Memories That Define Us May Help Depression, Bipolar Disorder


There is no reason why most of us should know what SDMs are, but there is a reason we should all have them.

SDMs are self-defining memories that are vivid and emotionally charged. Having them tells us what kind of person we are, what our strengths are, and how we became the person we are today.

By reflecting a person’s central goals, values, key life lessons, and conflicts, SDMs are a foundation for personal identity - a sense of self - that guides our life choices.

Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and SDMs

Researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium have found that people who are depressed tend to have more self-defining memories with a negative emotional content than they do SDMs with a positive content.

The Belgium study also revealed people with depression or bipolar disorder have fewer SDMs with a meaning-making component—memories that help construct a meaningful story from life experiences. These individuals have low degrees of certainty and confidence about their self-descriptions as well.

“We believe that SDMs help people improve their self-concept clarity because SDMs are related to the main concerns and values of the individual,” said researcher Aurelie Wagener. “When patients have problems retrieving SDMs, this can threaten their self-perception and how confident they are in describing themselves.”

Wagener also points out that individuals with an unclear sense of self often feel lost and may have trouble envisioning a future for themselves.

Increasing SDMs As Treatment

What the Belgium study suggests is:

  1. Those with depression can benefit by increasing their recall of self-defining memories with positive content.
  2. Those with depression or bipolar disorder can benefit by increasing their recall of meaning-making SDMs.

To improve self-defining memory recall we must ask our self questions such as, “What people, places, or occasions really mattered throughout my life since early childhood,” or “What events have shaped me to be the person I am now?” These questions help us recognize our primary concerns, and the values we prize. They also allow us to remember how we solved past problems, helping us face and tackle current ones.

Therapists and family members can also faciitate the recall of SDMs .

“Doctors and psychologists can help patients retrieve memories that are particularly relevant for their sense of self,” says Wagener. “Family members can assist when patients are not able to recall memories on their own. They might suggest some memories, and the patients could then explain these memories more deeply.”

Source: psychiatry advisor
Photo credit: Moyan Brenn


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