Most everyone has at least one traumatic memory stored in their brains. These memories can come from any situation that was perceived to be traumatic such as a car accident, natural disaster, violent partner or drunk parent.
Experiences like these are more common than you think. While not every traumatic event will cause a person to experience trauma in later life, some will. Some people go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or phobias.
While self-reflection is helpful, rumination (continually thinking the same thoughts) is not. Without therapy, you could end up self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. Fortunately, there are ways to stop reliving painful memories and begin the path to healing.
Where Do Memories Come From?
For your mind to store memories, proteins stimulate brain cells to grow and form new connections. The more you think about a specific event, the stronger the neuronal connections become. And as long as you visit the memory from time to time, it will stay there.
Each time you visit your memory, it becomes flexible. This is why some of the details may change, though the memory itself grows stronger and more vivid. So, if you experienced a traumatic event when you were young, it may become more frightening every time you recall it.
Unfortunately, bad memories tend to stick out more than good memories. Researchers believe this to be the case because bad memories have a stronger interaction with our emotions. The stronger the emotions, the more details we can recall.
The Dangers of Reliving Painful Memories
It’s not healthy to keep reliving painful memories. Every time you do this, your self-confidence takes a nosedive. Of course, this is easier said than done. Painful memories have a way of creeping into our consciousness even when we don’t want them to.
Here are some of the dangers of reliving traumatic memories:
- Increased mental health problems. When you dwell on the negatives, it puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. If you already suffer from a mental health problem, negative thinking can cause it to last longer.
- Unhealthy coping skills. Studies show that rumination increases emotional distress, making you more likely to cope in unhealthy ways, such as with drugs or alcohol.
- Permanent negative thinking. Over time, negative thinking becomes a bad habit that’s hard to break. This can make it difficult to think positively, even when you’re presented with good things.
How to Heal from Painful Memories
It is possible to rewire the brain from the negative emotions associated with trauma. It takes practice and dedication, and some days will be easier than others. But as long as you keep working at it, you will make progress.
Below are some of the best ways to heal from painful memories:
- Recognize what’s happening. The more you ruminate, the easier it is to get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking. Be aware of your thinking and look for trends. What prompts you to rehash old memories? Then exchange this thinking for something positive and productive.
- Identify solutions. Thinking about your problems isn’t helpful. But coming up with solutions for them is. Make a commitment to learn from your mistakes and solve your problems.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is an effective way to help you live in the here and now. When you’re mindful, you’re completely present in the moment and not thinking about past experiences.
- Give yourself time to think. Whether it’s through journaling, meditation or quiet time, give yourself time to reflect. This “thinking time” is reserved for you to let your mind wander.
- Distract yourself. While it’s important to process your emotions, constantly rehashing old memories isn’t productive. If you’re having trouble thinking positively, distract yourself with a healthy activity.
Seek Treatment for Trauma and Painful Memories
Awakenings Treatment Center in Agoura Hills CA understands the cycle that painful memories can create. Sadly, some people use drugs or alcohol to help them forget their pain, leading to a powerful addiction. Our dual diagnosis rehab in California treats both trauma and substance use disorders. Contact us today to learn more about our client-centered services and how we can help you break the cycle of rumination.