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Why We Can’t Remember Our Early Childhood Memories

Early Childhood Memories

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Long, lazy summer days, playing with friends, fighting with siblings, and baking cookies after school are just a few of the childhood memories that may linger in your mind.

Depending on their age, some people have a lot of memories from their childhood, whereas others can only recall a few of them when they are adults. Whatever you do, no matter how diligently you search, you may only come across a few hazy images that fade away as soon as your attention is drawn to them.

For those who are accustomed to hearing about their childhood from friends and family members, the absence of childhood memories may come as a surprise. What’s the big deal if you don’t remember anything traumatic that happened? What exactly is going on that you aren’t aware of? What, after all, did you witness that was so terrifying?

The answer is a resounding no. People frequently experience memory loss during their first few years of life; if you don’t remember much of your early childhood memories, you’re not alone in this experience.

It’s Not Always Because of Trauma

Somewhere along the line, you may have come across the notion that one way people deal with painful memories is by attempting to forget them. It may be difficult for you to let go of the idea that something traumatic occurred during your childhood, especially if you did not have any traumatic events occur during your childhood.

However, even though this is a possibility, it is highly unlikely to be true. The theory of repressed memory can contribute to our understanding of why this occurs.

Repressed Memory Theory

To put it another way, Sigmund Freud was the first to establish a link between childhood trauma and memory loss or repressed memories, according to some sources. In the 1990s, several psychologists made the connection between forgotten childhood abuse and unexplained mental health symptoms for the first time.

Some therapists used the unethical practice of suggestion to assist their clients in recovering so-called repressed memories, which they considered unethical. The re-examination of a large number of “memories” revealed that they were all fabricated.

Researchers will need to conduct more research before they can say with certainty that people can forget traumatic events and later recall them.

When abuse occurs in the immediate aftermath, victims may have fragmented or missing recollections of the event. Regardless of how difficult it is for you to recall specific events from your life, you are almost certain to recall at least a few of them.

Trauma and Memory

While it is assumed that you will not forget everything that happened to you during the ordeal, a review of research published in 2019 shows that abuse has an impact on the way your brain stores memories.

Children may experience dissociation, also known as mental detachment, in response to traumatic events, which may cause their memories of the event to be altered.

When people simply refuse to think about the trauma and shut themselves off from it, this is not the same as actually forgetting it, experts say.

Regardless of how long ago the trauma occurred, it is unlikely that it will ever completely fade from one’s consciousness. Traumatic events are often remembered by survivors, even when they are unable to comprehend what happened at the time of the event.

According to the findings of the study, you are more likely to recall events that you have experienced more than once. If you were subjected to physical or verbal abuse from your parents regularly, you’ll likely carry some of those memories with you into your adult life.

Early Childhood Memories

Additional Reasons for Not Remembering Early Childhood Memories

The first few years of life are often the most difficult to recall. Amnesia in childhood is a common occurrence. Memory researchers have come up with a few different theories as to what causes it, but experts are still unsure.

Memories From Childhood Have Little Emotional Value

If the memory has an emotional component, it is thought to be more powerful. Consider some of your earliest memories to see if this is true for you. They’re most likely tied to memories or experiences that brought up strong emotions in you, such as shame, love, joy, or sorrow.

Emotions in young children aren’t fully formed. You may not feel the same emotional impact from childhood experiences as you would in adolescence or adulthood. As you get older, these memories fade more quickly because they don’t hold as much weight.

Memory Storage and Retrieval are Affected by Normal Cognitive Development

Early childhood is a critical period for the development of cognitive abilities. It is part of this advancement to be able to retain information for longer periods.

An additional aspect of this cognitive development is the production of new neurons by the hippocampus in response to the experience. As new neurons are introduced into existing pathways, your brain integrates them into the existing network. However, while this is beneficial for your future development, it is not beneficial for your existing memories.

Researchers are unsure how these neurons might interfere with early memories or other memory pathways, but they believe it is possible. Furthermore, research into neuroplasticity has revealed that the brain does not stop developing once you reach adulthood, contrary to what was previously believed. A person’s ability to “restructure” his or her brain is a result of the various changes that occur in their daily lives.

Memories Fade Over Time

When we think about it, many of our memories become hazier as we get older. Even as an adult, your memory will continue to improve, but you will not be able to recall every detail.

As you get closer to your adolescent years, your memories of your childhood begin to fade, just as you’re beginning to form a sense of who you are as a human being.

Is it Possible to Recollect Early Childhood Memories?

If you have no childhood memories, it can be discouraging, especially if you have the impression that they are lurking beneath the surface, just beyond reach.

The question of whether or not forgotten memories can be retrieved is a matter of debate among experts, but some researchers believe that those memories have not completely vanished from your brain. Here are some pointers that may be of assistance:

  • Talk More About the Past 
  • Check out Pictures 
  • Visit Familiar Places again

To learn more about repressed memories, neurological disorders, or treatment for emotional trauma in San Diego, call 858-465-7722 to talk to a member of the Mental Health Center of San Diego team today!