Why We Hold On To The Past

Whether our cherished memory is a good memory or a bad one, we hold onto it because there is some kind of payoff for doing so.  Sometimes this is harmless or even good for us.  We may remember a particular place or event and the memory evokes pleasure and relaxation.  This may even have some health benefits, such as lower of heartrate and blood pressure.  However, its important to remember that all memories are distorted.  Our place or event may have become exaggerated in is perfection because we want or need it to be so.  The saying “you can’t go home again” may come from this experience.  When we get home and see it in all its reality, its no longer the perfect place we built up in our memory, and the disappointment is so great we wish we hadn’t gone back home at all. 

We may also hold on to bad memories because of payoffs.  We may exaggerate those memories as well, because it suits us to do so.  We may use something from the past to excuse our failures in the present.  We may hold onto a past event because we believe if we just think about it long enough, we’ll think of some way to make it better.  Its also possible to remember a person we dislike or who has hurt us in a one-sided exaggerated caricature until they become an inflatable devil who just keeps growing bigger.  The worse devil we have, the more admired we are in our victimhood and we gain status and righteousness in our own eyes.  But the person may no longer be a devil if we could see their reality today.  People estranged from parents are often surprised at how harmless their frail elderly parents appear.  They still see their parent through a child’s eyes.  Today their eyes are adult and maybe they are parents themselves.  Going full circle where one can see parents through a parent’s eyes instead of a child’s eyes is a sign of reality and maturity.  Memories contain a lot of fantasy that meets our needs and correlate badly with today’s reality.  Therefore if memories are of no beneficial use, we can choose to put them away.

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