Ruminations on Past Unpleasantry
September 16, 2015 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed in the past few years that I've been having a lot of unpleasant memories resurfacing in my head, whether randomly or triggered by something I see. I feel overwhelmed by these sometimes and want to be able to move past them and focus more on the present.

I'm in my late 20's, and wonder if these memories resurfacing has to do with acquiring a more stable lifestyle and feeling more "settled down". Now that I'm not stressed about the next move or next job, my brain has found this to be the new thing to stress about?

Most memories are from childhood. My dad was verbally abusive and the whole household lived under a lot of stress. Incidents that resurface are often times where I felt like I was berated unjustly or unfairly punished. An example would be if I went to the mall after school and forgot to call home about it, then him accusing me of not calling on purpose. Moments like these come up in my head now and then and causes me a lot of resentment and anger. I've also been finding connections between the way I was treated as a child and my current issues like anxiety and insecurities. It was quite the revelation when my last therapist said that anxiety can be connected to repressed anger.

Other more recent memories resurface too. If my bf said something insensitive and I got upset, even though he's apologized and we resolve it and it was a year ago, the memory will come up and I'll still feel angry about what he said. If I get into a disagreement with a friend, even after it's resolved, I'll still analyze what she said and feel upset about it. This is really unhealthy and I don't want to keep harping on the past. I have a decent relationship with my dad now. My relationship with my bf is good and solid. I don't want these memories to keep coming up. It's becoming overwhelming and draining.

What is happening in my head that is causing this?
posted by monologish to Human Relations (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: These are flashbacks and may be associated with PTSD where the "t" is lots of little traumas built up over time instead of one significant event.

I would suggest speaking with a therapist. These are upsetting to you and it's likely therapy can help resolve some of these.

That said, what I find works on my own occasionally is to let the memory play out while reminding myself where I am. I actually tell myself to experience what the memory wants me to experience. I feel what I felt when the event actually happened and when the memory is done and I have a blank space after --- kinda like the black screen at the end of a movie -- I sigh and tell myself to let it go.

It's worked enough times for me that those memories have stopped recurring. But I wouldn't suggest doing it if you feel threatened or discomfited by the experience. What I'm referring to are what are really minor instances that continued to bother me -- usually situations where I felt incredibly embarrassed with no real reason to have been so.

So you can certainly try that, but I think speaking with a therapist about it will help you learn how to manage it -- whether you address the underlying issues or not.
posted by zizzle at 9:09 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Keep up your therapy first of all, I'm sure that will help the most overall, but in the meantime here are two things I do for my reaccuring memories and dialogue about past issues.

First, I validate myself. "You're right Self, it wasn't right for your parent/friend/coworker (whoever) to treat you that way/say that thing (whatever). No wonder you felt hurt/gave them a peice of your mind (etc)." This seems to be the most effective at getting the thought to go away and stay away. It's like my brain just wants to know it's been heard. I figure it my brain's way of making sure I got the message and learned from any unpleasant experiences so I don't get fooled/hurt again.

If the brain continues to rant and rave after it gets acknowledged I usually visualize all the thoughts as dandelion seeds. I mentally blow them away with a great big POOF of air. As they drift off I watch them turn onto little pin points of light. Concentrating on this somewhat complicated visual usually breaks the thought process.

Good luck! I know how it feels to go through this. Just keep working on it. You can change your thoughts.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:37 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Memories store in many ways. Sometimes they are like anxious children needing to voice. Arriving at a safe haven after difficulty, your baggage manifests. Then you should honor yourself by listening abd then reassuring your injured self that you are OK now, and things will stay OK, even though you are near the person who hurt you repeatedly in childhood. Also you must promise yourself you will defend yourself, either by boundary making, or just breathing through events that evoke the past. We often replace oppressors with new ones, and you just have to pay attention to the now, while honoring the messengers from the past. They have to be mollified and heard before they will diminish. Sometimes their sudden arrival, sudden upwelling is a source of valuable insight about the contents of the present.
posted by Oyéah at 3:59 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came in here to make the same comment about PTSD--or CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). Because when you don't have one big event to point to it doesn't seem like it can be PTSD, but CPTSD makes the distinction between An Event and prolonged exposure to repeated trauma. Basically those things have stressed you out, you may not have completed the stress cycle, or the triggers set off"emotional flashbacks" and this book explains it all much better than I ever could and may be of some use to you: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. The title is a bit cheesy but I've gone through the same sort of thing recently, recurring memories of childhood abuse I'd never even thought of since I was a kid, all in minute detail and also that spilling into my relationship with getting hung up on stuff and anyway, that book was very helpful to me.
posted by Polychrome at 7:25 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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