psychology, that's random

Telling stories to the remembering self

I’ve been thinking about Kahneman’s remembering self, and how that part of the self needs memories woven into meaningful stories. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth structure offers a structure for telling stories to the remembering self. No matter how bad a particular experience is, you can probably make it into a story of struggle and growth, of confronting temptations and trials, of finding support where you thought you had none, of being in the wilderness then finally finding yourself again.

Here is Joseph Campbell on the temptations that a hero (or heroine) faces:

The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.

I do find it difficult that the actual experience of life is often so different than how it seems it should be. Telling stories about the bad experiences makes them make sense, turns the difficulty into something desirable, something that leads to learning and growth rather than something to be avoided or denied.


7 thoughts on “Telling stories to the remembering self

  1. I have never resonated more with one of your posts. This is a core of my suchness, especially the retelling of experiences into something desirable. At times it makes my world somewhat Rick-in-Wonderland-like, yet the world is how one perceives it, eh?

  2. I was very interested in Kahneman’s talk too. For me, it ties in was Roger Schank’s book ‘Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intellegence’. He relates intelligence to telling and listening to our everyday stories, “the process of creating the story … creates the memory structure that will contain the gist of the story for the rest of our lives. Talking is remembering”; and thinks we are defined by the stories we tell.

  3. @Rick, you’re lucky your natural bent is to reinterpret things positively, with happy endings. I need to work more on that.

    @Hil: that book looks really interesting, think I’d like to read it.

    @Dad: I was hoping you might find it helpful.

  4. This post has suggested so many associated insights I find it difficult to comment!! A vague memory it prompted was that there is an interesting ‘cathartic retelling’ in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Island’ (after a frightening cliff fall).

  5. inevitably, as we get older, much older, all we have are our own internalized stories.
    the trick is to keep them positive; not to forget the anti hero as well. the question is what leads to one construct over the other?

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