What if I told you that we have the power to overcome painful and traumatic events in our lives by rewiring the way that we remember them. Have you ever recalled a negative event that has happened, and began to feel the same way you felt then? Or have you told a story of a rough time and felt overcome with emotion as if you were reliving it? It's funny how our brains work because they aren't actually very good at separating our past from our present. There is no real difference between remembering and thinking, therefore, our brains can mistaken a memory for something that is currently occurring.
When we recall a story, our brains are actually actively breaking down and reconstructing that event, and even activate the neurons that were used in the memory. Every time we remember the memory, we are strengthening its neural pathways because we are moving it from long-term storage to short-term storage, and back again. Here's the good news through, when we reconsolidate those memories, we then have the power to change the way that we remember them.
I've recently read an awesome blog post by Mike McHargue called, "Why It's Important to Tell Even Your Darkest Story", and it really sparked the psychology nerd in me. McHargue offers a story of how he came to a point in his life where he sought out professional therapy, and his therapist challenged him to recall his painful childhood of bullying. He states that he never cried during a session, yet he often fought off a panic attack, but one day his therapist told him that it would be helpful to let himself cry. And here's why:
When we remember a day, or an event, that made us feel a certain way, we often relive that emotion in the moment. This is stronger for painful memories because the limbic system is being activated and your body is attempting to protect you as if the threat was in the here and now. If we change our memories every time that we recall them, then why not try to change the bad ones to good ones. The only catch is that it is necessary to do this in a safe place, whether that be in a therapist's office or with a close, trustworthy friend. By making our experiences real again, we can rework the way we respond to them.
For example, when recalling a memory such as a traumatic car accident, it is common to once again feel the anxiety and fear that the accident caused. However, when recalling this experience in a safe and comfortable environment, to someone who is compassionate and empathetic, then our brain will remember those positive things next time that story is called back into working memory. In turn, it is actually a healthy healing process to tell our painful stories, no matter how many times they needs to be told in order to fully become changed.
So this article reminded me of a post I had written a while back about how I tend to be an over-sharer, and that I'll tell anyone anything about my past or present, no matter positive or negative. I thought this was unhealthy, but I can see now how it can actually be the opposite. Granted, I need to recall the painful memories in the company of someone who I trust can respond with grace, however, I can now pinpoint why sharing my not-so-great life stories can make me feel better.
My challenge to you is this, if you feel that there is a memory, an event, or a story, that is really painful and doing you more harm than good hanging out in your long-term memory, then consider telling it. Consider whether or not it is bringing you down and whether or not there is someone in your life that can meet you with compassion and help you rework that memory. I am also a firm believe that everyone can benefit from a few therapy sessions. We all, unfortunately, have stuff that needs to be worked through or talked about. Even if you walk into the office and just say, "hey, I'd just like to tell you a few stories", then I promise you'll feel better at the end.
Read the article linked above, and think about it. I truly do believe that it is important to tell even your darkest story.
"For our darkest moments, we may have to tell that story dozens of times. Or even dozens of dozens. Each time, that shadow of the past gets a little lighter, until we actually heal. There will still be a scar, of course, but you’ll stop bleeding every time the wound is pricked."
By the time this post goes public I will be a few hours away from jumping on a plane and heading to Portugal. I quit my job with no other employment lined up. I’m spending a few weeks, in a foreign country, at a stranger’s house, with my father, who I do not have the best relationship with. Everyone thinks I’m crazy & reckless. But there’s more to it.
For a while now I’ve been completely unhappy with my circumstances. My family life is sub par. I graduated from college without an acceptance to a graduate program. No one wants to hire me, and I’ve been trapped in a job that barely makes enough to pay my looming student loan payment, let alone the rest of my bills. I’ve been riding the waves and waiting for a change; but I’m tired of waiting.
I didn’t quit my job to make some sort of a statement, there’s more to it. – I’ve been at the same job for three and a half years now. I was comfortable there. I had friends, I knew the position well, I was in a leadership role. But it wasn’t fulfilling. It takes a special person to commit to a life of retail and not let it chip away at your joy; I am not that person. For over a year now I’ve known that job wasn’t good for my mental health or wellbeing, however it was the perfect job to hold while I was finishing my degree. I remain grateful for all I learned there, and all of the special friendships that I made. Now, post-graduation, I need to find my way into the professional world. I am goal-oriented and future-driven, and I want to have a job that I love more than anything, but how can I focus on something new and something so scary if I am comfortable where I am? Leaving my job and taking a spontaneous European adventure was an opportunity to make myself vulnerable. I can’t stay unemployed for long, that just isn’t practical, so I’ve now created a situation for myself of desperation and trusting the Lord, and I feel one hundred percent at peace with it. When I return I will amp up my job hunt and (hopefully) land a position that uses my talents and my passions and that encourages me, instead of bringing me down. Yes, I quit my job, and I will become better because of it.
I’m not going to Portugal because I want to see Portugal, there’s more to it. – Prior to a few weeks ago, I never thought about going to Portugal. Yes, I love to travel, and yes, I’ll jump at any opportunity to explore Europe, but I have never thought to myself, “man, I cannot wait to go to Portugal.” To be completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to point it out on a map before I Google image searched it (that’s embarrassing, I know). My father has a childhood friend who lives there, and he spoke about taking a trip to visit. Like myself, my dad loves travel and finds joy and peace when in a new country. He hasn’t had to opportunity to travel in years and he wanted to make time to do something that he loves, because after all, everyone deserves a vacation. So when he first asked me if I wanted to tag along, I was hesitant, because there have been countless times that he has been all talk and no action. I didn’t need everyone telling me that he was going to let me down (although people offered their opinions anyway), because I already knew not to get my hopes up until I was actually sitting on a plane somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. So many people questioned me and asked why I would want to go to Portugal with my father, the man who has hurt me more times than he could know, and what I would do if I got there and was miserable or we got into a fight or he let me down, and then my trip would be ruined. But let me remind you, this isn’t about Portugal.
It’s safe to say that my childhood and adolescence were impacted greatly by the negligence, criticism, and hurtfulness from my father. It is also safe to say that I will be experiencing repercussions of this unhealthy daddy-daughter relationship for the rest of my life. However, it is not fair to me to continue to let all of the hurt and anger build up and feed my resentment. It is not fair that, as a child, I was made aware of things about my dad that I otherwise would have been innocent to, thus changing my perspective of him. It isn’t fair that I was forced to grow up too soon and that not having a caring father became the center of who I was as an individual at a young age. It definitely isn’t fair that I tried to be the best daughter I could be, yet my dad still didn’t acknowledge any of the good in me, and only spoke of the bad. These things are not fair, but they happened, they are a part of my story, and they cannot be changed.
What is left are forgiveness, second chances, and an open heart. And it’s hard.
Staying mad, continuing to foster a negative relationship, and closing off to change is not hurting anyone else besides myself. I am an adult now, but I still deserve a father. I deserve to know him through new eyes, and to form my own opinion of him. He deserves forgiveness, everyone does. Forgiving my dad is something that has been tugging on my heart for years now. I know that God calls us to forgive, but it has been so easy just brushing it to the side and continuing to hold a grudge. The first time I heard Matthew West’s song, “Forgiveness”, it broke me down to tears because it hurt so bad to think about ever forgiving my dad. I didn’t want to think about letting him off the hook or letting him think that all he’s done was okay. But that’s the funny thing about what God calls us to do, it isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it. I am ready to forgive.
“even when the jury and the judge say you gotta right to hold a grudge, it’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘set it free’”
“so let it go and be amazed by what you see through eyes of grace, the prisoner that it really frees is you”
In summary, I am giving my dad a second chance. We’re removing the distractions, doing something that we both love, and opening up our minds to the possibilities that this trip could bring. What’s the worst that could happen? We come home and things stay the same? That our relationship wasn’t restored, that I’ll still feel fatherless? So be it, because that’s nothing different than right now. But this trip could also open the opportunity to talk, to share emotions, to laugh, to explore, to actually enjoy each other’s presence- the normal things that fathers and daughters are supposed to experience. So when you think that I am taking advantage of a free trip to Portugal, there’s more to it.
To you, this looks like running away, but there’s more to it. – We all have ways of taking a step back and rejuvenating. Everyone needs a change of scenery and a period of time to think in a real and honest way. I have become so overwhelmed with everything. I have felt trapped, without direction, and desperately looking for a way out. I know that God will provide for me and all things will work out in the end. Now, more than ever, I feel Him working in my life and preparing me for something great. The way that I am able to rejuvenate is by removing myself from the situation that causes me pain. Change is not going to happen if I continue doing everything the same. I will not sit here and list all of the reasons why my current circumstances are doing more harm than good. I will say that I know that leaving the country, being removed from my friends and my family, barely being able to use technology, and having the chance to work on myself, is the perfect combination for a fresh start. Traveling makes me happy, it is freeing, and it allows me a temporary escape from all that is negative in my life.
I will not lie though, I strongly considered buying a one way ticket and escaping for good. I could very easily land on my feet in Europe, with a job opportunity already waiting, however, when moving there became a very real possibility, I then realized why that would have been running away. Instead, I will use the time I’ll be gone for soul-searching and heart-mending and then return home for a fresh start in every aspect of my life. I need to reevaluate the person I am, and re-center myself to Christ. I need to be a better friend. I need to be more motivated. I need to make something of myself. And I need to discover, and act upon, the plan that was written for me before I was even born.
Whether or not Portugal leads to a huge life revelation, a 180 in my relationship with my dad, a good experience, or a bad experience, I know that upon my return, I will be ready and I will be focused, and I am so excited.
"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
To say that my life trajectory has been confusing lately would be a bold understatement. It’s really hard to graduate college and not have a plan laid out for you to follow step-by-step. It’s true, you really have two options after graduation (and an unspoken third); go to graduate school, get a job, or live with and mooch off of your parents for as long as possible.
My plan had always been to go to graduate school the fall semester following graduation and to continue my education as far as student loans would let me. After all, an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in psychology hardly means anything in the professional field. But silly me made the mistake of putting all my eggs in one basket and applying to one single grad program, and one of the top in the country at that. I’ll never forget that sinking feeling of seeing that small, thin envelope sitting on the table when I got home from class that night, and knowing there was a rejection waiting for me inside. So my dreams of a master’s degree will be put on hold for a least another year.
Option number two, dive head first into the scary, real, professional world and try not to drown. Well, this is much easier said than done because most places do not even give you the chance to prove that you can swim because your resume doesn’t hold enough “relevant experience”. So not only did grad school reject me, but so have a dozen job opportunities. Post-college life is swell.
So, I have opted for the unspoken and highly looked down upon number three; here I am, living at home and trying to survive off of the same part-time, less than $10/hour retail job. “You have so many possibilities ahead of you”, they say, “you can do absolutely anything!” Well, it’s not really as exciting as they make it out to be. It’s quite terrifying and frustrating and mostly the time that I set aside for job applications just ends in tears and wine.
However, recently I have been assured by my reckless alter-ego that making rash and seemly un-thought out decisions would be my current best plan of action. I have recently applied to or have been considering applying to some job positions that don’t quite fit in the psychology realm. This is terrifying for me because how will grad school want to accept me next year if I still don’t have the right experience? This answer is simple, I feel complete assurance from my God.
Whether it be making huge life decisions, hunting for the perfect job, deciding to leave the country, allowing people into my life, or even scheduling what I’ll have to do tomorrow, I am always extremely anxious, stressed, and, at times, neurotic. My choices keep me up at night and demand the perfect decision. If this part of my life doesn’t go as planned, then how will this other part? Will I ever be happy in my field? Will I ever get my master’s? Will I regret these impulsive decisions down the road?
Man, it’s a funny thing when you try to have it all together and realize that you’re failing miserably at it.
Today, I was helping my brother with some college prep stuff because he starts his first year in two weeks and he’s nowhere near prepared. And laugh if you will but I still have a box in my room full of stuff from my dorm at Delaware before I transferred home, so I opened it to see if there was anything I could pass along to him. Inside, I found a package full of all of the cards and letters that I received during my year away from home. As I began to open and read each of them, I was reminded of how many friends and family members were proud of me and supported me during my first year of college. (It turns out that my mother sent a mass message to a bunch of family asking them to send me letters because I was having a “tough time”, but that doesn’t disregard the sincerity that they wrote, right?)
Anyway, I came across a card from my high school YoungLife leader and as I read it, I swore that she wrote it today and not four years ago, because every single word finds relevance in my life right now.
“B- I know UD has been hard – sometimes new things are hard! … I really hope that you enjoy your time there and enjoy the Lord. He has you there for a sweet reason…You are loved, awesome, and have all you could ever need in Christ!”
And she included this verse,
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
I spend so much time, restless, anxious, and full of worry, that I forget that the Lord will fight for me. How comforting is that? I just need to be still. I don’t have to stay up late wondering if I’ll ever move out of my house. I don’t have to feel depressed that my plan for my life isn’t going as calculated. The Lord’s plan prevails, and He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. When I take a moment to sit back and really think about that, to truly tell myself that everything will be alright because God is for me, then that’s when my perspective changes and I can take a deep breath and feel okay again.
The assurance that I feel from God comse from praying and asking for the right way to be shown to me. There is a sense of peace that I can feel when I know that I am right where He wants me to be. And I know that when the right job opportunity comes up, or the right school, or the right move, that I’ll feel the same peace knowing that I have all I need in Him.
So here’s to feeling completely lost and scared when thinking about my future, but also knowing in my heart that, with my God, I cannot fail. People will question my decisions, they’ll get angry and they’ll doubt me, but I’ll stand tall knowing that there is a greater reason, and that it is going to be oh so great.
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