The big news this last week was the remembrance of 9/11. Important though it is to remember, I want to talk about the balancing act of remembering and forgetting. Both are critical to our ability to stay resilient in the face of day-to-day stresses as well as handling major trauma in life.
I have done some research over the last couple of years into PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). We mostly associate it with warriors returning from the front lines, but anyone can suffer from PTSD after experiencing trauma. This includes experiences ranging from domestic violence to war, and from earthquakes to fallen towers.
One of the key things about recovering from trauma is finding the right balance between remembering and forgetting. When trauma hits, it becomes part of who we are, and we must honor that new aspect our being. But if we dwell in it, we become victims, lost in a swirl of complaining and even suffering. That’s where learning to forget–letting in the hazy view of memory that time affords us–becomes a key factor in regaining our strength.
Part of my work includes consulting with organizations on how to stay resilient. Looking at PTSD has been part of my research for those programs. And in conducing that research, I have also come across a terrific description of resilience. The research actually comes from the Department of Homeland Security. They have identified three phases in human resilience: resist, absorb and restore.
People who are resilient build up a resistance to stress and trauma. And oddly enough, the way we do that is by experiencing stress and trauma. Think of it like “resistance training” at the gym, or the old adage “no pain no gain.” By putting ourselves into situations that build our strength, we actually learn to resist some of the bad effects of stress and trauma.
But life happens—whether it be hurricanes or people who hurt us. And when it does, the next best thing to do is absorb the hit, roll around in it for a while, then start looking for ways to restore our strength and our power.
Sounds simple enough. But we know it’s not easy. And that’s where forgetting comes in. We want to remember 9/11 enough to honor those who sacrificed, but we want to forget enough to allow us to build our strength and move on. What do we do differently in the future? How do we avoid this happening again? What else is possible?
Holding on to the past keeps us stuck. Forgetting loosens us up to take on the next challenge. So what in your life needs a little fine-tuning as you balance remembering with forgetting? No time like the present to actively tweak the balance in favor of moving forward.