When it comes to mental health or low self esteem, lots of people believe that they can pin point an event or several things that have happened to them during their life that has led them to be struggling now.
But I want to talk about why your mental health has got nothing to do with your past…
How we THINK it works…
Generally speaking, most people believe that we go through life, things happen to us and they lead us to feel a certain way. That these memories and emotions can haunt us and emotionally damage us for the rest of our lives unless we can somehow ‘come to terms’ with them by talking them through, sharing how we feel and ultimately, find a way to cope with the ghosts of our past.
But if this was the case… why is it that there are people out there who go through some truly awful and traumatic experiences and it seems to have little or no impact on their current state at all? In fact some people say that the events in their past have made them stronger! Do they have some amazing powers? Are they better at covering or hiding their emotions? Have they blocked it out?
No. It’s none of these things. They have simply processed the events in a more helpful way because they have developed better habits of thinking. Let’s consider what it is really all about.
Why your memories are not to blame.
These memories from your past cannot possibly to blame for your current feelings about life or yourself because memories are not what we think they are.
We have this idea about memories – that we have them stored away somewhere in our brain like a video library and we can pull them out and replay them whenever we like. Sometimes we play them without even wanting to!
But this is not how memories work. In fact, I personally feel that even the word ‘memories’ is somewhat misleading.
Memories are constructive. That means that every time you “replay” a memory, you are effectively rebuilding it the present moment. Let me explain.
Put simply, your brain does not have the capacity to store all of the information from individual events in your life. Think of it this way – imagine a memory to be like a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle. You brain stores between 3 and 15 pieces of data/information from the event but then it makes up the rest!
This means it would be like me asking you to draw the missing pieces of the jigsaw every time you had that memory! The chances are that every time you drew the rest of the puzzle, it would be slightly different and would change more and more over time. This is EXACTLY what your memory does.
I know that you may be finding this hard to believe so let me give you some examples. When you last went on holiday and you were sat on the beach or were admiring a beautiful view, you probably thought ‘I’m going to remember this moment forever!’ – but a couple of weeks after you get home, that holiday is already feeling like it is getting hazy. You have to really work hard to remember what the name of that place was or what you were talking about as the sun was going down. Your brain has filtered through the data and only kept the most important information for your long term memory. And the longer time goes on, the less data it will save.
So memories cannot be responsible for how we are feeling now because they do not ‘play on your mind’ or keep you awake at night unless you are creating them in the present moment. And even if that is the case, they will be changing each and every time.
But I still have bottled up emotions.
Ah. Okay. I thought this might come up.
Even if those memories aren’t what we thought, they still made me feel terrible and I still feel terrible every time I think about it. Those emotions have been building up and bottled up for years!
So lets refer back to the way the brain stores data. There is no part of the brain that ‘stores’ emotional information. None.
This means that those feelings you have when you are building the memory are based on your present emotional state. You have to put an emotion TO that memory. You cannot recall an emotion.
True, you may have data linked to the memory that makes you know that you were upset (“I was crying”), but it is the information that you were crying that makes your brain put the emotional information to the memory in the present moment. It is not that you can remember how you felt because this information simply is not stored by the brain.
This means that you cannot ‘bottle up’ or store emotions. All your feelings and emotions are coming from your present moment thoughts and feelings.
What does all of this mean?
If our memories are all built in the moment and our emotions are created in the present moment too – why is my mental health and self esteem suffering?
The only way that these memories are impacting you right now is because you are still thinking about them and recreating them over and over. You are still going over the event and attaching negative emotions to them every time you do.
I am not suggesting for a moment that things that happen are not important but what I am saying is that they are still impacting you now ONLY because you are allowing them to. You are building that memory every time. You are feeling terrible about it every time. But the fact is that what you are building is not as accurate as you may believe.
So next time that memory starts playing – just remember that you are drawing that picture. You have a choice whether to continue, or whether to put the pencil down. You do not have to keep building that jigsaw puzzle. After all, where is it getting you?
What can I do to change?
Even just understanding how memories work and why they cannot impact your present mental health can change the way you think in future.
But those people who are not impacted by their past or, become stronger, have done so because they have helpful thinking habits. These have helped them to process events and situations in a helpful, powerful and in control way. This is simply a skillset which they have learned, developed and practised through their life.
Anyone can learn these skills – including you! By understanding where your thinking has not been helpful and practising some new skills, you can change you thinking habits for good!
You just need to the skills, support and guidance and this is exactly what The Thrive Programme was designed to do! It’s not about raking through your past – it is about building your skills to help you to move forward!
If you would love to learn these skills so you can move forward and leave your past behind the please do get in touch to find out more.