When we don’t know how to deal with painful memories, we develop defense mechanisms to help us avoid the feelings associated with them. This usually involves trying to avoid thinking about those memories.
We may avoid situations that trigger painful memories. For example, if we had a particularly unhappy childhood, we may avoid family reunions. Or, if we had a bad experience with a person, we may avoid similar people.
I once had a coworker who did everything she could to avoid talking to me, and if she did, it was short and to the point. She had no problems with anybody else – just me. I later came to find out that I looked a lot like her ex-boyfriend. And to make matters worse, I started working for the company on the same day as her birthday.
Another mechanism we use to avoid painful memories is to keep our minds occupied so that they don’t rise to the surface. We do this by staying as busy as possible. This doesn’t leave any room in our conscious mind for memories to rise from our subconscious mind.
We may also surround ourselves with a lot of noise and activity. This has the same effect as staying busy.
The problem with having too much noise and activity in our life is that it over-stimulates our mind, and we’re not able to slow it down. We’re essentially trapped. We may want a quiet mind, but we’re afraid of it.
In some cases, people turn to drugs and alcohol. These dull the mind, making it easier to avoid remembering a painful past. The people who use drugs or alcohol to deal with painful memories either have experienced some severe trauma, or they haven’t learned how to deal with life in general. In the latter case, they probably grew up in a dysfunctional environment and were unable to form healthy bonds with their parents, or other people.
The Cost of Carrying That Baggage
“Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they’re also what tear you apart.” – Haruki Murakami
Just about all of us are carrying some baggage from our past, whether we realize it or not. What we may realize even less is how much that baggage is impacting our lives. It will manifest itself into our attitudes about other people, and therefore, how we deal with them, i.e. our relationships.
For example, if a partner betrayed us in the past, then it’s likely that we’ll have difficulty trusting a future partner. That distrust may become so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we may even gravitate toward people who are not trustworthy because it reinforces our views of other people.
In general, all of our unresolved issues will fester in our subconscious until we confront and transform them. The cost is our inner peace, freedom, and happiness.
Mindfulness Approach to Happiness
“Be mindful even if your mind is full.” – James De La Vega
Most of us have been taught that happiness comes from the acquisition of material possessions, and through accomplishments. With money, we can buy things that make us feel good, such as a new car, clothes, jewelry, etc. Our accomplishments give us a sense of pride. They make us feel good about ourselves.
The one thing that material possessions and accomplishments have in common is that they bring us sensual pleasure or emotional gratification. That is, they appeal to our senses and emotions. And we tend to equate this with happiness.
The problem with this approach is that our feelings and emotions are, by nature, short-lived. So, we need to keep engaging in activities that make us feel good in order to be happy. Well, what happens when we run out of money? How about if we have plenty of money, and material possessions lose their effectiveness?
The mindfulness approach to happiness is entirely different. Instead of doing things that make us feel good, we eliminate the sources of our suffering. Then we’re left with inner peace, which is much more stable than our emotions.