Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trying to Sleep and Learning to Forget.



There you are lying on the bed, unable to sleep, your head is filled with remorse, sadnesses, regrets, baleful memories.

Is it possible to erase memories?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) advocates argue that it is possible to control memory. What you do is try to imagine the thing you are remembering as a sequence of images, like a film. Then you practise speeding up this "film footage" in your mind, viewing it over and over at greater and greater speed until finally it is nothing but a rapid blur and then disappears.

I tried this with the hectoring face of a former boss but I didn't manage to earse them from my mind.

Some advise "just don't think about it" as a method of dealing with unpleasant thoughts, as if experiencing a thought is like seeing something, and all you have to do is turn your head for it not to appear in your minds eye.

I wonder if the people capable of that have ever experienced anything really unpleasant or if they are so simple minded that when they think of one thing, all other thoughts disappear (I recall here F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function)?

Another school of thought (which extends into cognitive psychotherapy) argues in the opposite direction, believing that memories cannot be erased and should be seen as resources. In this school of thought the memory of my appalling boss would be used as the basis of a series of discussions. We would discuss what I might learn about myself from the memory, and how I might gain from the knowledge it brought me about conflict situations, choices, my sense of responsibility to myself and so forth.

I tried reasoning how the memory might be useful to me: a warning about how to stand up to bullies, for instance, but the truth is that I could find no lesson. I dealt with that dreadful woman fairly well: she showed me that having a boss is an appalling business. But it did not really need emphasing - only a masochist could desire a situation where their every movement is clocked, where they are scolded for arriving at their desks a moment late, or where the clothing they wear is monitered.

You don't need to eat shit to know it tastes bad: I resign myself to the accepting the uselessness of that memory and that my tossing and turning are in vain and regret the failure of NLP to have helped me erase it.

What does seem to have happened though is that the memory simply fades. So what I think might help make this fading process more efficient is to avoid the triggers that sustain specific memories, so that more recent experiences and memories can more easily obscure the old.

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