How Real Are My Memories?

How Real Are My Memories? |

I vividly remembering my first boyfriend breaking my heart. He remembers me dumping him.

Some people don’t really bother much with remembering; it seems such a useless activity. But most writers are addicted to it.   Alice Munro

Guess I’m a writer, then. My memories are so real and so rich to me, so much a part of who I am and what I care about.

But lately I’ve been wondering, how real are they? I’ve seen my children create memories of things that didn’t happen. I’ve experienced the shock of my brother’s memories contradicting my own. I’ve stopped in the middle of a story, unsure whether the memory is mine or my mother’s.

So the episode of Through the Wormhole on memory was particularly relevant to me. (Through the Wormhole is a series about the big questions—space, time, life, death, meaning—narrated by Morgan Freeman. I highly recommend it.)

In one study, researchers actually changed people’s memories by telling them everyone else remembered an event differently. In another, a psychologist helped people overcome trauma by retelling their story and taking a single dose of medication. Amazing.

I know from experience that while we can’t change the past, we can change our interpretation, our story. Two books were especially helpful in rethinking my own life story: The Stories We Live: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, by Dan P. McAdams, and Memories That Matter: How to Use Self-Defining Memories to Understand and Change Your Life, by Jefferson A. Singer.

Therapy can help, too. Thank you, Seth.

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