Tag Archives: memories

Trapped In Your Past?

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

The past is a funny thing. If it werent for our past, none of us would be who we are today. At the same time, we have no ability to change the past. Dont believe me? Try and change what you had for lunch yesterday. You might decide to change what youre going to have for lunch today based on your lunch experience of yesterday but no matter how hard you try, you cannot change what you ate yesterday. 

The past is only what you choose to remember if you even choose to remember it. And even when you choose to remember it, can you be sure your memory is correct and accurate? Ever go back to the home where you were raised and take a look at that big hill you use to sled down as a child? Ever been surprised at how little that big hill actually is? 

For some people, the act of remembering and memories seems to be a mysterious, lost category in their brains. There are more than a few people who complain that they have no memories from their childhood. For some of these people, they are convinced this indicates sad, bad and harmful experiences they are trying to repress or suppress (leftover legacy of Freudian thinking). 

canstockphoto13026221How can you know what you dont know? Your brain may very well be acting to protect you from painful memories. Its also possible your brain is busy helping you with more important things in the here and now rather than sorting through memories from your past. 

Today can be the day to change how you cultivate your relationship with your past to benefit your Mental Health & Happiness. Rather than focusing your thoughts on the painful, unhappy, hurtful experiences of yesterday, why not reflect on memories or stories that delight, inspire or lift your spirits?

Were you told stories from your past that reveal your unique qualities? In what ways were you special? Who were the people who found you amazing and worth celebrating? How did they do it? In what ways did the person you were in your past positively contribute to the person you are today? 

Amazingly humans have the unique ability to choose their thoughts. Perhaps you take this for granted because you can easily stop thinking about todays weather and begin thinking about your dinner menu or your vacation plans, or the color blue, or your age, or you painful knee. But make no mistake. This is your own personal magic!

If you find yourself feeling trapped in your painful past memories, change your thoughts and change your Mental Health & Happiness. You possess this magical power.

Play it again…

Dr. Ken Larsen

Our word “resentment” comes from the Latin (re) “sentire” which means “to feel”.  Therefore, the meaning of resentment is to feel it again.

Our experiences are filed in memory.  Many of those experiences in memory are accessible and we can retrieve them at will.  What we do with that memory is going to have an impact on our mental health and happiness.


I’ve been fascinated by findings that have come out of the Adult Attachment Interview pioneered by Dr. Mary Main.  It seems that if a person with some difficult experiences early in life can formulate a coherent narrative of those experiences, and use that narrative in self-talk as well as in conversations with others, the difficult memory can be “tamed” and denied power over the person’s present life.

What I get from this insight is that when I choose to go into the filing cabinet of my memories and retrieve an experience that was painful when it happened, I have a choice about feeling the pain again.  I can play that old tape and feel it again, or I can step back and reframe the experience so that I understand what happened and can talk about it to myself and others in a coherent manner.

I remember an incident from when I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I had done something wrong and my father became angry with me.  He said something very unkind that was very hurtful to me.  As I grew up and left home I came to understand my father.  I was able to recognize the early childhood experiences that he had that made it difficult for him to give me what I needed from him.  He couldn’t give me what he didn’t have.  Once I understood, I could look at that memory more objectively and avoid the negative emotional baggage that used to come from reliving that moment.



Emotionally Bankrupt

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Have you ever had the experience of being completely and utterly emotionally depleted?  It would be pretty amazing and unusual if this weren’t true for you as it is true for almost all people.

Three years following my father’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer he died. His passing was not a surprise nor a shock and still it was devastating for his immediate family including me. I was privileged in that I was able to spend two of the last three weeks of his life with him and my mother.

My mother and father had celebrated more than 50 years of marriage only weeks before my father’s death. My mother was devastated following Dad’s passing. As she predicted, Mom  lived another ten years after my father died. However, she was never the same, never really happy again.

Once Dad died the family all assembled in North Carolina for the memorial service with the fellowship to begin our mourning and healing. Then it was decided that Mom would visit each daughter’s home for awhile before she would return to her own home to begin her life without Dad.

Six weeks after Dad died my mother had a heart attack. I had just returned home after accompanying her back to her home to help her begin this post-Dad part of her life.

canstockphoto0527001I was lying on the couch in my living room when I received the call about my mother’s health. I was told she had a minor heart attack and was stable. My mother told me that her heart was broken.

My sisters and I needed to decide what we were going to do. At this point I couldn’t even get off of the couch. How could I possibly get on a plane and return to my mother’s side?

This was my first experience of being emotionally bankrupt. Sadly, it has not been my last.

There was a “letter” circulating on Facebook recently where an old man explained grief, mourning and loss to a younger person. He described these kinds of life moments as being ship wrecked. Being overwhelmed by all of the sadness, devastation, grief and varying aspects of loss comes upon us as waves. And when the ship is first wrecked all we can do is hang on and stay afloat. Sometimes we hang onto another person, or a thought, a prayer, our faith or a possession.

Eventually these overwhelming feelings are not present 100% of the time. Eventually we have some moments of relief. How soon? There is no way of predicting. And for each person with each loss and each wrecked ship the timing and waves vary.

Eventually the waves become less and less frequent. Eventually we are not devastated by the wave. Eventually our memories become sweet and a source of comfort.

While we are waiting for the waves to lesson, and calm without taking us under, we must be kind, gentle, loving and supportive of ourselves. We must care for ourselves in ways that might normally feel like indulgences:

Take an afternoon sitting on a park bench, under a tree, or on the beach, and do nothing.

Take a hot bath daily, as a ritual.

Be quiet, still, and if needed alone. Let nature be your companion as nature is one of the strongest healers available to us all.

Stop working, at least for an afternoon or morning.

Stop doing for, caring and helping others, at least for an afternoon or morning.

If you have a pet, hug, love and pet him/her. Let your pet soothe and comfort you as you pet and love him/her. If you don’t have a pet, ask to borrow one.

Ask a friend to help you focus on fun, funny and wonderful memories.

Ask a friend to distract you and tell you stories that are completely unrelated to your  present experience.

Spend time holding, hugging, playing and cuddling a baby.

A word of caution about any and all of the above ideas. If you discover that this emotional soothing and regenerating is not working, is in fact contributing to you feeling worse STOP. You can return and try out any or all of these ideas in the future. For now, be gentle, quite and still with yourself.  Concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out with no other expectation or goal.

Honoring your need for rejuvenation during the emotionally bankrupt and tsunami  times of our lives is important and essential for our Mental Health & Happiness.


By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

The past is a funny thing. If it weren’t for our past none of us would be who we are today. At the same time we have no ability to change the past. If you don’t believe me, go back and change what you had for dinner last night. Can’t do it can you? But you can change what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight based on your experiences from your past.

Remembering is an even stranger skill that we all have. Or do we? There are more than a few people who complain that they have no memory. Some people believe that their lack of memory indicates some terrible experience from their past that they are repressing. This is evidence that Dr. Freud is still influencing thoughts and ideas about psychology even today.

How can you know what you don’t know? Your brain may well be acting to protect you from painful memories. It is just as likely that the reason you have no memory of your past is that your brain is fully engaged and focusing on the present. How lucky to have a brain that helps you stay fully present in the now of your life.

How close do memories resemble what actually happened? Some people feel haunted and tortured by their memories of early experiences. Is it possible that these memories are distorted? Have you ever returned to your childhood home to discover the giant hill you sled down in winter and rolled down in summer was hardly more than a slight rise or mound? We remember events, circumstances and experiences from the perspective of being a child. Returning as an adult with an adult’s point of view and perspective can abruptly bring you into a different reality. The same can be true of our unhappy memories from childhood.

The past is only what you choose to remember, if you even choose to remember it. If you are a person who is haunted, tortured or pained by memories, work to develop a new habit. You don’t have to think these thoughts any more.

Can you start thinking about the color pink? Now can you stop thinking about the color pink? At some point when you were a child you lost something of importance to you, a doll, a toy car, an ice cream cone that fell on the ground before you had a chance to eat it.  Are you still thinking about this loss now? You can choose a new pattern of thinking, now and stop the self-torture.

What is it you want that you are trying to get by thinking about this painful memory? Can you figure out another, more responsible and effective way, to get what you want and give up thinking the painful memory. You may find it helpful to work with a counselor to assist you if you find this too difficult to do on your own. Please know that you can change.

You do not need to be tortured and pained by memories and remembering. The past is only what you choose to remember. This is good news. Because it’s a choice, you can choose happier, less painful  experiences from your past to remember. By changing what you choose to remember you can improve your Mental Health & Happiness.

Let Go…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

This is one technic for catching monkeys. Hollow out a large gourd, leaving a small opening at one end.  Inside the gourd put a piece of fruit that monkeys like a lot.  Then anchor the gourd securely and move on out of sight.  Soon, a monkey will come along to check out the gourd.  Finding the tempting piece of fruit inside, he reaches in and tries to pull it out.   But the opening in the gourd is just big enough to get his hand in.  Once he grasps the fruit inside, his hand is just too large to pull back out of the opening.  Not wanting to let go of the fruit, the monkey is trapped with his hand in the gourd.

monkeyAll the monkey has to do to get free would be to let go of the fruit, pull his hand out of the gourd and scamper up a nearby tree.

I wonder how often we grab and hold on to something that we think we want and need in spite of the harm it’s doing to us.

Some of the more destructive things we habitually hold on to are resentments.  Something happened to us in the past that was harmful or hurtful.  Sometimes the memories of these hurtful events haunt us and we play them again.  There are many reasons for “playing the old tapes” and none of them are good.  Each time we revisit those old resentments, the old feelings come back.  We need to let go.  Forgive the offender and make a conscious choice not to linger in those painful past places.  It takes some effort to do this, but life today will be better if we let the past stay past.

All too often the psychic/emotional pain caused by re- feeling these resentments leads us to looking for relief in a behavior or substance.   We feel bad and want to feel good and the cycle of resentment and pain can lead us to some wrong places to find the good feelings we want so badly.  Those “wrong places, can be behaviors or substances that are addictive.  We cycle from feeling bad to trying to feel good only to come back to feeling bad.  We are stuck and don’t know how to let go.

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between a true addiction and just a bad habit.  The one distinguishing characteristic that answers the question for me is “use despite harm.”  If we’re doing something or using something and it’s doing us harm and we can’t just stop, I think “addiction”.

“Use despite harm” can cover behaviors, substances, even certain relationships.  The key to letting go is to recognize that we are holding on to something that is harmful to us and then getting the help and support we need to let go and get free.