How we interpret the past affects our present

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Robert Maurer
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How we interpret the past affects our present

Last update: October 23, 2016

Several studies have shown that memories are not immutable, but contain distortions and creations of their own. In other words, it means that what we have experienced in the past leaves an imprint that we do not remember exactly, but only as a function of the interpretation we give to understand what happened.

In reality, the common thread of most of our memories is not about the facts themselves, but the meaning they have for us. Let's take an example: two people were abandoned by their parents when they were very young. Both have suffered greatly, but one of them has embarked on a process of understanding how and why this all happened.



A few years later, this person remembers the fact as a sad event, but he knows and understands the circumstances under which it occurred. The other person, who has not "digested" the experience, has only vague and inaccurate memories, but also a strong feeling of pain and resentment.

It is never about what we have experienced, but about the way we have processed it. Much of the reasons why you feel anxiety or sadness lie in the past, events that, having not been processed, continue to be a negative factor in life.

The past experience and its interpretation

Human beings are not computers that simply accumulate data to always have them available. Remembrance plays a very important role in our lives. The past is actually a very complex concept because, even if it has already been lived, it can significantly influence the present. Even if we don't notice it.

We can refer to the old building metaphor. First the foundations are built and then, one on top of the other, the various floors. If the foundations are not well done, one of the floors will likely begin to crumble for no apparent reason or the building as a whole could collapse in the event of an earthquake.



The same happens to people. We build the foundations of what we are in the first years of life and, in general, we all forget them. From this moment on, each experience adds up and is interpreted on the basis of that basic consciousness that is already formed. And if the foundations are compromised, for some reason, it is possible that even in adult life we ​​have cracks or an instability that can put everything at risk.

Even if the metaphor of the building is useful for understanding, the human being is much more complex, but at the same time more flexible. What happened in the past can be interpreted in a more constructive and useful way through understanding. That means, what we have experienced can help us improve or worsen depending on how we interpret it.

What we have experienced can be reinterpreted

By nature we tend to evade or forget negative experiences. If we have experienced an abandonment, a rejection or a traumatic experience, we certainly tend to put it aside and not think about it, in order not to immerse ourselves in a chain of thoughts that do not contribute anything to our emotional well-being.

However, when we do not give ourselves time to assimilate what we have experienced, we do not really forget, but we keep the experience alive in our unconscious. This results in sadness or anxiety, feelings that seem to have no explanation.

It is not so much what we have lived that matters, as the way in which we have structured the memory. If we choose a victim perspective to interpret the facts, then we will see past experiences through the lens of self-pity. If we choose a defensive point of view, what we have experienced will be one more reason to be wary of others or adopt an attitude of revenge or revenge towards them, even if they have not done anything to us.



It is important to learn to dismantle what we have lived, this means taking the experiences we have lived and adopting a point of view that leads us to understand them. Not only to take them into consideration, therefore, but also to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have hurt us to understand why.


Perhaps we will discover that he did it not out of malice or selfishness, but because of his own limitations or frustrations.. Perhaps we would understand that the best way to get justice is not to forget, but to learn to see ourselves as people who have lived through a negative episode, but who also deserve to overcome it and be happy.

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