Why can’t I remember my childhood?

This blog post will explore the possible reasons why we are unable to recall childhood memories. 

We will also briefly discuss what we can do to help ourselves recall or remember childhood memories. 

Why can’t I remember my childhood?

Inability to remember childhood events is a common experience, so completely normal that it has been observed and termed as childhood or infantile amnesia. 

Inability to remember childhood events does not strictly mean that you have problems related to your memory related cognitive processes nor does it means that you have repressed memories related to trauma. 

It is actually a very common experience that has various explanations to it. Some possible reasons why childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia occurs could be because of:

  • Trauma
  • Lack of Emotional significance
  • Cognitive development related to memory
  • Impermanence of memory

Trauma

The speculation that memory loss is connected to childhood trauma and abuse was first proposed by Sigmun Freud in the unconscious mind of the individual and most of his therapeutic work was to uncover repressed memories. 

This particular idea was further backed up by efforts and attempts to support his observations through empirical research in the 1990s where a number of psychologists also stressed that there are some unexplained mental health symptoms such as memory loss related to trauma. 

This repressed memory hypothesis suggests that survivors of trauma might have disjoint memories or gaps in their memory surrounding the time or childhood years when the abuse occurred including inability to remember places, events, people etc- other than small bits and pieces. 

This hypothesis is what led to many psychologists working or putting efforts to help clients regain memories that have been repressed to heal trauma albeit at times with unethical methods. 

There is definitely more research that needs to be done to back this particular theory of missing memories but a 2010 study on how early life experiences such as trauma affects cognitive functioning in adults. 

The study was conducted on 47 healthy adults and the results found that emotional neglect and physical abuse in childhood was related to memory deficits in adulthood and it led to impairments in working memory as well as pattern recognition memory. 

Researchers have observed that in the face of trauma, some children respond by dissociating, or mentally detaching, themselves from the events as a way to cope and protect these vs- this can occur unconsciously as well as through conscious efforts. 

However, trauma usually doesn’t completely disappear from memory and people tend to remember these events partially and it can impact their thoughts, feelings and behaviours without their insight or awareness. 

Lack of Emotional significance

Another possible explanation for childhood amnesia is that memories become stronger when there is an emotional component attached to it. 

Children’s emotional development is underdeveloped and they do not have the ability to identify and experience a full range of emotions as a result of which, their experiences might not register with the same emotional intensity as an adult or teenager would. 

This can lead to a weakening of significance because of which the memories are left forgotten because of the lack of emotional weight as one grows older. 

In one particular study on argentinian preschoolers that assessed Emotional processing and episodic memory, the study found that emotional processing influenced memory as it led to more consolidation of information leading to the mory to last and persist longer. 

This is why people as adults might remember memories of greater intensity as children while forgetting other memories. For Example, you might be able to recall memories where you were terrified because of the emotional intensity and significance of the mamoru. 

It is the significance of the impact the events had on you at that age which causes you to remember where as other memories do not. 

Cognitive development related to memory

Another, more obvious reason as to why you are able to recall memories as you grow older as opposed to when you were a child is because of your own cognitive development as well as the structural growth of your brain.

As you grow, the size of your brain grows larger as well. The human baby’s brain is only 1/4th of that of an adult and as the baby grows so does the brain. The size of the brain correlated to the new neurons that are being added. 

The production of new neurons in the hippocampus is what influences the memory and cognitive processes related to memory. The hippocampus is what keeps developing and changing well into adulthood meaning that new neurons continue being added while old ones are discarded or “pruned” away. 

As these new neurons are introduced and the other’s pruned- synaptic pruning- to get rid of old connections that are no longer needed and make new connections for newer processes that you require as you grow older- it can impact our pathways and potentially block off early memories and disrupt one’s ability to recall and remember. 

Impermanence of memory

Memory does not last forever, it is not permanent and it is susceptible to change and manipulation. 

Memories of early childhood generally begin fading as the memories you create as a teen becomes a huge part of your identity and sense of self which makes them seemingly more crucial for your development into adulthood. 

The fact that memory does not last forever and is replaced by other or potentially influencia memories could be part of the reason why you do not remember much of your childhood. 

How can you regain childhood memories?

It is still debated if we can accurately retain childhood memories without influence and suggestions from other people. 

However, it is speculated that memories can be regained as experts believe that triggers can jog one’s brain to remember. 

Here are a few suggestions by Crystal Raypole for Healthline to help one regain childhood memories:

  • Talk about your past and your  prior experiences and encounters with other people who have watched you grow up and were part of your life as a child. Talking about meaningful incidents, people, events can help jog your memory. Most of these memories as a child will be related to learning so talk about what you earned and your first times as children. 
  • Write about your experiences in as much detail as you possibly can, which can help you keep a log of your memoires and add more information as you go alone. 
  • Look at some old pictures and listen to others describe the event and the people in the pictures as well as talk about what you were like at that time. Childhood images can also assist in the retrieval of early memories.
  • Visit The Places You’ve Been Before as returning to the spot where you spent your childhood might bring back some long-forgotten memories. You might come across familiar scents and views that might trigger a memory like visiting your grandma’s house and going through her kitchen- the familiar smells might bring some memories back. 

Conclusions

This blog post has explored the possible reasons why we are unable to recall childhood memories. 

We have also briefly discussed what we can do to help ourselves recall or remember childhood memories. 

FAQ related to why can’t I remember my childhood?

Is it normal that I don’t remember my childhood?

Inability to remember childhood events is a common experience, so completely normal that it has been observed and termed as childhood or infantile amnesia. 

Inability to remember childhood events does not strictly mean that you have problems related to your memory related cognitive processes nor does it means that you have repressed memories related to trauma. 

It is actually a very common experience that has various explanations to it. Some possible reasons why childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia occurs could be because of:

  • Trauma
  • Lack of Emotional significance
  • Cognitive development related to memory
  • Impermanence of memory

Why can’t I remember a lot of my past?

Some of the reasons why you might have trouble remembering your ast could be:

  • Severe stress
  • Depression
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • insufficient sleep
  • drugs and infections
  • trauma

How do I get my repressed memories back?

Some of the things you can do toRecover repressed memories include:

  • Automatic -Trance- Writing.
  • Revisit locations.
  • Getting the help of therapist.
  • Guided imagery and visualisation.
  • Hypnosis.
  • Participation in a mutual support group.

Why can’t I remember my childhood and teenage years?

The most parable causes as to why children and teens do not have accurate memories like that of adults could be because of cognitive underdevelopment that is appropriate to their age group and lack of emotional development. 

Young children and teens are still developing in terms of their cognitive process and emotional processes side by side with their brain’s structural development. This can lead to people in these age groups to not have as many memories or as accurate of a memory. 

What causes memory loss in childhood?

Losing memory of childhood is actually a very common experience that has various explanations to it. Some possible reasons why childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia occurs could be because of:

  • Trauma
  • Lack of Emotional significance
  • Cognitive development related to memory
  • Impermanence of memory

How do I know if I have hidden trauma?

  • Symptoms of unresolved and hidden memories of trauma may include the following: “Missing” or “losing”- amnesia. 
  • Dissociation
  • Flashbacks and nightmares. 
  • Unreasonable attempts to rescue others.
  • Low self esteem

Why do I have repressed memories?

Repressed memories are caused by traumatic, negative experiences. These memories are a result of memories of the event being blocked due to high levels of trauma. 

Typically repressed memory occurs in individuals that has had negative experiences which include rape, child sexual abuse, incest, experience of war, and the loss of a loved one

These events and experiences are too emotional intense and too traumatic that their brain might dissociate or they might experience amnesia to protect themselves from the memories of the event so as to not relieve these event by recalling them,

References

Majer, M., Nater, U.M., Lin, JM.S. et al. Association of childhood trauma with cognitive function in healthy adults: a pilot study. BMC Neurol 10, 61 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2377-10-61

Ruetti, E., Segretín, M.S., Ramírez, V.A., & Lipina, S.J. (2019). Role of Emotional Appraisal in Episodic Memory in a Sample of Argentinean Preschoolers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Ikeda.K. Why you can’t remember being a baby. University of Queensland. Retrieved on 4th January 2022. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/learning-memory/why-you-cant-remember-being-baby

Raypole. C. Can’t Remember Your Childhood? What Might Be Going On. Healthline. 10th February 2021. Retrieved on 4th January 2022.https://www.healthline.com/health/why-cant-i-remember-my-childhood

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