We’re really bad at auditing our own histories.
Okay, I can’t speak for you. You’re probably great. But other people, over-sensitive, nostalgic people like me, struggle with making sense out of a personal past. We get caught up considering moments. Moments distract from patterns.
And patterns are what matter.
Now, I’m all about good ol’ reflection. When a long-term relationship falls apart, for example, doing a solid autopsy is just about the most positive response you can have. It’s constructive. It’s necessary.
But when things are fresh, when memories and emotions are running high, our autopsies tend to trace scars instead of patterns. Sometimes, when we should be looking at recurring toxic (or not-so-toxic) behaviours, we dwell on moments.
And if you focus only on moments, friends? You are in for an emotional ride.
You’ll relive and relive and relive the really intense stuff. Only the really intense stuff. The major disappointments. The I-can’t-even-breathe-right-now romantic gestures. It becomes a mental scorecard–was the whole thing horrible, the worst, or was it unbelievably amazing? Was it that time I cried all night, or the time I laughed all night? I don’t know. I don’t know.
(Neither, guys. It’s probably neither.)
Instead of looking for patterns, we pit “good times” against “dark times” in our minds, acting like our history is defined by extreme stories and emotional confrontations. We forget the day-to-day behaviour. The reactions. How communication worked (or didn’t), and how do you feel about that?
Focusing only on tear-stained memories of “good times” and “dark times,” can paint a pretty dramatic and unfair picture of all these things. Sure, mega-scars need healing, and the happy times are worth remembering…but in most cases, using only the most epic stories to illustrate how things went down might not be the best tactic.
Basically, it’s big picture time.
The relationship thing is just an example, of course. In general, we seem to have a habit of over-valuing stories drenched in perception and projection (and probably other dangerous things that end in -tion). And that’s a pretty big problem when our little-picture memories are this malleable and unreliable.
Can big-deal moments be important? Of course, of course, of course. I’m not talking about overlooking major losses, abuses, and epiphanies. Intense things can happen, and they can effect us. Fallible as they may be, our memories make us who we are.
But, when we’re trying to learn from something long term, to make sense of ourselves and our pasts, we cannot just lean on landmarks.
When we are auditing our lives, little antecdotes shouldn’t override the whole story.