When I was small, we ate dinner in my father’s study. This room was also part of the living room, the house library, and next to the kitchen. There was a deep pocket door that held a huge table, and each night, we pulled the table out of the wall, attached the legs, set it up and then set it for dinner. After the meal, we packed it away again. It was my father’s time to study and work. We did our homework in the kitchen, at the table there.
I remember the table as being huge–at least eight feet long, and the legs must have been four feet tall. I adjusted the memory slightly when I realized that the legs would not have been that tall–we used regular chairs to sit at the table.
When I traveled back and saw the table, it was much smaller than I had remembered. Well, of course, I was a short child, so the table seemed huge. And I laughed and easily adjusted my memory.
There are other things that we don’t adjust easily. The brother who was a bully. The manipulative friend who got us to say something, then turned on us and broke our confidence. The histrionic mother who flirted with our boyfriends and refused to give up any of the stage, much less the center of it.
We hang on to memories that diminish us. Make us small. Slice us open for all to see and gawk at. The more we believe those stories, the more they become true. The more they become true, the bigger they grow. We give these hurtful memories importance they don’t deserve, inflate them to huge size and vivid colors, add a sound track and march down our life’s path with the sad circus band of our past hooting and jeering at us.
No wonder we can’t sleep. Turn off the TV and you hear the sound of the circus in the distance.
You cannot change the bully brother, the manipulative friend, the histrionic mother. You can, however, give them far more importance and power than they ever had. You can use Life Photoshop and add shadows, sharpen contrast until your whole life is layered between these memories.
Or, you can try something else. Write down the story as you see it now in your journal. Use those filters of memory fully. Make the story as bad as your memory will let you. Immediately afterwards, pretend that you are walking into that situation now, as an adult, when the dinner table is normal-size and the chairs are normal height. Look at the hurtful situation again now, as an adult. Then re-write it with less color and more understanding. Because this time you are in control of what happens.
Allow the omnipotent power of others to drain away. Take back some of your own confidence. Your own tolerance. Your adult wisdom. See the bully brother as threatened. See the histrionic mother as unloved and fighting for attention. See the manipulative friend as weak. Then write a few concluding sentences about taking your own power back. About the perspective you have now, as an adult who can see life in real-size.
You cannot change the past, but you can surely go back and take another look at it. As an adult, you are in control. Those memories live on the power you give them. Don’t waste your power. Claim it back.
Your journal will let you shrink those memories down to size.
--Quinn McDonald keeps several journals. She’s working on another book on confronting the Inner Critic.