I was hanging out in the living room with Little Man and working on a play rug I’d started for him a year and a half ago. (I know, I know – I should have waited longer to revisit it. Maybe wait until he graduated from high school?)
We’re having a good time and then – wham!
I’m blasted with a painful memory that brings back all the feels – the kind that makes you want to throw up. All. The. Shame. Nice, right?
What triggered it? I have no idea. Regardless, it definitely gobsmacked me.
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When You Can’t Close the Pop-Up Window in Your Head
If you haven’t yet, read For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhanh.
Yes, I’m a woman. Yes, I read it. It was so worth it. It helped me better articulate some of the struggles I have and start facing them.
One of the things they discussed was how a woman’s brain is like a computer desktop with ten windows open at once. In addition to that, they describe how women usually cannot just “close out” windows that are bothering her. Most likely, she needs to take action to resolve it.
This article, Mystery Solved: 3 Things You Never Understood About How Your Wife Thinks, has further information.
Note: If you’re a man and this fits your experiences, too, I hope the visual has helped!
A Painful Memory
This memory was one of those pop-up windows that tend to be hard to shut down.
What was the memory, you ask?
We had decided to host a party for a friend. In the hours leading up to the event, another individual and I exchanged heated emails. With their last message, I suddenly realized what were some of our mutual assumptions.
I didn’t know how to address them, though, without making it worse.
My heart was hurting. I felt defensive. I felt like throwing up most of the day and throughout the party. Instead of doing or saying something, I gave up.
How’d the party go, you ask? Super duper well. Our house was filled to capacity, folks connected and good times were had.
But… every time this memory creeps in, I feel a visceral reaction of shame, sadness and anger.
Take Back Your Painful Memory
And, you know what? It hacks me off. What should have been a really great memory has been tainted with some icky, unhelpful feelings.
I feel so much shame.
I want to reclaim that memory and remove the sludge. It lives in a warehouse of similarly grimy memories.
Friend, I bet you have memories, too, that you’d like to reclaim. I can’t take them away, but I can tell you that you’re not alone.
With all this in mind, what can we do to take down those painful, totally unhelpful memory slaps in the face?
Can we move our first line of defense from percolating in the memory (um, that’s totally not a defensive move) to praying to the One Who Loves Us Most for help? How does that become instinctive? How can we become empowered instead of disempowered?
Note: I’m not a licensed counselor or anything of the sort. I speak from my own experience, not from professional expertise. Sorry!
Leaning Into the One Who Made You
I’m an expert in unexpectedly revisiting painful memories. I want it to stop. I can’t do it on my own. Neither can you.
When this memory slapped me in the face and started doing the whirlwind in my head, I realized I needed help. I popped Little Man into his play space (which he promptly relocated) and popped into my room to pray.
Lord, I don’t know why this memory is here. I don’t want to live here. I don’t want to go down the whirlpool of frustrations and hurt with no way out. Please help me.My prayer in a nutshell
This NOT typically my go-to reaction. My problem is that I often move into the memory, re-feel all the feelings and don’t know my way out again. It can be hours (or days).
As a result, I feel unproductive, melancholy and another day gets tainted for not only me, but also those I love.
This time, though, I felt a bit better after praying. Little Man and I went in the backyard to play. While he lounged on our cushion cover bag with a stick, I thought. And thought. And thought.
What Messages Did You Pick Up?
I don’t think that avoiding painful memories is the answer. Sometimes to deal with it, you gotta remember it.
Why does this memory hurt so much? Why do I feel like gagging every time I remember it?
What messages did I pick up from this exchange?
- You’re not enough
- You don’t belong here
- You should have asked for permission
Was this what the other person intended to say? Probably not.
In fact, most of us (including you and me!) are too focused on thinking about ourselves to really think about the messages we’re giving others.
“When we are not engaged in thinking about some definite problem, we usually spend about 95 percent of our time thinking about ourselves.”How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
To be clear, I didn’t handle this perfectly. I made mistake. (Starting with engaging in the email exchange at all!)
Shoot, if I hadn’t been so focused on myself during the email exchange, it might have gone a heckuva lot better!
Encouragement for Your Soul
As we’ve discussed, I’ve made mistakes. You’ve made mistakes. We all have room to grow.
This can be discouraging. It helps to lean into the source of truth from the One who created you.
I’ve been encouraged by these verses:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.Psalm 34:4-5 New International Version (NIV)
When you seek the Lord, he will answer. He will deliver you from all your fears. Your face is radiant, never covered with shame.
Does that mean you’ll never have fears again? No.
Will you never face trouble (or still have trouble? No.
You’ll know where your true source of strength lies, though. That’s a mighty gift!
This Voice of Shame isn’t For Your Benefit
This reminder is for you and me: this voice of shame is not here to help you.
God will humble you. He’s not going to do it through shaming you.
That’s not the way to love or reconciliation.
Has this voice of shame drawn you closer to peace? Has it helped you move forward more proactively?
It certainly hasn’t for me. I’m dwelling on this verse:
Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.Romans 12:21 The Passion Translation
Sometimes the evil isn’t those around you, it’s that sledgehammer of shame that keeps beating down your heart and your purpose.
You were made for more.
Your Turn: Dealing with a Painful Memory
To wrap-up, I don’t know what messages you’ve been picking up from your negative memories. Regardless, it’s worth evaluating why something is bugging you. And don’t overthink it! What comes to mind first?
Then think about the truth.
Yes, you’ve made mistakes. Yes, perhaps you shouldn’t have done what you did. But does this memory actually tell you WHO you are? Where your worth comes?
This shame and hurt is not helping you become more of who you were intended to be. This voice is not from the One who created you.
I hope this post has encouraged you a bit on your quest to dealing with bad memories in a healthy way. If it has, please share it with someone else who might need encouragement.
You are not alone! I’m cheering for you!