We forget that the very fact of remembering is a continual construction . We constantly revisit our memory and, each time, our memories are reviewed, corrected, reclassified.
We come out of these journeys in time somewhat stunned, with a veil of sadness in our hearts or, conversely, the conscience shrouded in a happy light at the evocation of joyful events, small memories that we thought lost. .
Without our being aware of it, it is with emotions that we build our memory . And, by an effect of complementarity and reinforcement, our memories consolidate our emotions. Our emotions and our brain co-construct our memory.
A recent Italian study by Deborah Pascuzzi and Andrea Smorti sheds light on the importance of autobiographical narrative in regulating our emotions.
But what exactly do we mean by regulation? Psychologically, the regulation of an emotion involves:
Awareness and understanding of an emotion.
The ability to control our behavior when a negative emotion arises.
The use of different strategies to regulate our emotions according to a given situation.
We mainly use two strategies to regulate our emotions:
Cognitive reinterpretation : revising the meaning given to an emotion in order to modify the feeling.
Expressive suppression : controlling, even suppressing the behavior triggered by the manifestation of an emotion.
The autobiographical narrative is one of the best tools at our disposal to try to understand ourselves better. We use it consciously when we decide to shape it and make it a formal writing exercise. But, consciously or not, and often implicitly through a small inner voice, we begin self-narrative at the end of adolescence by trying to reconstruct our past to envision a future that is coherent and that has sense.
Writing, structuring the self-narrative requires special effort. The autobiographical narrative requires externalizing our memories according to a structure and complying with narrative rules.
The autobiographical narrative is a cultural artifact. And an exteriorization from the inside of the individual outward.
Two communicating vessels
Memory influences the regulation of our emotions. And our emotions in turn influence our memory in a continuous back-and-forth movement, like two communicating vessels.
The regulation of our emotions plays a key role in encoding and retrieving our autobiographical memories. Cognitive reinterpretation seems particularly effective in allowing us to interpret important events in our lives in a positive way. Conversely, recourse to expressive suppression provokes, paradoxically, the opposite effect than that initially sought: it makes us relive first and foremost the negative events of our life, the very ones that we wanted to forget.
However, the autobiographical narrative precisely favors the use of the strategy of cognitive reinterpretation, because it is a co-construction actively influenced by the person for whom the narrative is intended.
The autobiographical narrative as a tool for regulating our emotions acts on different occasions:
When an event occurs.
When this event is encoded in memory.
When we remember the event in question.
When the memory of the event is told to someone.
Emotions, regulated in this way, make it possible to correctly encode memories, to recover them and bring more coherence to our lives. Thus, our antecedents no longer escape us; cognitive reinterpretation allows us to tame them and give them meaning. If this exercise is repeated several times, our emotions are revisited, reorganized according to the constructive meaning and coherence we give them.
The Rings of Saturn is a novel written by WGSebald. It is a novel that is not one. Rather, it is a nebula of stories and vanished dreams. The writer, interviewed by Joseph Como, tries to explain the modus operandi he used to write the book. This technique, which he likens to the wandering stroll of a dog, can be used with profit in the process of developing an autobiographical narrative.
A dog, during a walk, muzzles to match, and rushes wherever his nose invites him. Its trajectory is apparently erratic. She is impossible to trace. However, underlines Sebald, invariably, the dog always ends up finding what he is looking for.
It is the same with our memories. One memory leads to another. The contemplation of a photo takes us into the past, reminds us of a place that we once visited. Little by little, connections are made. Often, you have to rack your brains to spot the link between an object and a distant memory. But, if we allow ourselves to be attracted by what intrigues us, if we give it enough time, a web ends up being woven. Just let yourself be guided by curiosity. The small revelations thus follow one another and sometimes give way to larger ones. Surprises await us.
In his book, A Praise of Walking , Macfarlane provides us with another helpful lead in constructing our autobiographical narrative.
He begins his book by reminding us that man is an animal. And that as such, we leave traces of our passage everywhere. We are trace makers. Our path is different from those of our ancestors, and the paths we take have changed over the centuries, but we leave behind us a multitude of traces that just need to be identified and interpreted.
We are also the descendants of hunter-gatherers: another useful metaphor in the practice of autobiography. The hunter in pursuit of his prey, that is to say himself. On the trail of the traces he himself left behind over the years: objects, photos, memories. So many artefacts that he left behind and which allow him to reconstitute what he was, what he has become and what he is in the process of becoming.
If this subject interests you, I will be offering a webinar in a few days on a 7-step approach to success in life and in your projects. The cornerstone of this approach is work on memory and emotions. Click on this link , if you want to be informed as soon as the date is announced.