The memories we formed in childhood are some of the enduring touchstones to who we are now, and the people we have become. Some of these memories remain front of mind, and accessible. Others rise up in us when we least expect them to, perhaps a smell or a taste sets off a stream of associations, and suddenly from wherever we are, we remember something from long ago.
Some are positive, some negative. Sometimes a memory of childhood comes to us out of the blue and we find ourselves travelling back to events long forgotten.
What do you remember from your childhood? How does your story start?
‘I have this memory of being with my father, we are together, having breakfast together. I remember the pleasure I felt, the sense of us enjoying each other’s company. It’s a fragment, I can’t remember the bits on either side of it. We are just there together at that moment. It’s a kind of tiny memory molecule from before he died, it’s happy. I like remembering it. I wish I could remember more.’Anonymous client
For some of us, we are always trying to make sense of ourselves, of our pasts. For others, childhood is remembered as solid, reliable, and safe. Some of us are refugees from problematic childhoods, and the attachment problems and traumatic experiences from that time continue to shape our relationships now. For some of us, our early experiences become the source of problems like retroactive jealousy.
Sometimes, the sense of disapproval we acquired in childhood still shapes our sense of who we are now. Though we are older we might still feel we are that child struggling to be accepted. We feel that we are always stuck behind the 8 ball.
How do we come to terms with our memories of childhood, our beginnings, and find ways to live more creatively now?
Memories of childhood come back to us incomplete. A sense of nostalgia for who we were, or to try to understand things that happened to us. For some of us, making sense of our childhoods’ is a lifelong project. It is like trying to circumnavigate a strange island. At times and places so familiar, at others so hard to organise and piece together.
‘…the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.’Virginia Woolf, diaries
Remembering the past is an ongoing work in progress. Like historians who study the past to better understand the way conflicts and resolutions came into being, we pay attention to ourselves, to our memories. Making space for ourselves like this can provide us with the chance of improving our stability now, in the present. Just because you didn’t write a diary in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start to do so now. We can work like archaeologists, gradually uncovering more of ourselves, of our old attachment history. The places in memory where things remain, the places where there are holes where once there must have been more. Like lost toys and dolls and teddy bears, we remember the lost things even though they are physically lost.
Our childhood memories are shaped by the events we lived through
Traumatic events can damage memory. Sometimes it seems more the case that the holes in our memories, the traces of the way we are incomplete to ourselves, tells us more about the troubles and conflicts we have lived through.
In childhood bereavement, in events that were traumatic and too much to bear, our minds, under intense pressure to adapt to what we were going through fails to hold onto memory. In such cases it is the lack of information, the sense that we cannot retrieve our stories that says much about who we are.
When we try to tell others about us, it is the memories of childhood that automatically set out the place from which our stories start. Events, the family we lived with, the dynamics of those relationships, the history of schooling.
‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
What made sense in the past and in childhood, the decisions and adaptations that were necessary then might be different for us now. When we focus on these memories, we become like mental time travellers. These memories are like a living compass, orienting us now.
Researchers speak about the forgetting curve, the sense that memories pre three years old, before six years old become lost to us. For others, poets, philosophers, psychotherapists this is not so clear. We remember fragments of experience, of feelings, of places and they remain vital to us. Psychotherapy provides a confidential place to explore your memories of childhood, the act of remembering can surface not just feelings, but energy. What might you be able to do with that energy?
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of our childhood memories, the way the past has affected us and still leaves its mark on the things we do now.
By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, and how to start living more fully again, and start to have healthy relationships.
The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings, and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.
I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.