How Do We Remember?

Memories have been proven to be fickle things. Instead of being perfect videos in our minds, they’re more like a game of ‘whispers’ that can be misinterpreted and changed slightly with each recollection. So what do you do when something you thought you had forgotten, comes back?

Through your upbringing you can be taught to distrust your memories; “that’s not how it happened” and “you’re remembering it wrong” could have be phrases with which you’re familiar. The constant and subtle reshaping of small stories sets the groundwork, so that when something big happens – especially something that you may not want to think about often – you doubt the accuracy of your whispers. Gaslighting has become more obvious with more research and awareness, but for many people the damage to their childhood has already been done, but the gas is still burning.

So who can we turn to, then, if our whispers begin to show something that is rather important? No one will remember things like you, even if they saw or heard the exact same thing. How do we discern the truth from the mispronounced, and the real from the exaggerated? Even though you have the same childhood as your sibling, you experience it differently based on your own personality, meaning that shared events can be remembered very, very differently. If a parent plays favourites, or uses one sibling as their own therapist, or another as an additional parent for the rest, then family moments, arguments and celebrations will be remembered for different reasons – graduation for one sibling is a reminder of failure to another.

Sometimes, it feels like my childhood is full of ‘Mandela effects’, events that have changed as I got older – in good ways, but also in bad ways. Memories I once was proud of are now tainted and ruined, and others have become clear with hindsight. Understanding the lengths my dad went to in order to make sure I felt included when my sister went to rehearsals, and how he always invited me out on little errands just to spend time with me when he was too busy are some of the best; but realising that my mother was wrong to turn to seven year old me for emotional advice, and her pushing me to perform and work as a teenager even when I was ill are some of the bad. These things can only be figured out with time, and sometimes that makes the bad feelings last longer.

Unfortunately, there is no sure fire way to determine which memories are uncorrupted; methods that attempt to do so only allow them to be manipulated further. Therefore, my memories remain un-enunciated and mumbled, but I don’t like the sound of the words. I can remember and remember these events, talk about them with professionals and friends even, but each time it changes slightly and its disconcerting to know that I can’t even trust myself to get something so important and monumental.

Tell me, how do you remember things? How do you know you got it right? How do you know that if you were to say it out loud, and it was right, your world wouldn’t shatter?

Image courtesy of Kelly Sikkema.

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