Would you take a pill to erase bad memories?
This was the question I pondered today as I read about a drug which has been developed to erase painful memories. If you have seen the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which starred Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, you will have seen the fictional characters use a technique to erase memories of each other when their relationship turned sour. My husband, the scientist (!) loved it , but it just struck me as profoundly sad.
At various times in my life when the pain of some trauma has threatened to overwhelm me, I have had that familiar thought of just wanting to block out the pain. I am sure you have felt it too. But think about it for a moment – isn’t our pain and suffering part of what makes us human? I know it is part of what makes me empathetic to the pain of others and willing to listen and help however I can. Without experiencing my own pain, I would never be able to do that for others. How could I? If I didn’t have that memory of the day I was told I had cancer, how could I fully understand the shock and confusion experienced by someone who has just been diagnosed. Without the memories of the trio of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, would I be so diligent in preventing a recurrence, determined now that I never want to experience any of those harrowing treatments again? How, without my memories, could I ever understand the loneliness and despair that can accompany cancer (and beyond) for a young woman with a diagnosis of cancer? Quite simply, I couldn’t.
While I concede that such a drug would be of benefit to those who suffer severe post traumatic stress and recurrent bad memories which prevent some from moving on with their lives, the primary purpose of my post today is to reflect on the nature of bad memories and the role they have in our lives. I believe they are part of what makes us human and capable of empathy. They can motivate us to get out there and make a difference in the lives of others.
So, what do you think? Are our bad memories part of who we are? Do they serve a purpose in our lives and those of humanity? Let me know what you think.
beautiful & thought provoking post. better living through chemistry isnt always the answer to living, learning and building character
Doesn’t the body itself shut out bad memories if it needs to? Childhood victims of abuse claim they often only remember it (perhaps isolated incidents) in later life.
Pain for example, women often claim they can’t rem the pain of childbirth and if they did, they might not have gone again! A neighbour of mine lost his arm at the shoulder years ago – and it took a while before he was found and brought to hospital, he has no memory of the pain. Post pain yes, while in hosp, but not of the incident itself or the journey in the ambulance.
Great post esp as it focuses on how bad memories help us to empathise – totally agree with it. Aren’t bad memories part of life and that’s what helps us appreciate the good moments. So, no, I wouldn’t take a drug to banish my ban memories
I would almost say “you have written a beautiful and well written blog as usual” but that woudl sell you short my Twister. This blog is also very well written and I d agree with you: it would be bad t have a pill that would erase bad memories because those are often the memories that make us better people. Those memories prevents us from hurting or offending people going through a rough time , just because we can’t feel what they are feeling or go back to the memory of how it was for us when going through a rough patch. It enables us to empathise with people hearing bad news or going through emotional turmoil. I vividly remember the moment I realised I would never be able to walk again without crutches, let alone dance, twirl, perform, teach and judge like I did every single day of my life. And remebering that moment, however painful it was, enables me to step up to people who just heard bad news, listen to them and try to help them, instead of staying away because that is so much easier. So I have to conclude that I would not want to erase that memorie, just because it made me to whom I am today, for better or for worse.
My mother suffered from early onset Alzeihmer’s (early 40’s). By the time I was in my late teens I was helping her get dressed & go to the toilet because she didn’t know how to do it on her own.
It is my belief that she unconsciously wanted to forget memories of experiences she had in her life, and combined with a few other significant factors resulted in Alzeihmers.
With my experiences, both of my mother & of painful situations, I’d rather keep all of my memories thanks!
You’re right, it is because of these experiences that I truly know happiness. There cannot be light without the dark. An avoidance of pain is at the root of addiction.
Give me life- in it’s entirety any day!
I agree that our bad memories are part of who we are. I try not to dwell on them because dwelling does not let me move forward but they have led where I am now, along with all the good memories. And I believe that without the bad we would not truly feel the good. So if I have to have some bad times to feel the good stuff, then bring it on. And I will keep moving forward!
Your questions Marie, and all the comments, reflect great sensitivity and compassion about the nature of suffering and its relationship to empathy and compassion. These are issues that spiritual people in all times have addressed. How does a God that loves all beings allow the world’s tragedies? I don’t have a good answer for that, even though I’m sure that if possible, I’d go without a “goodby” pill for unhappy or painful memories. All of those moments, happy, sad, painful and in between, have brought me forward to the woman I am now. There are chinks in the character, scars, damage, sure — but also love, and acceptance, of myself and others.
It’s also important that we continue the distinction established between painful memory — a love lost, a friend or parent that has passed away — and trauma, where a woman is victimized by violence for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there were something that could accelerate the healing of violent trauma, then I would be all for it. In fact, there is a newer technique some psychologists and psychiatrist employ for victims of abuse. I hope it works for victims of trauma, war and atrocities waged daily against others who are different.
I don’t place my cancer treatment in the “traumatic” category by any means, because now, in retrospect, I can see it more clearly. The psychological damage of cancer, the betrayal of the body, the tough medicine to treat it, is healed by time and the love found in shared experience.
Just my thoughts for tonight. Sweet dreams all, let’s all pray for a world and time where such a pill will not be necessary.
Marie, a great post, very thought-provoking. The discussion in the comments is also very interesting.
I am not only moved by this post but also the depth of the wisdom and compassion shown by those who have left comments.
Beaufiful comments – especially moved by Jody’s.
very thought provoking post today – i would have to agree with everything you have said and your commentatators too.l
I happen to be experiencing quite a lot of trauma in my life at the moment and have often resorted to the age old coping mechanism of booze – of course i realise that this is only causing more problems in my life – but it is as you say a desire to block out the pain. You have given me a lot to think about here – it’s not easy to think about but thanks for posting.
as you say, booze is age old. humanity has used it for Millenia to feel a bit better, but it may not be worth the risk of more misery which it can also cause.
i hope your traumatic spell comes to an end soon. Stay strong,
tempting as it may be to take a pill, i certainly agree with you that our memories – good and bad – are part of what makes us human and how as you say we learn compassion and empathy
another great post – and great comments too
“So, what do you think? Are our bad memories part of who we are? ”
I think that bad memories are what keeps us from being ourselfs. I don’t think that it will erase the memories, I think it will take away the fear, those are 2 different things. But If it did erase memories, then thats good too. Its up to one if they want to do it, I would do it If I had a traumatizing experience I whised to forget, a memorie who kept me from living my life as I wanted.
And I don’t think you see the difference of bad memories (that you can live with), and of traumatizing memories (that put you in depression), that hold you back from living.
Thank you Anna for your comment – you make some good comments here. I am talking for myself here and indeed am no stranger to trauma and crippling depression in my own life and there are many times that I would have taken anything to stop the pain, in the moment, but with distance and work I have made sense of those traumatic experiences. However, I agree with you that it is a totally indvidual experience and if someone is prevented from moving on with their lives, due to traumatic memories, there is a case for considering such a pill. Thanks again for your comments – I appreciate that you took the time to make this distinction for us all.