Despite having what many people might consider a shaky grasp of reality, I like to think I have a decent memory. In fact, compared to quite a few people I know, it’s a very good memory indeed, because a startling number of people seem all too keen to rewrite events in their mind, for whatever reason. I understand that we often amend our recollections of the past to meet present emotional needs, but … well, that shouldn’t extend to blocking things out in their entirety, should it?
To take an unpleasant but true example, some years ago a friend of mine decided to break up with her boyfriend. He took it badly, to say the least, wrestling her into a nearby wardrobe and holding it shut – apparently in an attempt to convince her to stay (yes, that’s bound to change her mind, you violent genius! Well done you!). She got out of the wardrobe, got out of the flat they shared, and got on with her life, which is obviously a good thing.
However, not so good was the way she remembered these events a short time later.
“Oh, he wasn’t so bad,” she said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I near-shouted. “He was really awful to you at the end!”
“I don’t know what you mean. I think a lot of it was my fault, and I -“
“Look,” I cut in, “don’t give me that. I saw the bruises on your arms.”
She stopped talking then, and her face dropped as if something unpleasant had just dawned on her. Because, I realised, she had tried to forget his violence towards her, and put it behind her – to the extent that she’d convinced herself that it hadn’t happened.
I seem to come across examples all too often – I referred to an ex denying my involvement in typing her dissertation in this post – and it’s worrying to see how people don’t even need time to have passed for them to have reframed events; someone I know rewrote their partner saying “You’re not putting up that picture in my house” into “We need to have a discussion about the room you’re going to put that picture up in” within a matter of minutes.
I’ll be honest, I find it maddening and worrying at the same time; maddening because I believe that the present is the result of a gradual and inevitable accretion of events, like layers of paint added to a canvas, and that relationships and situations are examples of this – and how can you have any kind of healthy handle on a relationship or situation if you’re always blocking out the truth of it?
And I find it worrying when people seem to be unable to accept and process the meaning of events and actions as they truly are, because … well, that way delusion lies. There’s that old adage about ‘those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them’, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that – but I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time working around delusional recollections of empirically verifiable events, nor being treated like some kind of heartless swine because I insist on reminding people of what they actually said as opposed to nodding along with their rewritten version of things.
I appreciate that a lot of people suffer traumas which they’d sooner forget, and I can understand that, but what I’m talking about here are more everyday things, which should be more easily coped with; disagreements with partners or patterns of behaviour which people simply refuse to acknowledge, and all too often repeat over and over again.
What, you may ask, has prompted a lengthy post of such venom on this subject? Well, rather tangentially perhaps, I saw an advert for the Borne Ultimatum DVD which had the tagline ‘Remember Everything. Forgive Nothing’, and my immediate thought was “Hmm, I dunno if I remember everything exactly, but I remember a hell of a lot more than some people seem to, and as a result I end up forgiving them a lot…”
Well, if not exactly forgiving, then posting a big ranty blog entry, but you know what I mean.