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Adler

Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 7

Chapter 9

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Chapter 8: Thoughts in Early Memories: The Rocket Scientist

            In many cases, it is not the activities that take place in the memory that matter as much as what the individual recalls she was thinking in the memory. As we will learn in Chapter 18, which delves into interview questions, it is therefore always important to ask a person what she was thinking during the incident she recalls. Considering the following memory:
            One man recalled that he had learned how to fly a remote control model plane that belonged to his neighbor. He wanted a similar plane for his birthday, but, instead, he received a small plane propelled by a rubber band.
            If we were just to focus on the chain of events, this memory might tell us, “There is something I want, but I am disappointed.” Our subject, however, had a different meaning attached to this memory. He recalled thinking, “I’ve learned how to fly the plane, so now I should have the real thing.” In his adult life, he was a construction worker who handled large equipment. He had worked with fork-lifts, bulldozers and even cranes. In his work, he constantly enjoyed mastering new types of equipment; if he mastered a machine (akin to the remote control airplane of his childhood) then he sought to be rewarded by graduating to the next piece of heavy equipment.
            Thus, taken alone, the events in a memory cannot explain everything. It is important to know what a person thinks or feels about those events.
            Below are a series of fictitious memories for you to interpret. In each case, the  thoughts accompanying the memories have also been provided. As you have in previous chapters, take a moment to jot down your preliminary interpretations of these sample memories.

The Rocket Scientist: Memories

1) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: I’d better not do that again.

2) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: I’m going to be in trouble with Mom.

3) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: How am I going to hide this from Mom?

4) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: I actually thought it would go higher.

5) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: It went way higher than I expected.

6) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: What would happen if I pointed it straight ahead instead of up?

7) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and my brother wanted to try, too.
Thought: He might get hurt.

8) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and my brother wanted to try, too.
Thought: He should play with his own toys.

9) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and the bottle cracked.
Thought: I’d better find a new bottle.

10) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and the bottle cracked.
Thought: Now I can’t play anymore.

The Rocket Scientist: Interpretations

1) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: I better not do that again.
This individual is thinking, “I have made a mistake, and it is a reminder not to make a similar mistake.” This person could be cautious as an adult, or, quite the opposite, his life could be a series of accidents followed by regrets. To interpret this memory, it is necessary to do some more digging.

2) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: I’m going to be in trouble with Mom.
This individual is thinking about the consequences of his actions. Specifically, he is concerned about how his mistake will be perceived by an authority figure. This individual may expect negative reactions from authority figures.

3) I was playing with a bottle rocket. I aimed it wrong, and it went through a window. Thought: How am I going to hide this from Mom?
This may be the memory of someone who wishes to avoid the consequences of her mistakes. It is also possible that this memory indicates an overly severe or abusive mother.

4) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: I actually thought it would go higher.
This person may expect more out of life than life delivers. A rocket soars as high as a tree, but she expects it to soar higher. This could well be the early memory of a pessimist.

5) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: It went way higher than I expected.
This individual is surprised by the height the bottle rocket soars. This may be the memory of an optimist.

6) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and it went as high as a tree.
Thought: What would happen if I pointed it straight ahead instead of up?
This individual is apparently experimental. She is possibly also reckless.

7) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and my brother wanted to try, too.
Thought: He might get hurt.
This person shows a concern for the wellbeing of others.

8) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and my brother wanted to try too.
Thought: He should play with his own toys.
This person may well be selfish as an adult.

9) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and the bottle cracked.
Thought: I’d better find a new bottle.
The memory suggests that this person is a problem solver. When the bottle breaks, he immediately thinks about the need to find a new bottle.

10) I was playing with a bottle rocket, and the bottle cracked.
Thought: Now I can’t play anymore.
This person likely becomes stalled by life’s problems. Unlike the person in Example 9, she is completely waylaid by the broken bottle.

The Lesson, Not the Event

            Notice how some identical chains of events are repeated throughout the ten preceding scenarios. Yet, the thoughts that the individual attaches to these brief vignettes – his or her opinion about the events – completely colors the meaning of each memory.

An early memory is like an inkblot test; the person projects his own meaning onto the event.

            Recall that Adler emphasizes that “it is of no importance” whether a memory is even of a real event.[1] What matters is that the individual remembers a certain incident in a particular way and attributes his or her own meaning to the recollection. Therefore, when exploring early memories, it is paramount to uncover the meaning that a person ascribes to his or her recollections.
            Memories, in Adlerian theory, are like the famous Rorschach inkblot tests. What appears on an inkblot is actually neutral, but the person being tested projects elements of his or her own personality onto the inkblot. One person may see a butterfly where another sees an ominous splash of blood. Always, memories are less the accurate recollection of childhood events than they are the reflection of the adult’s opinion about life.
            Now that we have practiced interpreting the thoughts in early memories, let us turn to something more elusive – the feelings in early memories.

Notes

1. What Life Could Mean to You, 15

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(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)