Let's be real: I know no one likes to dwell on the bad, painful parts of our lives. But can bad memories actually be good? Generally speaking, the hard parts are the aspects of our lives we try to bury deep and "move on" from; however, a lot of research shows that there's much to be gained from digging deep and understanding our bad memories. Here's how you can get something positive about some of your more painful recollections, according to science.
Basically, our brains (and bodies) process information in a way that hinges on our survival: if we have a negative experience, or an experience that, for example, brings us a great amount of fear, our body begins to teach itself to be wary of the same event happening again. While this is useful if you're, say, hunting in the wilderness and need to be super in-tune with nature, Hunger Games-style, it is not so useful if a memory you're repressing is preventing you from an experiencing an otherwise enjoyable part of your everyday life.
But still — if you could just get rid of the bad memory, you would, right? That is, of course, way easier said than done. While it may feel easier to just repress hard things or try to push them out of our minds, reflecting back on, processing, and learning from bad memories is how we develop and grow as people.
it's important, too, to draw a clear line between reflecting back on painful memories in an attempt to process and learn from them, and experiencing reoccurring memories which negatively impact your life. If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about painful or traumatic events or moments in your life, that can be a sign of PTSD. If this is something that rings true for you, it's important to see a mental health professional and talk to someone you trust about what you're experiencing.
Here are five ways working through a bad memory can help you lead a fuller, happier life in the present:
1. You Gain Understanding
Sometimes our bad memories stem from places that we don't fully understand. Either we don't entirely remember what happened, or we understand the logistics, but not the why behind it. Having unanswered questions, or have information that feels unsatisfactory, can feel incredibly frustrating, especially when something negatively impacted your life or the life of someone you care about. When bad memories take control over our minds and hearts, it can make you feel helpless and vulnerable. That's why it's important to get to the root of your hard memories and therein, the root of the issue. Sometimes, though it can be really tough, the only way out is through.
2. You Sleep Better
No matter the circumstances, it never feels good to be low on sleep. However, if bad memories are literally keeping you up at night, that's a huge problem. Our sleep is a precious necessity and our bodies basically shut down when we don't get enough of it. If bad memories are literally haunting your sleep and keeping you from getting the rest you need, it's a sign you may need to talk to a professional about it. Even if it's painful, working through hard memories may be just what you need to finally sleep peacefully through the night and begin to fully heal.
3. You Boost Your Self-Esteem
If bad memories are keeping you down, it's a definite possibility that your self-esteem is going to suffer. Our perceptions of ourselves are pretty fragile as it is, so if we're harboring on the same bad memories, it's likely we're going to continue feeling bad and judging ourselves over the decisions we made in the past. Confronting these bad memories head on and working through them, however, gives you the opportunity to learn from those experiences and move forward, not wallow in the past.
4. You Learn Some Important Lessons
That's right: Confronting hard memories may help you learn some pretty important life lessons. I know it sounds cliche, but we're all basically shaped by our past experiences, including the negative ones. Whether your bad memories are rooted in decisions you actively made, or things that happened to you over which you may not have had much control, it's important to work through them and process them fully. This allows you to have a distance from the situation and learn from it; either in terms of how you'll handle a situation differently in the future, or by seeing the strength you have through surviving a traumatic event you were a victim of. No matter the scenario, there is always room to recognize growth and learn from an experience.
5. You Can Confront People From Your Past
Sometimes we come to the realization that we simply can't make sense of our bad memories on our own — that there's some missing information we simply aren't privy to — and in order to feel a piece of mind, we reach out to others. Now, it's important to remember that just because you want to talk about something doesn't mean other people are ready (or will ever be ready) to, so there's a point in which you need to work on finding closure in any way you can, even if it isn't the ideal circumstance. However, if you can get in touch with someone and they're OK talking to you about what's been on your mind, it can be really beneficial to hear someone else's perspective and their version of what happened. This may reinforce what you thought and help you feel valid in your feelings, or may lighten the burden of what you perceived was on your shoulders.
So, there you have it! Working through bad or traumatic memories isn't going to easy, but overall, it's definitely going to be worth it. We all only have one life, and it's important to understand what goes in our lives as fully and richly as possible, so we can better understand ourselves and our decisions, hopefully leading us to more health and happiness in the long-run.
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