Caution: Writers at play

Dear Tony,

I would like to write about what I have learned about dealing with intrusive memories.

All of the following is just my experience. I can't speak for anyone else.

Intrusive memories are memories you cannot rid yourself of. They keep pressing against your skull and can become very upsetting. I knew that these memories were not worth being so upset over and that I should just forget about them. But we do not have the ability to control our thoughts and emotions as much as any of us would like. Try as I might, I could not rid myself of them.

Most of my intrusive memories are of things with did legitimately upset me. They were genuine injustices. But they were not the worst injustices in the world or even the worst injustices I had personally encountered. I understood that as well, but I still could not rid myself of them.

I finally realized that these memories must have had some deeper meaning to me. They were not significant enough in their own right to be bothering me as much as they were.

I started looking back in my past at some situations which had deeply bothered me when I was younger but did not bother me nearly as much now. I tried to figure out what had changed and when they stopped bothering me.

Often those memories bothered me because at the time I couldn't understand them. I was young and naive and had considerable difficulties understanding the nuances of situations. I had been in trouble for behavior which I honestly did not understand was upsetting people. As I grew older, I was able to look back and better understand how my behavior appeared to people. Often those other people had done things wrong as well. Conversations and social situations are extremely complex, and frequently there are multiple small times when things went wrong (especially if there were more than two people involved). Once I was able to sort out precisely where I was wrong, where other people were wrong, and exactly what happened, I was able to gain some control.

When I had that basis of understanding, I was able to heal from the trauma. Healing still did not happen quickly. Think of a large physical wound. Even if that person receives the best medical treatment for that wound, it will still take a while to heal. Much of trauma is like that.

That approach worked for earlier intrusive memories. It helped me heal from more recent intrusive memories. But it was not enough on its own.

I eventually learned that my more recent intrusive memories reflect a skill I am still lacking such as effectively fighting back against being screwed or explaining I misunderstood earlier instructions. I did not have the social skills to succeed at the time, and I still lack those specific skills today. That is why I am still haunted by these memories. I am subconsciously bothered by the fact I still don't have these skills.

I am working to specifically develop them now, and the memories are starting to lose their intensity. Not quickly. But gradually they are not bothering me much more than other bad things that have happened.

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Tags: depression, health, mental illness, ptsd, trauma

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