Painful memories: Healing the past

Painful memories from the past live on in our bodies and in our minds. That’s just how it works.

Painful memories in our minds

Events from our past live on in our minds as memories, but memories are not facts. Let’s say something happened that we interpreted as bad – painful, traumatic, abusive or whatever. When the event happens, we interpret it with our thoughts, to make sense of it. Our thoughts are biased, they come from our current understanding of the world and what things mean. Our thoughts interpret the event, labelling it good or bad.

So, we have a thought to make sense of what happened, and that thought creates a feeling in us. It’s not the original event that creates the feeling, it’s our thought about it. We store that thought and feeling as a memory – we make a neural pathway of it and each time we recall the event, we recreate our experience of it using this memory – this thought and feeling – strengthening the neural pathway. So, we’ve imprinted our opinion in our memory, not the facts of the event itself.

Postponing the pain of difficult events

With a traumatic event, the energy associated with the event, the thought and the feeling, if we can’t deal with it on the spot our brains file it to be dealt with later. It’s an automatic protective mechanism to get us through the moment without collapsing. This often happens if we are children when the event happens, or if it’s just too traumatic to process, for example war or rape. Our subconscious mind will later yield up the memory for processing and healing, when it thinks we’re ready. Often as adults if we see this coming, we immediately panic and distract ourselves by eating, drinking, social media… etc because it still seems overwhelming and scary – too bad to deal with. In this way we keep the cycle of power of that memory alive.

Painful memories in our bodies

In the body memories manifest as energy stored in our joints, organs, bones or muscles. We hide the energy away, locking it in to the body to be dealt with later. It will come up for processing just as it comes up in the mind – a reminder appears as pain or disease in the body. If we are angry it comes up in the liver or knees; grief or sadness in the lungs; not-good-enough in the spleen; fear in the kidneys or bladder; hatred in the heart; refusal to see behind the eyes; lack of self-support in the lower back; self-esteem in the solar plexus; stress or anxiety in the stomach; refusal to speak our truth in the throat and so on.

We have many unconscious ways to keep the pain locked in the body, such as hardening, injuring or stiffening our bodies; hiding our pain with weight gain or muscle gain; twisting our bodies to shelter the wounded place.

How to heal the memory

Either way, whether you notice pain or disease in your body or painful emotions coming from your memories, there is always an opportunity to heal. For the body, we can use many techniques such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, Vipassana meditation, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Kinesiology to find and release the pain build-up. In the mind we can release it by processing the memory.

Be in the present moment

If you have a recurring memory of a painful or traumatic incident from your past, notice again that the memory is made up of your thought about the event – what you made it mean – and the resulting emotion you created for yourself. Notice also that when you revive this memory in the present, your thought is created right now but the event is still in the past – no matter how awful it was, it has no power to hurt you in the present moment. That’s where your opportunity lies to heal this memory.

Re-think your memory

You can re-interpret the event to create a feeling that helps and supports you now. Choose to make this memory mean that you are now strong, brave and resilient. Decide to make it mean that you learned empathy and compassion, care for others who suffer in a similar way. No matter how awful the event was, you can see it as a resource – something that taught you how to survive hard things. You’re alive now, right?



When you allow yourself a positive interpretation of the past, you don’t have to condone it, just allow that it’s long gone and you don’t want it to rule your future. Decide to make it mean that you became strong and loving and brave. You can choose to forgive, but you really do this for yourself, not for anyone else involved. You can forgive any act, acknowledging that the person committing the act was himself or herself sick and suffering. Forgiveness is the key to releasing the negative effect of the memory in your mind and body, healing the trauma. If you are able to forgive, you are able to let go.

New memories

Your new interpretation of the event will form a new neural pathway, which releases the toxicity of the memory, healing your mind and body. Chronic pain and disease can be alleviated or even healed this way – the cycle of pain can be broken. You have this power already in you. You can make this choice. You’re worth it.

Photos by Unsplash

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