How to Manage Painful Memories and Live with Joy

A photo, a smell, a melody . . . can trigger a memory and emotion.

I’m a Sanguine. If I have a memory it has an attached emotion.

If fact, when Rev asks me if I remember an occasion, event, or travel experience my response is typically, “I don’t know, did I cry.”

Happy tears. Sad tears. It doesn’t matter. Emotions make an imprint on my heart and mind.

Each of us carries around a sack full of emotional memories. Some are good, some bad, a few are exciting, and others may even frighten.

And years later, they can still make us smile or sit down for a good ol’ cry.

Each imprint on our hearts and minds becomes part of us and like it or not, influence our beliefs and attitudes.

And that’s where we need to be careful.


If you and I allow a memory too much influence over our present or our future . . . we have a problem.


Because factors like feelings, opinions, the people involved, and physical conditions affect and distort them.

Every memory you have is filtered through a lens of your own personal perspective.

Which is why eye witnesses will have completely different stories when giving detailed accounts of an event.

Emotions and past experiences will always influence your perspective, perception, and therefore, your memories.

So, let me ask you…

What most influences your memories?

Christian Psychologist, David Seamands said,

We cannot change our memories, but we can change their meaning and the power they have over us.

With God’s help, you and I can control our memories and not allow them to control us.

Have you ever had a day ruined because you were unable to shake an unpleasant memory? Or had a perfectly good experience deteriorate because an unexpected unpleasant past moment popped to mind?

Yep, me too!

But I’m learning…

There is good news. You and I don’t have to let our memories mess with our today or our tomorrow.

How to Manage Painful Memories and Live with Joy

1. Make a list of the painful memories

The ones that make it hard for you to maintain your daily joy. It’s not a pleasant process but knowing what thoughts are likely to steal your joy is the beginning of stopping them before they take over.

We break down every thought and proud thing that puts itself up against the wisdom of God. We take hold of every thought and make it obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

God is greater than your memories and He is able to help you focus on better things.

2. Identify the emotions you’ve attached to your memories.

Especially the joy stealers. Ask the why behind your feelings and challenge yourself to question whether or not you’re allowing your personal filter to distort the truth.

Lay every painful memory at the foot of the cross and ask the Lord to deliver you from the past.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

3. Accept that not everyone remembers things the same way.

Everyone filters their memories through a lens of personal perceptions and emotions. Admit that the other players in your memory will probably not remember things the same way you do. That’s okay.

4. You may not be able to change your memories but you can change the power your memories have over you.

With God’s help, you can have peace and move on.

Forgiving does not erase a bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. ~Lewis Smedes

5. Pray!

Ask God to give you everything you need to manage your memories and your attitude.

Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.” ~Samuel Rutherford

6. Keep a notebook/journal/jar of happy memories. 

Keep it where family members can write their favorite memory of the day or week and read through them together each month. Then save your favorites to read together on New Year’s Eve. 

“When you cannot rejoice in feelings, circumstances or conditions, rejoice in the Lord.” ~A.B.Simpson

7. Improve your Emotional Quotient.

Practice identifying your feelings and managing them. It’s crucial for your success and happiness. I read recently that people with high EQ’s make the best employees.

So, don’t run from your emotions. Good or bad they are part of who you are. Learn how to manage and use them for success.

I remember the days gone by; I think about all that You have done, I bring to mind all Your deeds. I lift up my hands to You in prayer; like dry ground, my soul is thirsty for You. Psalm 143:5–6 (GNT)

8. Make new memories! 

Make lots of happy memories. Everyone has painful memories but with intentional effort, it’s possible to make plenty of positive memories to overshadow the difficult ones.

Rev and I have a date that has painful memories attached to it. So we intentionally do things that day to make new happy memories. We even picked up our puppy, Sadie, on that particular date so we’d have something happy to remember each time that date rolls around.

Remember – memories pop up when you least expect them. You’ll love celebrating the happy memory surprises, but the painful ones not so much. But you don’t have to let them control you.

With God’s help, you have the power to choose your attitude and live your life with joy, focused on happy memories and blessings.

A prayer for God’s help with emotion management.

Father, by Your grace, help me manage my emotions. Memories and their attached emotions are part of life but with your help, I believe I can live with joy. Please help me to focus on my blessings as I surrender every past painful memory to Your love and grace. In Jesus name. Amen. 

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Thanks! And God bless!

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