Alfred Adler (1870-1937), the famous Austrian psychotherapist, emphasized that it is our interpretation of the past, rather than the ‘objective’ past (even trying to explain what the ‘objective’ past is in relation to our own lives is fraught with insurmountable, philosophical complexities) that is crucial is determining its emotional and psychological effects upon us.

Indeed, our pasts are of such complexity that our recollection of it is, of necessity, a simplification and reconstruction. Obviously, that is not to say it is all a reconstruction – we know what school we went to, if our parents got divorced and so on, after all – nevertheless, we all have our own personal narrative about our pasts as a whole; in essence, it is a story we tell ourselves, built on the scaffold of some blunt facts but given personal meaning by the way we interpret and reconstruct its key events and experiences.

Alfred Adler And The Importance He Gave To Our First Memory :

The above is borne out by the importance Alfred Adler placed upon his patients’ first memories. This is so because he was relatively unconcerned about the actual accuracy of this first memory (after all, it was not possible for him to confirm how accurate these memories were). The reason for this relative lack of concern was because Adler realized it is what we believe has happened to us in our lives/childhoods is what really counts.

This does not imply that what we recall bears no resemblance to what happened, only that it is how we recollect our past and what we believe its meaning to be that is paramount.

After all, the effect of false beliefs are just as powerful as those of true beliefs: if a doctor lies to us and tells us we have three months to live and we believe it, its effect is precisely the same on our emotional state as it would be were it true. Our beliefs, in such cases, dictate how we feel – irrespective of reality.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).