How do I deal with bad memory flashbacks?
June 9, 2017 6:18 AM   Subscribe

I have several awful social interactions that I regret. I cannot get rid of thoughts of these situations at all. Some of these interactions have happened months or years ago.

I have a tendency to overshare and I also tend to miss a lot of social cues. I feel like I often annoy people because of these faults. Something in a conversation or another situation will come up that will remind me of these incidents and I'll have a memory flashbacks. I tend to dwell on these incidents and they keep me from socializing. I have overwhelming feeling of shame. I honestly feel like people think I'm coming off as attention seeking and out of touch. I think sometimes people think I'm lying as well.

How do I stop these intrusive thoughts patterns?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy would give you a safe place to talk about the flashbacks and work on how to eliminate them.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:21 AM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

You're in good company. I was watching "Wheel of Fortune" yesterday, and Pat Sajak (the host) made an off-the-cuff remark about how he remembers every single awkward moment that he has ever experienced.

You don't necessarily need to go to a therapist. You might explore doing cognitive therapy on your own. Here's one page about how to use cognitive therapy to combat intrusive thoughts. There are other resources available online, and there are also some excellent self-help books on cognitive therapy (or cognitive-behavioral therapy), as well.
posted by akk2014 at 6:58 AM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might specifically seek out therapists who specialize in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). When it works, this therapy usually works quite quickly.
posted by ubiquity at 7:01 AM on June 9, 2017

This helpful article just popped up on Lifehacker this week about giving it 7 seconds (and only 7 seconds) to ruminate, then move on. It's not easy, though.

Mostly, I try to remember that everyone else is caught up in their own heads and they don't remember these weird/off-putting things I've said as much as I do. I also meditate.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:03 AM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have that happen sometimes, including events that happened 15+ years ago in high school and university. I also feel shame, often catch myself cringing and feeling that horrible pit-of-my-stomach feeling of embarrassment and regret.

I agree with the above suggestion of therapy to help you to learn how to unpack them and release yourself from that. That is your best and most obvious answer. However, in the moment for me the most helpful thing is to take deep breaths and remind myself of the following facts:
1. There is nothing you can do to make it so that it never happened. It happened, its done. Can't unring that bell. Accepting the doneness of it can help release you from feeling the desire for a do-over.
2. You can never know for sure what people think about you. You could be the most flawed person in the world and be admired and loved. You could be the most perfect person the world and be judged and disliked. Assuming what people think about you makes as much sense as trying to braid the hair on a shaved head. You just don't have enough at your disposal to draw from.
3. 9 times out of 10 people overlook, forgive, forget, or simple don't register/notice the awkward moments and social faux pas we feel we commit. People are incredible caught up in themselves and how they think THEY are being perceived by others to really notice or particularly care what others are doing.
4. Unless you're a huge egomanic and narcissist (which is not what you seem to be) people almost definitely think more highly of you than you think. We are always more critical of ourselves than others are.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:35 AM on June 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

I used to have cringe-worthy "flashbacks" -- when I had shame and thought that I was somewhat defective -- a common quality amongst humans. See a therapist. Go easy on yourself. Accept that some of your interactions might not be perfect but it's not the end of the world. The people you had awkward interactions with are not thinking about you; they're thinking of themselves. Going forward remember that we might overshare or act strangely when we're feeling anxious. We feel anxious when we don't like ourselves or behaving in ways that go against our true nature. Just be yourself and take it easy.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:39 AM on June 9, 2017

Also, for the record, I have a tendency to overshare TREMENDOUSLY. I don't mean to and I frankly actively try not to, but fuck man... it just comes out. I think my brain equates oversharing personal details with closeness and friendship, but really it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. But you know what? I just warn people about it, apologize in advance for any unintentional overshares, and in general people are cool about it. I have a set of friend who are used to it insofar as they just roll their eyes and are all "Dude, overshare." and I apologize and we move on. No big deal.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:47 AM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

This happens to me, too. It's common to the point where I've seen widely-shared jokes and comics about it. Knowing that it happens to a lot of people makes me feel better about it - both the embarrassing moments themselves and the fact that they pop in my head years after the fact.

It also helps me to remember these two things:

1. I am the only one hyperfocusing on my past moments. People generally don't notice in the moment, and they certainly don't remember years after the fact. Can you think of a time an acquaintance put their foot in their mouth in front of you? A situation where you are super embarrassed for them, even now? I'm racking my brain and can't remember anything.

2. Embarrassment at things in your past is a sign that you've learned. It's like looking at your high school writing or the first big work project you took on; they can be embarrassing in retrospect because you've progressed and know so much more about your craft. It's the same with social situations. Some of the most embarrassing stuff that I dwell on is also the stuff that I'm really, really glad to have learned to do better than. Embarrassment to the point where you dwell on things or avoid taking future risks is no good, but when I tell myself "I'm embarrassed because I can do better now" it cuts down on the dwelling.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:52 AM on June 9, 2017

In your last, very similar question, you favorited my answer, so here it is (again):

Having looked at your previous 9 questions, in all but one you literally ask, "What's wrong with me?" You need to take a step back and get help for the forest here, not the trees. This isn't about procrastination; this is much larger and I think you need someone to point that out.

To say this kindly and delicately, I think asking this particular question is similar to putting out a flame on a stove without noticing that the entire house is on fire.

Until you really dedicate yourself to getting quality therapy, my concern is you're going to keep finding things that you think are wrong with you and you will continue to ask how to fix those things.

All of your questions have serious issues to do with your self-esteem, and I really hope you get competent help. Not group therapy, but intensive support.

You continue to hyperfocus on all these little things that you say are wrong with you -- you did it a month ago, you did it for 8 questions before that, and you're doing it again. Why are you not taking any advice?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:11 AM on June 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

I don't have a solution, but I can share my story and it might help you feel differently.

Years ago, an incident happened with a friend that I felt deeply ashamed about. It was essentially a small thing, but in hindsight I felt I was awkward and selfish and basically acted real dumb. I hung onto this for YEARS, deeply regretting it every time I thought about it. This friend lives overseas and we don't often talk so I never got to address it. A few months ago, we happened to be chatting online, and I finally brought it up to properly apologize...and he had no idea what I was talking about.

Most of what we hung up on are in our own heads. If you feel you did something wrong, don't do it again. Accept that you've made mistakes in the past and move on.
posted by monologish at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

See this article about the Spotlight Effect. Basically, we tend to think that other people notice embarrassing things about us much more than people actually do.
posted by alex1965 at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

One mantra I tell myself is, out of all the 6 billion people in the world, I'm the only one who now remembers this incident.

And if I now forget this incident, it will vanish from history - like it never happened.

It brings me some peace during a "cringe attack"
posted by dave99 at 6:31 PM on June 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy can be very helpful for intrusive thoughts. DBT is CBT but with mindfulness, acceptance, and distress tolerance added in. My therapist recommended The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook. It starts with distress tolerance and works through an increasing set of skills up to interpersonal effectiveness.
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2017

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