Learning how to forget

I usually tend to remember anything that has been spoken or read aloud to me. When I try to remember something, it comes back to me almost as if I’m watching the video footage my eyes recorded during the time of the memory. The advantage of remembering something at that level of detail is that I can jump to my favorite parts, pause, annotate, add little reminders to myself, comments about my own behavior, observations about others’ and then continue. My brain allows me to edit these videos in a fashion where I can even mix these up by categorizing them under certain emotions. I went on to sort them under people, events, occasions, emotions and reactions. As a rather lonely child, I would mentally store many of the conversations I had with people around me. The larger the repository of life experiences I had, the easier it would be for me to know what kind of a response would be appropriate in multiple situations. It was likely that I could even find trends in the behavior of other people that would help me to predict their behavior to some extent and so, model my own.

Some of the disadvantages of having a memory that let me preserve an almost infinite capacity of history is that it took me some time to realize exactly what I wanted to populate the space between my head with. There seemed to be two main partitions. The academic one was clean and well-maintained. Information input into it was a routine and fairly smooth procedure. But the other section was devoted to the more “problem” aspects of my life, namely, what comprised of social skills and being accepted into a larger collective.

Initially, I did not use any content filters. Anything and everything that people around me said or did or indicated would simmer in my head while I pondered on how to process them. I was perhaps too young to differentiate between what was appropriate or inappropriate then, so I didn’t know how to tune the noise out. Perhaps another reason why I couldn’t ignore people so easily was because it conflicted with this innate need for social company. I wanted to be talked to. I wanted to talk to other people. It was only years later I realized that different people prefer different conversations. But when I was at a stage of still looking for what the suitable criteria would be for a friend, I was accepting everyone and anyone into my life. Nobody had set me out into the world with an instruction manual clearly delineating what I would like and what I wouldn’t. While playing back those memories, I realize that several of the ones that affected me very deeply should be promptly transferred to the recycle bin. It was then that I learned to forget, and more importantly create a defensive mechanism that would prevent similar from being stored into my memory again.

Even while remembering, it seemed easier to recall the situations and people who affected me negatively stronger than those who had a positive impact. Instead of letting these go, I stored them as future references of how mean people could be, as a lesson to myself. Effectively, I was telling myself, “Look, Person A did this to you. This is what he/she is truly capable of.” If their behavior did not seem to comply with their usual state, or if my perception of that person had somehow been colored before I met them (Yes, I was terribly impressionable then), then this wouldn’t surprise me. Otherwise, I would try to convince myself that their misbehavior was probably unintentional, or maybe they weren’t talking about me or maybe they just had really poor communication skills and I was misinterpreting. Yet, the memory never really faded away, or better, erased itself.

As a self-conscious teenager, my perception of self amplified. I don’t mean that it gave me a huge ego boost. I mean it literally made me scrutinize my every movement like some internal paparazzi. For some reason, known only to my past self, I managed to conclude that in order to be socially acceptable I was going to have to analyze my own behavior to a greater degree than I scrutinized others. They could do as they please, they weren’t subject to my power of mutability. But I was. Eventually, it morphed to a situation where I would over-analyze my public behavior and begin to store a growing series of memories dominantly comprising of my unacceptably bad behavior and my mistakes. I could let others off the hook. However, I couldn’t extend that same courtesy to myself. Worse, when I was in a foul mood, I would masochistically play back these memories to myself and punish myself for not having “done the right thing” (kept my mouth shut/ thought twice/ calmed down/ taken action, etc.). In a nutshell, processing this much bad data was wearing away at my fragile self-esteem.

Internally, I justified the self-abnegation by claiming that I was allegedly guiding my own character to some ideal of “being a good person”, something which seemed to be the largest common factor of all the people around me who were socially popular. But what defined being a good person changed with time, attitudes and people. I could not possibly try to disperse myself over such a large, diverse, albeit conflicting, pool of attributes without having some semblance of independent choice. It started with parents and my family. Their ideals took priority and as I interacted more with the outside world, I began to know what I liked and what I didn’t and whether my preferences in themselves were all right. I was not going to let that annoying sneering voice inside my head question my worth.

Some of the tactics that helped me get rid of the excess junk was to allow more of my work/academics/hobbies to infiltrate my mind. This way I was too busy focused on doing something productive than nitpicking myself. There was always writing, which helped me clear out my system to a large extent. Whatever it is, I think that’s a unique discovery cycle for each person. There is no sweeping general solution, unfortunately.

One of the biggest cleanup tools that helped me excuse, if not completely forget about, those awful memories was accepting the fact that they were mistakes. Surely, if I had reasoned enough with myself to learn to forgive other people for making their mistakes, I could do the same too. I was not going to treat myself any differently than how I treated them, or how I wanted to be treated by them. More so, I had learned to laugh at myself. Looking back at myself, there have been some pretty comical incidents which felt anything but from a first-person perspective.By forgiving myself, I was minimizing the importance of negative memories inside my head. I wasn’t blaming anyone for anything. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that of someone else’s either. Circumstances would happen. Without remembering them as mistakes or unfortunate incidents, to be more precise, I would be disrespecting the gravity of the situation without making myself wallow in guilt about it. It was okay to make those mistakes, at least for the first time. It was okay to be me.

In fact, it was one of those realizations that prompted the creation of this blog. I can now safely look back at my thirteen/fourteen year old self and not cringe at myself. I was naive, I was silly, I was mistaken, I was young, I was many things back then. But today I have grown up (or at least, I’d like to think so). I have to be many more things now. I am many more things now and that’s what matters.

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