my memories were false. They were incomplete because part of them had been suppressed. Everything started to make sense and I saw that I wasn’t a failure as a person and a waste of protoplasm. I was just not a good fit for the time and place.

    The other was the loss of a target to blame. People are raised to avoid blame and to find fault. We want it to be the other guy’s fault that our lives suck because if is it isn’t, we’re the ones to blame. And whoever is at fault, whoever is to blame, whoever is responsible, gets the negative consequences.

    Take it far enough and you get a school shooting. For me a least, that wasn’t likely because I was internalizing everything (depression) while shooters externalize everything (anger). I came to blame myself and not those around me. I came close to suicide more than once.

    Once I stopped trying to assess blame for everything and simply accepted everything as an unfortunate roll of the dice, I was able to move on. And then memories of good times started to come back and some of the terrible things became understandable. (Tho, even to this day there is a slight hesitancy to thinking about something good from childhood. Feels like it invalidates the pain I felt, even though I know it does not.)

    Decades later I hear about these new-fangled things called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Radical Acceptance. And high functioning autism/Asperger’s becomes a hot topic. None of which was a ‘thing” in rural Michigan 50 years ago. Wish they had been so, when it would have done me some good. It’s really tough to figure things out on your own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing. A lot of powerful stuff here. I read a great article from one of my Medium buddies just yesterday on negative reappraisal and positive reappraisal…. basically reframing the mind so that everything has more of a positive spin… even the really bad stuff. It isn’t always so easy to do but it’s an important step in order to get past all that “baggage”.

      I’m glad that you’ve been able to do this with some of those bad memories. It’s funny how the mind can play tricks on us, especially when we are younger. Situations that l always thought were negative had little positive rays of hope, but I didn’t see it that way until many years later. Instead I just saw the negative aspects. It’s sad to think about but I also have to keep in mind that it’s never too late to reappraise it and reframe it. Seems like a forever continuing process as well.

      When someone has a bad childhood, I suppose it’s understandable to go through such things. We just didn’t know any better I guess, but now we do. While I understand the motive behind school shootings, it’s also tragic that these kids were never able to experience this reframing thing for themselves. Like you mentioned, there are much improved treatment techniques now, but it still doesn’t always work the way it should for whatever reason. The simple can so quickly get complicated!

      Anyway, I’m glad that you’ve been able to do this for yourself. So kudos for you! It’s really a great accomplishment and one that not everyone is able to achieve. We are lucky in that aspect. How’s that for a positive spin?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great to read you again, JoAnn!

    As usual, you’ve given us much to see, and to ponder. Regarding the latter, thanks for the explanation of suppression v. repression. I read of your recent wee-hours jolt with sympathy, as just recently my mind, for whatever reason, revealed a suppressed memory. Nothing as traumatic as is yours (or maybe it is), but a new sensation in any event. If you feel comfortable elaborating on your experience, I look forward to details.

    On the much more pleasant, yet equally vital, part of your post, I love the great Bougainvillea snaps! So, you moved from the flowery state to the full-on tropics. That JoAnn, I think she knows what she’s doing.

    On a hopeful note from here, halfway, and then some, to the Arctic Circle, after a stretch of mild weather, the yard’s azalea is fully in leaf now. Which means…in a couple weeks, we’ll have flowers too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Azaleas? Oh I’m sure those are a pleasant sight to see, that and warmer weather. Nothing like springtime after a long winter. I don’t know that much about azaleas or when they start blooming, is it April?

      I do love the tropics. It’s the best place to spend winter, that’s for sure! At least for me.

      I’m really going to try and tackle this suppressed memory thing. Been reading some stories from other people who have dealt with things like this and who ended up turning it into a learning experience and a source of strength instead of weakness. Flipping the script. Sounds good to me. It’s very inspiring! What a journey life can be. I will look forward to you hopefully sharing your experience as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems memory suppression is a means of avoiding trauma. Both the catastrophe of the moment, as well as the injury reliving it might cause.

        Also, though, it’s a deferral, keeping the situation on hold until we gain the emotional resources to deal with it. Sometimes, that means the journey from childhood to adulthood. At other times, it’s a trip through adulthood, benefitting from the wisdom experience grants.

        Oh, and regarding azaleas, typically they bloom in early April, but this year they seem set for late March. Usually, not quite as early as are the crocuses and even the daffodils, but still, among the first bursts of exuberance. Naturally. As severe as early- and mid-winter were, late winter has been quite mild.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Very wise. I understand what you’re saying. Being emotional ready to deal with something is the key. Frustrating that it can take so long to get there sometimes though. Better late than never I suppose.

          Mild sounds good. Flowers are the best part of spring so I’m sure you are looking forward to them.

          Liked by 1 person

              1. Thanks to your wishes, JoAnn, we’ll approach 70 degrees tomorrow. Maybe winter’s last storm rocked the azaleas’ world, but the daffodils have yet to emerge. After tomorrow’s bathwater, though, here they come!

                Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s good to hear from you: I was wondering. I’m sorry you’re having to work on processing a recovered memory. It’s painful, it’s as though it just happened. Be gentle and easy with yourself 💝

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Nice to hear from you JoAnn, I believe it was on last Thursday or Friday I dropped you a like to see how you were doing. As with everything there are pros and cons to suppressing and repressing some memories, and of course it’s also easier said than done for most people too.
    Love the Bougainvillea’s they are so pretty. I haven’t been to the Botanical Gardens in forever. I want to visit when they open the butterfly garden. I wonder if there are any Poui trees – other than the ones around the Savannah – that still bloom on the northern range? They are just beautiful as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. With all this COVID stuff going on the whole savannah/Botanical Gardens area is a shadow of it’s former self. At least that’s what locals have said. It was pretty quiet there and not as much maintenance has been going on I guess. We want to go back and go to the zoo there though. That looked interesting. I didn’t know about the butterfly garden. That sounds spectacular!

      The Poui trees are beautiful. Will have to look out for those.

      My husband was also very disappointed when we tried going to the Chaguaramus area. Everything there is still closed as well, aside from a tiny stretch of beach for the locals to enjoy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can only imagine the neglect of the gardens. But I read in one of the local newspapers a few weeks ago that there’s a Trinidadian lady who does butterflies gardens all over the world is about to also start one there. It’s going to be awesome! I haven’t seen the zoo in forever as well, but more than likely they’ve keep up on maintenance – I hope – they can’t neglect those animals.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh that sounds great! Hopefully everything will start coming back soon. Its a slow process as everyone is still being cautious here. I will have to see if I can find some news about the butterfly garden. That sounds magnificent. The zoo seemed just fine as well. We peeked in quite a bit as we were walking past. Will have to plan to do that soon. 🙂🦚

          Liked by 1 person

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