Posts Tagged: Relive suffering

Do our memories make us old?

Memory 3In an interview with the US celebrity magazine People in 2015, the actress Judy Dench said: “There’s nothing good about being my age. Someone said to me, ‘You have such a wealth of knowledge,’ and I just said ‘I’d rather be young and know nothing, actually.’ Bugger the wealth of knowledge.”
Older people have more memories than younger ones. Many live in the past, with regrets, and when they are less mobile and have problems hearing and seeing, they may withdraw to such an extent that their whole identity becomes someone who is ‘past it’.

Could it be that we grow old because of our many memories? That somehow the number of images and old emotions in our head causes us to enter a new identity, one of the old?

The idea of the old living with only their memories is a social meme.  A meme is a term coined by Richard Dawkins to mean an idea that spreads from one individual to another within a culture. Dawkins compares them to genes in that they self-replicate and mutate.
Is ageing a social meme?
Memory 5Memories are crucial to normal social functioning. They help us learn from experience and avoid making the same mistakes. But they can also exist in the form of a subconscious programme, such as a drive to repeat unhealthy relationship patterns. Being aware of how our memories affect us is therefore crucial. In psychotherapy we remember in order to understand negative patterns in our lives, but if we simply relive our suffering in the therapist’s chair, memory harms rather than helps us.
Memories are encoded in a set of neurons but are not a good recorder of history. Every time a memory is activated a similar but not identical set of neurons switches on. These similar neurons become part of the permanent record, even though they are only approximate updates. Others, the original neurons, disappear. This explains why memory gets vaguer and more inaccurate over time, so the fact we are getting older is far from the whole story about why memory fails.
Our past traumas define us, they are part of our identity. We love our personal tale of suffering, and fear we will lose ourselves if we forget. But there are people who seem young for their age for decades and then their physical appearance suddenly catches up with them due to a difficult life event or mental issues – such as depression and anxiety, or injustice, which can trigger other older memories. This is letting memories dictate our biological age. We think, why me, why do these things keep happening? It is as though forgetting what was done to us by others would be letting them off the hook. Memories are therefore to be handled with care. Biological age can increase if we reminisce about the worst things that happened to us.
Memory 1 - resizeWe grow old through our memories. It is not a question of denying past suffering, but rather refusing to relive it every time something unpleasant happens. We do not have to re-open the book and read it from cover to cover to apply the lessons of how to deal with difficult people or experiences. Instead we fold the memory away in a bottom drawer. We use intelligent filing. The file is on our internal computer…but we are not going to open it.
What memory is stressing you out, making you old? What memory are you going to commit to forgetting?

Photo Credit: Seán Venn via Compfight ccly file?
Photo Credit: UpNorth Memories – Donald (Don) Harrison via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: UpNorth Memories – Donald (Don) Harrison via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Lan Prima via Compfight cc

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