We have all been there: We’ve all experienced that heartbreak, fight or relationship that scarred us to the bone. We have all heard the same subsequent advice before: “Give it time.”
Time heals all wounds, right? Is there truth to that?
What feels like false hope might actually have some scientific explanation as to why our brains make us see things differently throughout time.
Memory is encoded in different ways, from sensory to short-term to long-term. What makes us encode long-term memories depends on how meaningful we consider the information to be.
While current events may linger in our short-term memories for a few months, they eventually make their way to long-term memories or we forget them. What makes it interesting is the process of how this happens.
A part of the limbic system in the brain, called hippocampus, is involved in the process of transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. However, this consolidation does not happen overnight. It may take upwards of a few months before the information is encoded into the temporal lobe.
Therefore, once we give it time, our brains will transfer information from the hippocampus to the temporal lobes and we will perceive things differently. Could this, combined with space and ideally, wisdom, be the reason why we do perceive things differently once we give them some time?
We have time to think, reflect and ponder our experiences. This gives us a chance to evaluate events from a distance in order to see them more clearly.
That guy who didn’t treat us how we deserve to be treated? That friend who was more of a downer than a supporter? That situation that seemed like nothing good could come of it? Good riddance.
There might other reasons why time is crucial to our perceptions. There are different types of memories, including semantic, episodic and flashbulb. While they are all different, they all have one thing in common: They are all reconstructive.
That means that our brains constantly reconstruct how we remember our experiences, and therefore, we never remember things exactly as they transpire.
Imagine an event — whether it was a trip, a party or a relationship — that occurred at one point in your life. You probably remember it happening a certain way.
After a few days passed, or maybe even a week, however, something happened. You might talk about the party with a friend who then tells you something he or she noticed about the event, and suddenly, your memory of it shifts.
Suddenly, the way you recall this event changes. You have obtained new information that directly changes your past perception. You no longer think the way you used to. You have constructed a new memory.
Think of memory as bookshelves that are constantly being sorted, arranged and replaced by newer books. The event that changes your perception may not be as dramatic. Maybe it was a friendship that no longer exists or a change in your surroundings.
It is natural for our memories to fade over time; however, according to the reconstructive memory theory, we reconstruct all of our memories, even if we don’t obtain new information.
That being said, not all reconstructions are negative. Time gives us the ability to appreciate relationships and friendships we’ve had for a long time. We can linger in our memories and differentiate the good from the bad, the worthy from the unfit, and the short-term fun from the long-term happiness.
They say we might not remember what people did, but we can always remember how they made us feel. From time to time, I like to write down my thoughts and include my opinions so that one day, I can re-read them and reflect on what I thought at a given moment and consider why I made the decisions I did.
This is important to me because by the time I circle back to check out my old thoughts, it’s likely that I will have since changed my perspective.
So, the next time you or your friend goes through a difficult time, simply give your emotions some space.
With every passing day, it will only get easier. There’s also the possibility you will form new opinions. Either way, your brain will figure it out for you.
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