I love a good story and I particularly enjoy meeting new people who share pieces of their story with me. What I have noticed is that we all have such unique paths and each of us have our own unique set of circumstances that have come together over time to make our stories what they are.
I love to hear the stories from my clients, and the more challenging the client, usually, the more interesting the story. Each person has his or her own cast of characters and each has had a series of experiences that is remembered in a way unique to only his or her perception of the events at the time.
I realized over the weekend that we generally do not get the whole story, but perhaps we get a few anecdotes that may give us some indication about other parts of the story. We can also decide which anecdotes we share with others. I actually began to wonder if it is possible to tell an entire story, since it is likely that our story, as well as our perception of the story, is continuing to evolve.
As we have more experiences, our perspective of our previous experiences is likely evolving as well. I do not see experiences from my past the same way that I saw them 10 or 20 years ago. My perception of them is within the context of a larger framework that has developed as my story has evolved and as I have developed.
I see that each experience (positive and negative) has contributed to who I am and has provided me with an opportunity to learn. This is not always a perspective I can have in the midst of crisis, although my perception of a crisis has changed as well. It has to be a pretty big deal for me to call it a crisis at this point.
Studies in the area of memory and recall would be consistent with this notion, as it is clear that we amend and adapt our long-term memories. As our perception of ourselves, others and our world changes, so do the memories. Generally, this change is consistent with where we are developmentally and is why eyewitness testimony is so tenuous.
If we are viewing events as a 10 year old, then our cognitive development has not progressed far enough to have the capacity for abstract thought. We will store those memories as concrete/black and white, so we remember something with a clear cause and effect. This happened because that happened. The bigger picture requires abstract cognitive ability, which often does not occur until the age of 12 or more.
But what happens if we hold onto memories from our childhood that are painful, without being aware of how very different our abilities to perceive events are now in comparison? I would expect that at one end of the spectrum, this might account for continued trauma reactions in some people. On the other end of the spectrum, I would imagine that we would be a bit stuck in some area of our lives related to the painful memory.
Can we consciously choose to change the way we perceive such painful memories? I am sure this depends on the emotional charge attached as to the degree of difficulty, but I would believe it is possible. We have to realize that we can view things from our past with adult eyes. If a person can step back far enough from the emotion of the memory and take the observer vantage point, then I think the process begins.
One of the things that I love about teaching the personality psychology course is that my students get to explore their various levels of personality. At the end of the course for their final project, they have an opportunity to share the last five years of their life story and to reflect on how their life story has changed over time and how this has come to be.
Many of them have never had an awareness of the different levels of their personality and the vast number of factors that have interacted to create it. These levels include things such as developmental stage, intelligence measures, genetics, traits, learned behaviors, motivations, perceptions, life experiences, and character adaptations.
I like to reflect along with each student, as they often share how they no longer see something negative or traumatic that happened to them as a child or earlier in their life as a negative thing. It is exciting for me to watch their process because I too have this perspective.
They share how much the experience served as a catalyst to move them forward in their life. Many of them feel compelled to use their experiences to help others who have gone through the something similar.
These students are not just 20-something year olds. My classes usually have an age range from 18 to 50 something. Not long ago, I had a 71-year-old woman in my class who realized during the course that she really could shift her perception of others and her life up to that point.
I was fortunate that she decided to share with the class during discussions about this shift that was happening for her. Her classmates loved that she was sharing as well and some of the youngest ones were reinforcing her new perspective on her past.
She was empowered that she could create the current and future chapters of her life. She was empowered that the past no longer had to remain painful and limiting for her.
The curriculum for this course does not include activities leading to empowerment or conscious problem solving. I do not have the how-to or systematic formula for consciously choosing to change your perception of your life story. I think it helps to know that you can view anything from numerous perspectives.
A good start is to begin to shift your perceptions of right now, which will eventually lead to seeing everything differently. What you see right now does not have to be limited by everything you have seen before.