Psychological Reasons Of Forgetting

Therapy for Adults and Adolescents in Farmington Hills, MI

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For a moment, let’s together, writer and reader, take on a theoretical approach to the hidden attributors behind forgetfulness.  Memory of our life experiences brings up a variety of uncomfortable emotions such as fears of rejection and abandonment. There are certain words that undeniably can touch the very center of our minds and hearts.

Let’s begin --

By considering how we use the word “forget” in day-to-day conversation. We say things like……

“I…forgot….I keep forgetting….forget me not….I’ve been forgotten….

I’m forgetful….that was forgettable….don't forget me...

to forget and forgive….to forgive but not forget….

…don’t worry, I wont forget

….forget about it!”

Look at how many ways the word, “ forget ” is used in the English language. This emotionally provocative word takes on so many meanings depending on the situation in which it’s said. I’m sure all of us can vividly remember a time when we forgot about something important to do such as picking up a gift for a loved one’s birthday.  Forgetting can prompt feelings of shame and thoughts of self-criticism.

It’s amazing how the act of remembering and forgetting play such a central role in the way we live our lives.

It takes a delicate balance to figure out where that sweet spot is of how much remembering is too little, and forgetting is too much.  There is a time to remember, and a time to forget.  Knowing when to do the right thing requires a lot of insight and diligence. So, why to get mad at ourselves when we forget something important?  There are more questions than answers to solve this mystery.

Barbra Streisand’s 1974 hit song, “The Way We Were” shares some timeless answers.

***For the younger readers….This song is a classic hit. If you’ve never heard of this song or music artist, it is worth checking out!

Here are a few sentimental lyrics:

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet

what’s too painful to remember,

we simply choose to forget.”

It's human nature to want to avoid pain, not necessarily to experience hedonistic pleasure.  Rather, people want to generally feel good.  Humans seek knowing how to  feel “good enough” to get by.  Perhaps we are wired this way for the purpose of surviving in the human race.

People don’t want to have to suffer.  The need to avoid emotional pain (that can come from trauma, loss, or ongoing psychological abuse to name of few examples) can be so overpowering to the self. It can take people to the dark side and do things they never thought they would do.

Avoidant thinkers can find themselves in destructive situations such as:

*Objectification of others ( i.e. using others as a sex object, power-hungry type bullying, being narcissisticly abusive; projecting or displacing anger or grandiosity onto others)

*Running Away (i.e. working too many hours at the office, excessive exercising at the gym, spending too much time at a relative’s home)

*Addictive Behavior (i.e. using drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, gambling)

The brain wants to play a trick on itself to imagine life without emotional pain, even if it’s for a short time.  The problem is, for example, once a drunken stupor is over, all is left is a nasty hangover. The problems didn’t go anywhere. It was just a temporary break from reality.

The truth is that life can rear its ugly head and present unspeakable events resulting in painful distress or tragic loss.  It’s the emotional pain that sets in when we get hurt by a person, situation, a verbal statement or an action. It’s then- that we store our mental impression of these experiences.  The way we take In information reflects on how we  initially react to what has occurred. What we think is based on our own subjective interpretations. How we store our memories largely influences our attitudes and behaviors.

Some Psychological Culprits Behind the Act of Forgetfulness:

***This is what I came up with.  Try coming up with your own descriptions of denial, avoidance, selective attention

Denial: oblivious; lying inwardly to oneself; downplay; dismiss; minimize; repression of past trauma, or on-going abuse

Avoidance :  procrastination, communication breakdown, running away, pushing away others, apathy, emotional disconnect, immature thinking style

Selective Attention: conveniently or self-consciously retelling oneself a more desirable and revised version of the truth. (yielding "selective memory", one's own skewed perception of what has occurred.)

What influences us to choose Remembering instead of Forgetting?

Core Values weigh greatly on the Act of Remembering.

It's important to ask oneself, "How important is it for me the remember" or "Is it worth remembering?";

Individual differences affect how a person demonstrates genuine intention to reach short,  and long term goals;

People who are more likely to choose to remember believe that remembering “that important goal/moral/standard” is an obligation;

Poeple who are deeply committed to the adherence to laws, rules, and religiosity are more likely to remember.

People who need structure, regiments, schedules, and predictabilty make remembering more of a priority.


When do we remember too much ?    Competitive and highly intelligent thinkers put tremendous pressure on themselves to store an unrealistically large amount of information.  We see this people who have  photographic memory or strong capacity for analytical and detailed thinking.  Unfortunately, we also see this “remembering too much” behavior in people who are control freaks, grudge holders or overly anxious.

Here is mental brainteaser for you.  Ask yourself these questions:

*How much does STRESS play of role in forgetting?

*How much does DEPRESSION affect forgetting?

If depression and memory could have mouths to speak, they would say to the other…. “We don’t get along!”

If you or someone you know is suffering from overwhelming stress or depression, you can call Rebecca for help at 248-459-9191.

Some Final Thoughts…..

Being able to forget can be a blessing.

Healing takes on a life of its own

when the mind can release negative thoughts,

or distressing emotions

which no longer serve us a purpose.

Our mental load gets lighter, and we can get on with the business of living.

It’s as if these thoughts and feelings

are literally taking up precious space in our mind.

Now, we’ve created a blank space

to begin again,

and reevaluate how we’d like to interpret our history.

The mind is a happy mind when it achieves

clarity, decisiveness, and inner harmony.

Our intuition tells us

when the time is right,

when it’s time

to let go and move on.

It’s important to retain information

It’s essential to be aware of reality.

There’s a spectrum of remembrance.

Clip art of 4 people holding hands

It’s human to forget things,

And as humans,

We can’t forget that.

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