Creating Alternatives to Painful Memories

painful memories

We all have things from our past that we probably regret having done, said or experiencing. Perhaps we regret not doing something that we should have done. Unfortunately, the effects of painful memories can cause serious problems.

Something that has worked for me, and I’ve heard work for others, is to take some time to “re-imagine” how things could have been different. Imagine the event, except this time you do what you wish you had done, say what your wish you had said or responded the way you wish you had responded.

The memory of how things happened won’t go away, but your brain will have another version to consider, even though it knows it wasn’t real. Many people, myself included, have found that the pain of the past can be lessened by using this technique.

Some people intuitively know how to do this. I read a story of a child who watched people jumping from buildings on 9/11. He apparently drew the scene with a trampoline at the bottom of the building so the people could be saved. He knows it didn’t happen that way, but thinking about the alternative helped ease his pain.

Another person had frozen during a traumatic event and although his actions probably helped him survive, he was tormented because he hadn’t acted. He was able to re-imagine the event in the way he wished he had responded with a successful outcome. Again, he knows what really happened, but he reported being less bothered after the experience.

So if you’ve done (or failed to do), or experienced something painful in the past that continues to trouble you today, create an alternate story. Tell yourself the story of how you wish things had gone. Find a place where you will have some privacy and remember the story the way you want. If you’re artistic, you may be able to draw a picture or create a painting of the new story.

I don’t know exactly how this works, or if it will work for everyone but it may be worth a try. Of course, if the problems are severe or persist, seek professional help from a counselor.