Self

How To Effectively 'Brainwash' Yourself To Forget Unwanted Memories

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There are so many reasons you may want to wipe bad memories from your brain. Some might be embarrassing or hurtful, and others may hold a traumatic event or person you have let go some time ago.

For most, memories begin to fade away as time passes. But for people with mental health conditions like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clearing out past memories may not be so easy.

Reliving situations from the past that you’d much rather forget can disrupt your life, changing your mood or bringing back old negative feelings you thought you had buried.

RELATED: What It's Really Like To Live With Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Your memory works as a complex system that learns new things, stores them, and calls on them when they are needed. These recollections can be saved in your long-term or short-term memory banks.

In the way you process memories, most memories are attached to strong emotions; the more impacted you are emotionally, the more likely it is for the event or circumstance to become a long-term memory.

But there are ways to train your brain to intentionally forget a negative memory. Behavioral therapy is one of the methods that can help use memory suppression to rid yourself of traumatic memories.

How to Unsee Something & Forget Certain Memories

We already know that people remember things that give them an emotional response. Research suggests that gradually disassociating a memory from the unwanted emotion can help to forget it.

There are steps you can take to unsee something that causes you pain or to forget certain memories that you want to leave in the past.

1. Identify and acknowledge your memory.

The first step in removing an unwanted person, event, or circumstance from your memory bank is to identify it and acknowledge that it is having a negative impact on you.

In order to get past the memory, you have to face it head-on in the present moment. Think about the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings that it brings up when you think about it.

2. Let yourself be emotional.

When it comes to unpleasant things, it’s human nature to try and avoid them. But with memories you are trying to lose, it is important that you allow yourself to feel the associated emotions.

Experience the emotions so you know why you are doing what you’re doing. If you’re having a hard time processing them or dealing with them, try using some coping techniques.

3. Know your triggers.

Next, you need to know what is bringing these memories back for you. Do they come up when you run into your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend? Does the smell of fresh flowers remind you of someone you lost?

Whatever your trigger is, take note of it and be aware that it is causing unfavorable thoughts when they pop up. You may not be able to avoid triggers completely, but by recognizing them, you can start reassociating them.

4. Replace the memory.

That brings up the next point. When you’re changing your diet, you replace bad food choices with good ones. Memory is no different.

Associating your triggers with positive memories is a great way to replace old ones.

When you see a bouquet of roses, think about that time your husband surprised you instead of your grandma’s funeral. Using this technique to replace memories repetitively will retrain your brain.

5. Change your lifestyle.

There are times when negative thoughts and memories come up more in your life. Stress, insomnia, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity can contribute to the recurrence of painful memories.

A study from the National Library of Medicine confirms that stress is a big factor in how memory works. Living a healthy lifestyle and practicing self-care can go a long way in ridding yourself of debilitating memories.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Let Go Of The Past & Release Painful Relationship Memories

How to Cope with Traumatic Memories

1. Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

One of the mental health modalities that addresses negative thought is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps to identify and change destructive thought patterns that influence emotions and behavior.

In particular, exposure therapy has been most effective in dealing with memories. Like allergy treatments, exposure therapy gradually exposes you to what you fear, making it less traumatic over time.

2. Relax.

Relaxation techniques can help when dealing with traumatic or painful memories. Meditation and deep breathing are just a few ways to deal with overwhelming anxiety tied to a memory.

These relaxation methods are usually tied to exposure therapy. The patient is exposed to the things they are scared of or triggered by. They are encouraged to use these techniques to address it rather than ignore it.

3. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and aware of everything that is currently happening. Most of us are either worried about the past or caught up in anxiety about the future.

When you are being mindful, you can reduce stress by not obsessing over what you want to distance yourself from. Memories are part of your past and do not actively exist in the present.

4. Use self-acceptance.

One of the reasons memories can be so upsetting is the loss of power and control over them. Many of us recall events and wish we could have acted differently.

Accepting yourself as you are and forgiving your past transgressions is a great way to reduce the impact of negative memories. Understanding that you can never be perfect will go a long way in achieving optimal mental health.

5. Come up with new coping strategies.

Sometimes a memory has been emblazoned into your consciousness and there is no hope of ever forgetting it. In that case, you need better coping strategies.

Things like positive affirmations, journaling, or framing the memory differently to see it from a new perspective are additional coping strategies. Find what works for you and practice it regularly.

Of course, if you are having trouble dealing with your memories or associated thoughts, you should contact a mental health professional. A trained therapist can help to work through your triggers and move past the trauma.

RELATED: 4 Ways Childhood Trauma Haunts You As An Adult (& How To Move On)

NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and the author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment & news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.

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