Here’s something I have been thinking a lot about lately – do you remember the first time someone said something really nasty about you? The first time you were hurt by someone else’s words? I’ve talked to a couple of friends about this. One said he was about 4, another said she was around 9. Me? I remember some really nasty girls in my neighborhood picking on me when I was 4 or 5. I also remember two mean girls from my kindergarten class picking on me because my mother was a teacher at the school. In second grade was the first time I remember someone saying something to me about my appearance.
Why have I been thinking about this? Because the last couple of weeks I have had the chance to spend a bunch of time with my nieces. Once they are over five years old, each one gets a Special Day with Aunt Dawn. We do all sorts of things they love – go to parks, museums and the zoo. We buy stickers, books, and candy. We have picnics in the park and climb playground equipment. They get to pick what they want for lunch and we always have ice cream later. It’s pretty fabulous.
I have three nieces. One isn’t 5 yet, but the other two are old enough to have had a few special days. These girls are such interesting, fun, sparks of joy. I love spending time with them. And it’s easy to think that they are “so” young that they won’t remember a lot. But they do. They both vividly remember their past Special Days. They remind me of what we did or of things that happened. One of them recounted to me a story I had told her about a famous house in my neighborhood. I didn’t remember telling her about it, but she remembered hearing about it.
Thinking about all the good they remember, brought me to thinking about the bad. I was younger than they are now, and it’s been over 40 years, and I still remember it.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I know that it is part of life. And in a way, it’s part of what makes us who we are. On the less than shiny side, it teaches us about social conformity, how to deal with our emotions, and how to handle mean people. Those are things we need to know in life. On the more positive side, it can teach us empathy.
I even know why we hold onto it so long. I’ve been reading a lot about how much of our subconscious mind is formed during those early years. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we really remember the bad things. It’s good for us to remember that fire is hot and can burn, that the yellow berries make us sick, or to look for hornet’s nests when walking through grass. Our primal brains need us to know this stuff to keep us healthy. But that brain doesn’t know the difference between a backside full of hornet stings and that mean, nasty girl saying stupid things to you. You hurt either way. And there are two problems here. One is reinforcement. You might only see those yellow berries in the spring, but you see people every single day. The other is variability, Eventually, you learn that the yellow berries are a bad idea, but the red ones are delicious and good for you. People don’t work that way. Any of them, even people you love, (sometimes especially people you love,) can hurt you. That puts us on high alert.
If you think of it this way, that is why it is so hard to remember the good things. Lots and lots of good things happen at those ages too. People love us, they encourage us, they give us hugs. But unless it is something really special, we don’t remember it vividly 40 years later. Why would we? Positive feedback doesn’t keep us from being killed.
Here’s another funny thing about it – unless you were a habitual bully, it’s pretty unlikely you will remember the bad stuff you said to others at that age. I guarantee that the girls who were mean to me way back when don’t remember it. And honestly, at that age, who knows – I might have said something hurtful to someone else. If I did, I don’t remember it. I only remember the things people said to me.
So why bring this up on a blog about personal nutrition and wellness? The obvious answer is that the heart and mind are part of being healthy and well. What we hold inside of us is part of who we are. Also, I want to help people with their health, and some of that might be looking at these old stories we tell ourselves. Where they true back then? Are they true today? Are there other ways of looking at it? I think a lot of healing can happen if we dig deep.