It's a simple question, but memories aren't perfect records of events. Our mind filters things out in the moment and during recall. That means memories can and do change over time. Recalling an event may add details of the present or your mind may add information from someone else's memory with whom you are exchanging experiences.
It sounds like a bad thing – losing details, confusing emotions, but it serves a purpose and can help a person heal from traumatic events. It can be difficult and have destructive consequences, as in the case of people who work with children and with anyone who is recalling a traumatic event – think therapists, police, lawyers, crisis hotlines etc. etc. It's important to ask questions in such a way as to prevent the planting of ideas during recall.
But there is more of a positive side to this. In working with people who are overcoming a difficult past, therapists can help clients recall the event(s) in question – while not adding or deleting to the memory – and add perspective to the recall to take away some of the power it exerts over the person's life. By allowing an adult to put an adult perspective/life experiences onto these painful memories, it is possible to look at an event differently – what were the other options at the time, what were the other people going through, etc. etc. – and in doing so regaining some control over their lives.
This is not a method for anybody and any event – people can be stuck in replaying an event or may have only more harmful answers to questions because of depression, anxiety or other emotional difficulties in the present. But by working with a therapist, who can assess the current situation and capabilities of the client, such therapy can lead to helpful work for the client.
This topic of the week was written by Brian Swope, MFT