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The creation of new memories

Memories are powerful and have all of us in their grip. This is a good thing. It is only by remembering what we did yesterday that we identify ourselves with the person who did these things. It makes us human. But as we know, there are some memories we’d really like to forget and some that just keep knocking at the door.

With the help of counselling and 12-step work, I can – mostly – handle painful memories or have processed them to the point that they don’t hurt or control me anymore. It is possible. Not that I believed it was until I decided to give it my best shot.

I once wrote to BBC6 Music with a suggestion for their Memory Tapes slot. I proposed nine tracks: three from my past where I could now handle what they reminded me of; three that I’d reabsorbed and associated with different memories; and three that were the kind of music I didn’t like but that had created positive new memories. Being open-minded is essential here – it helps me explore new ideas and experiences but to do that it helps to let go of ones that no longer serve me.

I believe letting go of some memories is directly connected to our capacity to change. Though there are some that provide succour, comfort, warmth and even entertainment. The further the darker memories receded, the more the healthier ones surfaced.

Last month I was privileged to deliver the keynote speech at The Counselling Foundation’s graduation event. An overwhelming and humbling experience. It was also my first ever speech of its kind, having spent a lifetime avoiding public speaking. At the core of my resistance were humiliating memories of failed attempts during my formative years. As I opened the speech with: my first ordeal was the school nativity play. A rite of passage for many kids. I was a reluctant king and had three words: “See yonder star.” Easy. But the spirit of Yoda descended on me and it came out as “Star yonder see.” I was mortified. But the memory was truly embedded due to family ridicule every year. I smile at the memory now, even more so after knocking down another fear and doing the speech.

Nativity leads me onto, of course, the imminence of Christmas. While joyful for many, it can be a lonely, depressing and challenging time for others. There are many resources available but I found this one from Mind particularly useful and practical.

By the way, BBC6 Music never got back to me about my suggestion. Let it go, Sean, let it go…

Author: Seán Robinson, Trustee of The Counselling Foundation


We provide a BACP accredited counselling service, however if you are in crisis, please call the Samaritans who are available 24/7 on 116 123 or call 111.

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