In this podcast (episode #272) and blog, I talk about why forgetting doesn’t fix or heal something. As much we would love to permanently forget the bad things that happen to us, we can’t just erase traumatic events from our memory, as they impact our brain and body.
As I have said many times before, thoughts are real physical structures we build into our brain with our mind in response to what we experience. Here’s how this works: how we react or respond to various life situations and the world around us is called the mind-in-action. The mind-in-action is how you uniquely think, feel, and choose. This mind-in-action changes the way your brain is shaped (through neuroplasticity) and how it functions, as well as your biochemistry, and the genes associated with mental and physical health, which is why mind-management is essential!
Let’s look at a traumatic experience we are all too familiar with. Our personal experience of COVID-19 is quite literally a physical tree-like structure in our brains with all the associated memories of our unique experiences, which can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. No matter how much we pretend that this pandemic doesn’t exist, or want to shut our eyes and hope it goes away, we cannot, as it does exist, and our unique experience of it affects us all in different ways, and we all need to find different ways to manage these effects.
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That is not to say all types of “forgetting” are bad. We may distract ourselves temporarily to cope in the moment or compartmentalize our experiences to deal with another pressing matter, which is fine and a very human thing to do! However, we cannot escape the long-term mental and physical repercussions of a traumatic experience because it is as real as a virus like COVID-19, eliciting the same immune responses in the brain and body. We cannot just “forget”; we have to learn how to reconceptualize our pain and fears through mind-management, as I discuss in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.
In fact, there are some great ways to distract your mind in a healthy way, like the box and windows technique I discuss in Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, where you make a mental note to start dealing with the root of the trauma or pain when you are ready.
But, at the end of the day, you need to learn to become a healthy responder instead of just reacting to what happens to you, or trying to forget or avoid it. You, with your mind that is always in action, are powerful; you are the ultimate change agent in your life.
But what does this look like? When you learn how to manage your mind and self-regulate your thinking, this builds healthy neural networks in your brain, which lay the foundation for more cognitive resilience and healthier responses to stressful events. The more you practice this way of thinking, the more you can learn to be a “first responder” in every and all situations. Essentially, you are learning how to catch and edit your thoughts and reactions before they trigger toxic chain reactions and become ingrained neural networks, a.k.a. bad habits.
Mind management also teaches us how to embrace, process, and reconceptualize thoughts that have already become enmeshed in the networks of our minds as trauma reactions and negative thinking patterns. This is a lifelong journey, a lifestyle, but one that’s well worth the effort! Indeed, if we don’t transform our pain through reconceptualization, we can transmit it, and it can take over our thinking and relationships. We can get ourselves into serious cycles of toxic rumination and worry if we refuse to face our issues head-on. As I always say, it is in the breakdown that we break down toxic thoughts, habits, and trauma. We all need to learn how to reflect on our experiences in a way that helps us accept that even though we may not be able to make sense of them, we can still deal with them and move forward!
For more on dealing with trauma and reconceptualizing the past, listen to my podcast (episode #272) and check out my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).