In school, I briefly took a logic course. There was a chapter on “selective memory” which I found disturbing.
As I recall, the idea is, say you go into a photo booth, 10 times. 8 out of those 10 times you get pricked. Likely as not, when you think about going into a photo booth next, you’re going to think or say, “I don’t want to. I always get hurt when I go in there.”
But the truth of the matter is, twice, you didn’t get stabbed and you had a great time. But either a positive or a negative memory has the capability or overshadowing other memories so that really truly in your mind you only remember the negative/positive experiences.
Also, the other thing is you’re more likely to notice when something happens versus when something doesn’t happen. Usually, unless they are being facetious, someone wouldn’t say, “Remember that time you didn’t tell a joke?”
So, if your dog barks frequently at passing cars, more likely than not if I ask you to bring up those memories, you’ll think first of times where the dog barks. You might even say, “He always barks at cars when they go by.” It’s really hard to take notice of times that things don’t happen. XD
I didn’t like the idea of my memory being faulty. Or people not being able to control what they thought.
However, in subsequent years, I’ve become more comfortable with this concept, and actually used it as a tool.
- One, to understand why someone might say “always” or “never” and me not need to feel like I must correct them for correctness’ sake.
- Two, to catch it in myself when I might say it.
- And three, to try to take note of experiences that are unlike what I expected or what I was used to in that scenario, so it will be easier for me not to be selective with my memory.
This Christmas, I’ve found another thing the brain probably uses it for. I think it uses it for dealing with trauma. For instance, when reflecting back on our childhood, my brother (who has a much better/fuller store of memories) largely says it was bad. ‘We fought constantly,’ etc.
When I look back, on my childhood, I remember it largely good in regards to my current family. Sure, my brother and I had our small arguements but most of the time we were trying to work together and to boister each other up.
See? Our two memories of the *same time* in regards to the *same* subject vary widely.
If you ask me to access the files for some of the same years – the last 15, I would say they were largely BAD.
But I just said I had a great childhood? Maybe it’s because I was thinking about how I was with my family, and here I’m thinking about my personal mental state.
I think back on that time, and my first thought is how I had terrible run-ins with making friends, became anorexic, and then was poooor so I was cold, and hungry, and scared because I wasn’t just poor I was poor and anorexic, which is just to be honest, a terrible combination. XD (Not having adequate heating when you’re a normal bodyweight is miserable. Not having adequate heating when you aren’t at a normal body weight is life-threatening. My subconcious mind likely picked up on that even if I was psyching myself out to ignore it.)
Sure, that seems likely. I had a great relationship with my fam, but I was suffering internally.
Yeah… but when I think about that, I think about my family next. And how that was going poorly, too. So, which is it?
Here’s what I think it is.
When I was a kid, I bottled up and repressed a lot of stories, and experiences I had. They were bad, but inexplicable. If I couldn’t say what it was, I might as well say nothing.
But, while outwardly bottling them, I inwardly wanted to shout it. Scream it. At anybody. Outside, I figured “It was okay!” Inside, I knew something was whack.
This (unsurprisingly) came out sideways. I found occasional compassion, but the people I leaned on most didn’t know what I was going through. Mainly because I didn’t know what I was going through. There was no way to explain the subtle yet pervasive wrongness which sketched out my life.
So, I said nothing to the “right people” and everything to the “wrong people” until finally I got out, was able to tell the right people and move on.
I was done bottling, and now those memories were dealt with. “Largely good” I’d say about my childhood.
The next memories. The ones formed with the ones I love. Currently love and live with. The ones I can’t define or assign blame to, or explain? Those are the ones that are likely informing my current selective memory description of “largely bad”.
Even someone who’s lived through the *exact same* set of circumstances with me says they were “eh, not so bad.”
And I have several stories I want to scream, or have explained, because How could they?!?!
But if you ask me about my life, for the last few years? Eh, I’d say quite significantly largely good!!
Selective memory. More than just a memory aid, I think it’s also a way to deal with bad things happening to you until you can deal with it better later.
For example, what I want to say is that they are heartless. They never care for people who are different or worse off from them. I want to say that because they won’t allow an animal into their home, or because they think that a dog barking in a yard a few doors down is reason to hurl epithets. Or because someone left their door open while making a stop and you can hear Christmas music from their car that they are being inconsiderate of others. These things make me want to scream, if only it could actually make the world a better place.
Of course that wouldn’t actually help. There are deep, base reasons that they feel the way they do about it. What I don’t remember in these moments or in my angst or fear surrounding these moments are how these same people try to save bugs they come across in their home. Or stop for every stranded motorist. Or when they treat my dog with tenderness, compassion, and recognize how hard he tries to understand (though I must admit, that’s when they’re not doing the usual “you’re an inconvenience and stupid” – the dichotomy of which, I still don’t understand). Or when they’ve taken pains to understand me.
What I need to do to change the last 15 is to have someone explain all the weirdness and ignoring that was done when I was at my worst. But I can’t ask for that. That is not happening right now, so no need to dredge up history, which is only going to be slightly altered in the recalling and explaining of it. It must needs come out at a time that’s more natural. Maybe when the angst and anger is tempered and accurate.
It is painful to live with, and very hard to recognize and stop all the times I try to let it eek out ‘sideways’, but it’d be just wrong for me to bring up something that I could be remembering mistakenly! Especially when they aren’t even ‘that person’ anymore.
So, until then, I need to watch out for broad generalizations, and uses of selective memory, or I’ll hurt those whom I cherish. They aren’t evil. They aren’t all bad. And neither were those years. They have ups and downs, and seemingly inexplicable character traits, just like every other human out there. To truly understand the bad, I need to mix it with the good, and then I’ll see their “normal”.