The specificity of self-defining memories can range from highly specific to generic. Younger individuals, on the other hand, perceive bad events or self-defining memories more severely and suffer higher difficulty while recalling them. Self-defining memories are also more likely to be forgotten over time.
Self-defining memories are particularly important for people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders. These individuals may recall past negative experiences in great detail but have problems recognizing positive aspects of their lives. The goal is for them to be able to identify both negative and positive experiences so they can learn how to cope better with stressors today and in future life situations.
Details that describe what was going on in your life at the time are preserved in self-defining memories. You may recall, for example, a sensation of concern that came over you because you thought you were not financially stable and wondered whether you were pulling your spouse down in this way. Other people could have felt this same concern, but it is you who has this memory. What's more, you can say with confidence that you were worried about finances on June 4, 2004 because it is a Sunday and the newspaper carries an article about financial stability.
You also remember conversations you had and events that occurred. For example, you might recall details of a conversation you had with your partner several months before they died suggesting that there was a problem between them that you did not know about. Self-defining memories are important because without them, how would we know anything about our lives?
People use their self-defining memories when they want to start a new project or move house. They need information about their past to do these things successfully. For example, if they want to open a business, they will ask themselves questions such as "Who are my best customers?" and "Where do most of my clients live?". The answers to these questions will help them decide what kind of business to start.
Self-defining memories are also useful when you want to understand why you feel or act the way you do.
They discovered that older persons had more broad memories that connected numerous experiences together and that, in general, older adults felt more favorably about their self-defining memories, even if the recollections were of bad occurrences. The researchers concluded that, as we age, we build up a portfolio of personal stories that help us understand who we are.
Our self-defining memories change as we get older because we have more opportunities to experience new things and to reflect on past events. As we learn more about ourselves through these experiences, we create new memories that influence what future memories will be important for us to retain.
For example, if someone loses their job when they are young, they may decide that working hard is only worthwhile if they receive financial reward for their efforts. If this person later finds work that they enjoy but makes less money, they might change their mind and decide that making good use of their time is enough incentive to keep them busy. Such new information would lead to the creation of new memories related to learning how to handle unemployment. Over time, these memories would come to influence how this individual defines themselves as hardworking or not hardworking depending on whether they are employed or not.
Younger individuals probably have fewer specific memories than older people because they have more opportunities to explore and experiment with their world.
Memory is crucial in the establishment of identity and the development of a good sense of self. As a kid grows and encounters new things, a component of the brain constructs a story out of these encounters, and over time, a sense of self emerges. This is referred to as autobiographical memory (AM). The more AM objects that exist, the more likely it is that a person will have a strong sense of self.
When something happens to us that changes how we think about certain aspects of ourselves or our world, we call this an "identity crisis". An example would be if someone close to you was killed in a car crash. Your sense of self would be affected because now you have to figure out what kind of person you are without your best friend or teacher. You would have an identity crisis because you could no longer define yourself by those things.
Your AM stores information about all these different experiences, and when they come up in conversation, it's like bringing back those memories. If you talk about your high school days, for example, people might remember you as being smart or funny or both. These are attributes you had back then, which is why others remember you that way. Your friends and family also know you well enough to tell stories about you; these stories are also memories from your past.
You can think of AM as the foundation of personal history.