Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Autobiographical Memory in Transsexual Individuals Who Have Undergone Genderaffirming Surgery: Vivid, Self-Focused, but Not So Happy Childhood Memories

Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Autobiographical Memory in Transsexual Individuals Who Have Undergone Genderaffirming Surgery: Vivid, Self-Focused, but Not So Happy Childhood Memories

Article excerpt

Pages: 42-62

DOI: 10.11621/pir.2017.0204

Keywords: autobiographical memory, transsexualism, gender identity, self-continuity, Life Line, life story

Downloads: 166


One of the main rationales behind possessing autobiographical memory is to keep a sense of personal consistency over time throughout ongoing life changes and personal transformations. One commonly cited model of autobiographical memory is the self-memory system (SMS) model, which emphasises a reciprocal relationship between autobiographical memory and the self that supports self-coherence (Conway, Singer, Tagnini, 2004; Conway, 2005). Self-continuity is considered to be one of the three fundamental functions of autobiographical memory in conjunction with social bonding and directing behaviour (Bluck, Alea, Habermas, & Rubin, 2005; Bluck & Alea, 2008). It is equally important that autobiographical memory provides a database for self-concept and self-esteem; hence, it is worth note that we are what we remember about ourselves. In other words, people rely on their memories to understand who they are and formulate where they are going (Bluck, Alea, Habermas, Rubin, 2005).

The most popular life metaphor is a journey (Kovecses, 2005). Following this metaphor, we can say that in a journey of human life, a straight road one day might make a sharp turn. There appear to be life experiences that evoke character transformation in a way that one may feel “I am not who I was before”. This kind of event is termed “transitional”, that is, a type of event that4 changes everything” (Brown, 2016). Coping with a transitional event, a person may change previously stable personality characteristics so that “old” autobiographical memories become unsuitable as an appropriate database for the “new” self. As a result, persons may become alienated from their past or alternatively may enhance their cognitive efforts in combining past and present to restore consistency. For the latter it is necessary to transform one’s life story in accordance with the consequences of transition. Quite similar, a study by Beike and Landoll (2000) proposed three types of mnemonic reaction to inconsistency between past and current selves: providing justifications for the inconsistency, recruiting additional specific events that oppose those recalled, and putting the event behind oneself. It seems that all the mechanisms mentioned above impact autobiographical memory after the transitional event. However, to our knowledge, there is no research on whether the same mechanisms are employed in cases of successful adaptation or maladaptation to a new situation.

The first possible reaction to transition consisting of estrangement or even derogation of a life period prior to transition is conceptualised in the theory of temporal self-appraisal (Ross &Wilson, 2000). According to this theory, by disparaging the past, people are able to enhance their current self-view, perceiving themselves as improving over time. The authors have demonstrated that the lower the subjective relevance of the past self is to the current self, the higher is the tendency to retrieve negative memories about the past self (Ross & Wilson, 2003).

An opposite prediction follows from the transition theory developed by Brown (2016). It contends that autobiographical memory is structured by significant life transitions. The examination of the temporal distribution of both word-cued autobiographical memories and memories put on a timeline revealed that they tend to “pile up” around transitions (Nourkova, Mitina, Yanchenko, 2005; Shi & Brown, 2016). Hence, transitions make temporally and thematically relevant memories more accessible. This strategy seems helpful for coming to terms with the challenge of changes by autobiographical reasoning, that is, an attempt to make meaningful connections between the past self and the current self (McLean & Fournier, 2008).

As far as awareness of transition follows the transitional event, the modulation of autobiographical memories preceding the transition should be addressed for retrieval but not encoding. …

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