Painting by Belynda Wilson Thomas
Is your life story the truth? Yes, the chronological events are true. Is it the whole truth? No, you see and judge it through your conditioned eyes and mind – not of all involved – nor do you see the entire overview. Is it nothing but the truth? No, you select, share, delete, distort, subtract, assume and add what you want, need and choose to.
― Rasheed Ogunlaru
Have you ever tried to remember something and all you draw is a blank? Have you ever been called a liar because you couldn’t remember something and the other person was incredulous that you didn’t remember something that was so important to them?
Why do we remember some things and forget others?
Some things are relevant to our life. We remember the relevant things. If something is likely to help with our life goals it is more likely to be remembered.
We remember emotional pain. If something or someone causes us emotional pain the event is more likely to be remembered.
Our subconscious mind makes us remember the things that are important and useful to our life. If our subconscious mind makes the deduction that something isn’t useful or important to our life we will not remember it.
It is easy to see that two people could experience the same event and one of them would remember it and the other would not.
My husband thinks I remember everything. I do remember a lot of things he doesn’t remember because they had some relevance to me. He is remembering things I don’t remember, but he thinks I should remember them because they are so important to him. It is easy to see how when people are having disagreements what each remembers can be very problematic.
It may even explain why witnesses do not witness things exactly the same way and all are telling the truth as they see it. When we are upset we do not stop to think that there is another side to the story. Why can’t you see what I see? We don’t trust the other person who doesn’t see what is so plain. How could they not see it? Are they lying?
Memory plays tricks. Memory is another word for story, and nothing is more unreliable. Ann Marie McDonald
It could be that no two people ever see anything the same way. It might depend on their emotional state at the moment, experiences they have had in the past, and how they interpret things. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, but probably through no fault of their own. I hope I am never called on as an eye witness. I couldn’t tell the little girls apart on the soccer field. Little blonde girls with ponytails all looked alike to me. I can’t imagine a line-up.
Some say the brain does not store information as data but by association. What we do know about memory is it is processed by the hippocampus and stored continuously in our cerebral cortex. We will store a memory if it is important and has emotional value, forever.
The Rashomon effect is a phenomenon where different people have contradictory accounts of the same event. In fact, research shows that implanting false memories can be as simple as asking someone to recount an event that didn’t happen. It also seems that each time we remember something we rewrite it in our brain. If that recollection contains errors, we’ll strengthen those errors until we are positive they are correct.
How can a couple tell who is remembering things correctly? Research suggests they may not be able to. Couples often remember things differently because of cognitive biases and the influence of mood. Experts suggest focusing on the emotions of an argument to move past a disagreement. Couples should accept our memories are flawed and not be so reliant on what we remember is right and what the other person remembers is obviously wrong.
Are we sure what we remember is actually what happened? Do we sometimes have to agree to disagree on how we remember things?
Memory, like so much else, is unreliable. Not only for what it hides and what it alters, but also for what it reveals. Anna Funder
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