When we talk about ghosts, we might be referring to a supernatural something, the feature of horror films. We might laugh, consider such things ridiculous. But I’ve been thinking about ghosts a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how we are all haunted, in a way, by the past.
Memories resurface and make themselves known when we least expect it. It can be as simple as seeing a person in a particular coloured t-shirt, or hearing a name, or thoughts wandering idly as we put out the laundry. In seemingly random moments, memories resurface. We can “see” events unfold, again and again. These ghosts are very real.
We all have something in our minds that we regret, that we’re ashamed of, or that has embedded itself, a kind of trauma, to be relived.
The past is a difficult thing to process, when we have already selected out the memories to keep. Often, these are negative memories — the ones that told you you weren’t good enough, couldn’t achieve, or hemmed you in. Why is that?
Why and How We Remember: Accuracy and Survival
According to Ming Zhou, Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Physiology, “We remember who is not good to [us]. That’s how you survive. Those people who are good to you, who don’t bother your survival, you tend to not remember them.”
So, there’s a reason we tend towards the negative: to reinforce survival.
According to Elizabeth Kensinger of Boston College:
“The details you remember about a negative event are more likely to be accurate.”
This is because of the heightened emotional experience attached to the event:
“When we’re having an emotional reaction, the emotional circuitry in the brain kind of turns on and enhances the processing in that typical memory network such that it works even more efficiently and even more effectively to allow us to learn and encode those aspects that are really relevant to the emotions that we’re experiencing.” (LiveScience)