2017-09-07 / Guest Column

Some Of The Reasons We Forget Early Childhood Experiences

By Michael Feld, L.C.S.W.
Certified Psychoanalyst
Licensed Psychotherapist

I am often asked by my patients, the very common question – Why can’t I remember much about my childhood? Or – I feel I’ve forgotten so much, why?

Some possible answers to the dilemma of our forgetting childhood experiences were identified by the late psychoanalyst, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. They include:

1. A general normal amnesia which human beings develop for early childhood experiences. One could say that the conscious part of the mind becomes cluttered with memories of current and more recent events.

2. Some people wish to glorify their past in an attempt to compensate for their present suffering. Pretending that they had a good childhood allows them to tolerate current hardships.

3. Other people may truly forget hardships inflicted upon them by their parents because they don’t want to blame them or bear a grudge against them. Society dictates that we should love and respect our parents.

It’s simply just not popular in our culture to fault our parents and we are all in some way dependent on good public opinion. What often happens is that many unhappy adults compensate for their own early hardships by maltreating their own children, since the abuse of one’s own children is rarely met with punishment. These adults usually forget their own abuse and in some strange way believe they are not harming their children and that their children will also forget unpleasant events.

Any attempt to disassociate or cut off from memory one’s own experience of abuse often results in the acting out of that abuse with one’s own children. We simply cannot forget or cut off parts of ourselves without expecting our actions and behaviors to be affected.

One of the primary goals of psychotherapy is to remember the forgotten in an effort to better understand ourselves and work toward changing self-damaging behavior.

I believe that the most significant reason for our forgetting unhappy childhood experiences lies in our fear of experiencing what Karen Horney called “basic anxiety.” To experience hostility from our parents, those whom we are most dependent upon in childhood, is extremely frightening. Being the victims of their hostility can only engender anger in us, which leads to even greater fear since we are so dependent on them.

Anxiety results because the feeling of rage toward the very persons we need to insure our safety creates the terrifying feeling of being alone and helpless in a potentially hostile world, this is basic anxiety. As children, we learn to avoid the experience of basic anxiety in many different ways. We carry these avoidance tactics into adulthood. It is for the purpose of avoiding basic anxiety that we perpetuate the illusion of a happy childhood by forgetting unpleasant childhood events.

Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (347) 248-1092

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