“Reminiscence Bump”–interesting findings for memoir writers

One of my fearless, peerless writers told me she was suddenly experiencing panic attacks. About the same time, I came across a reference to the “Reminiscence Bump.” I think she might have bumped into it.

The “Reminiscence Bump” refers to research indicating that older adults will tend to recall a disproportionately greater number of memories from their lives between the ages of 10 and 30 than at any other time. Some researchers have narrowed the peak of the “reminiscence bump” to just adolescence–memories formed between 13 and 18 years of age.  [more here]

Some researchers think it’s because we’re experiencing more new events during these years, and thus they become the most memorable phase of our lives. Others posit that we recall more memories during this period because during these years we are forging the adult identity we’ll inhabit the rest of our lives.

There’s even research done with children asking them to imagine the life ahead of them. Where do they put most of the events that will occur in their imaginary timeline? That’s right–in the “reminiscence bump,” thus introducing the idea that the bump is cultural, caused by our expectations as much as our life experience.

As we take up an interest in writing about our lives, finding meaning in the arc we’ve lived–which typically happens in later life–the reminiscence bump helps us vividly recall those formative years. The thing memoirists need to know is that the bad will come with the good. I think my fearless, peerless writer has been prying the lid of traumatic memories of coming of age.

When she mentioned her distress to me, I mentally ran down the curriculum I’d taught in the workshops she’d attended–have I touched on “writing the dark” lately? There are techniques for managing your mind while working with painful memories. It’s possible to “go there” without letting “there” flood into “here” with a load of painful flotsam.

Note to self–bring discussion of those techniques back into the classroom curriculum soon, and regularly. Send no writer into the cave of memory without a spool of thread and a friend to stand watch.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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4 Responses to “Reminiscence Bump”–interesting findings for memoir writers

  1. Pat McNees says:

    An excellent piece, Sarah.


  2. Terrific, Sarah. Thanks. You got me thinking….


  3. Annie Payne says:

    Great article, Sarah and very thought provoking. I’d love to know more about the ‘piece of string, to guide writers back from the dark place ‘.


  4. Pingback: Two tips on “dealing with the dark” | True Stories Well Told

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