Friday 12 May 2023

I remember, I remember... (or maybe I don't)

 When I was in my early 20s I did one of those lifeline exercises: where you draw a line from birth to now, with ups and downs representing the highs and lows of life to date.  It was part of a course I was on, and I think we spent 20 minutes or so on it, and then looked for patterns or something (I don't really remember, to be honest).

But what I do remember very clearly is picking my lifeline up a few weeks later, and realising that I had not included the biggest down of my life so far: the death of my father when I was 17. Reflecting on that, I realised that threw light on how I had handled that great loss: I had not thought about it very much - I had banished it from memory. I suspect I had learned a child not to dwell on unpleasant emotions. That felt like a valuable insight, but I had not thought much about it in the intervening years: I had, to all intents and purposes, forgotten it.

But it came back to me recently, as I have been working on another development programme that asked me to reflect on times when I had been emotionally upset recently. I struggled to remember any: I see myself as being on a pretty even keel most of the time. But I asked Jane, my wise and perceptive wife, if she could remember any such times recently,  She said: 'Yes, this morning!' And as she explained what she was thinking about, I knew that she was right. 

I then realised both that I had failed to register that I was really cross about something (that had happened a while back, but which I was recounting to a friend that morning), and failed to remember that I had been at all animated about it, in telling my friend. Though on reflection (prompted by Jane) I realised that his response (which I had thought a little over the top) was pretty clear feedback that I was telling the story with strong emotional charge.

All of which reminded me of that earlier insight: that one way I deal with disruptive emotions, at least sometimes, is not to register or remember them. Not only that, but my memory more generally is pretty poor: when we start to watch an old film, Jane will remember instantly if we have ever seen it before, however long ago - whereas I can watch it through and still be surprised at the twist in the end...

That has some significant benefits, of course. It means that I am not prone to carrying emotional distress forward (or at least, not consciously) and that I rarely harbour grudges.  It also makes observing confidentiality very easy. But on the other hand, there are some distinct risks, including the risk of not learning from experience, and the risk of not connecting authentically with others.

I already have some strategies to address this, of course. I try to write up my notes of coaching sessions, events I have facilitated, etc very promptly; and I keep a reflective learning diary on a regular basis. But even here, I rarely comment on the emotional charge of events.  So that is my current work in hand, in terms of increasing my self awareness.

And I thought I had better write the intention down here, lest I forget it.


With thanks to Ivana Cajina and Marcos Paulo Prado for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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