Thursday, August 6, 2009

Early Memories

We literally have hundreds of thousands of interactions and experiences in our lifetime, so why, when we look back over our life, do we have specific memories. Why, when we think of childhood, do we remember very specific events and don't remember others?

As a counselor I have been exploring this (both internally with myself) and processing it with clients. According to my supervisor, "of the thousands of experiences we each have in childhood, we remember those few that symbolically reinforce our lifestyle and belief system (S. Maybell).

An exercise I have had people do, is think about an early memory, describe it, and talk about how they were feeling in the memory. Because this is my blog, I thought I'd share a little bit about my own experience with this (don't you just love parallel processes in clients and therapists?)

When I was 4 years old I went on a trip with my parents and my little brother through the Redwoods. On this trip, we stopped to see the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Experiencing this tourist trap later put perspective on my memory, but as a child I was completely mesmerized with this statue, who was so tall AND Paul Bunyan talked. Children would come up to the statue and talk to Paul and he would answer them. I remember my parents telling me it was time to go back to the car, and a booming voice said "I will be able to hear and see you at your car." I remember feeling both awed (that Paul Bunyan answered me and said that he could see and hear me) and also a bit frightened (for the same reasons).

Looking back, as an adult, I realize that the statue wasn't really talking to me, that it was the guy in the control booth next to the statue. But somehow this memory has stuck with if we keep and think about certain memories because the reinforce our way of viewing the world, then what does this memory say about my worldview?

There are several different things to look for in a memory:
1) self-image
2) world-view
3) gender
4) relationships
5) values
6) goals
7) achievement of goals (s. maybell)

Not all memories reinforce all areas, but it is fun to try and tease out which ones do apply. In my case, I think the biggest thing that I notice, is that this Paul Bunyan image is similar to how I viewed God. God was BIG and a man and could speak in a booming voice from above, both 'seeing' and 'hearing me' no matter how far away I was. And yet, Paul Bunyan had been silent all the time I had been around him, and it was only when I was leaving that I heard his voice. I see myself as small and unable to make my own choices, as I am directed by my parents. My parents are right and I must comply.

So I challenge you to do one of your own memories. Don't worry about doing it perfectly or choosing the earliest memory. It's a fun experiment, and it's teaching me a lot about myself. Now I can see where I got some beliefs and I can choose, now as an adult, to say "um, those aren't working for me anymore. those were created in childhood from a memory and they no longer apply."