Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Childhood memories? What childhood memories?

I was almost an adult before I realized that it was strange that I can’t remember much of my childhood. The normal state of affairs is not to have a large, fuzzy blank between the ages of, say, 3 and 13. It's disconcerting not to be able to trust your own memory. It's even worse to have people recount stories that you don't remember AT ALL, even though you were there. On occasion, my father will mention something traumatic that happened when I was a teen or tween and I can't recall it in the slightest. Given that a big chunk of what I do remember is either upsetting or just plain weird, I always kind of figured I was repressing memories. It's a bit disturbing to think that all those memories might bob to the surface of my mind one day, as I have already spent enough on therapy to install an Olympic-sized swimming pool in my shrink's backyard. Or maybe just send him on a really nice vacation. But I digress.

Recently, though, my therapist explained something that made me feel much better about the whole deal. Apparently, most parents interact with their children in a way that helps them make sense of the world. (What? You mean other kids don't have to figure it all out for themselves as they go along? Damn, that must be nice. Not that I'm bitter.) These repeated interactions, where your parents help you process the events of your young life, also help you to encode memories. I never really had anyone to consistently help me with, well, anything. Forget having anyone who could help me make sense of my world. I lived in a world that didn't make sense for anyone else, either. And so where a child with more support would have processed events and encoded them into memories, I just lived through events and then forgot them.

For me, this explanation was kind of a relief. I was already well aware that I didn't have anyone who could really help shepherd me through my growing-up years, so that didn't exactly come as a shock. I'll definitely take that explanation over feeling like I have all of these unremembered traumas circling below the surface, just waiting to float up and bite me. Awesome it is not -- but I'll take what I can get.


  1. ElizAbeth
    You mirror my feelings exactly and I thought I had minimal memories of my childhood but now I see it was my way of blocking out the bad times with my parents bitter marriage and the horrendous hoarding mom did
    Your feelings really hit home with me!!!!
    Signed Kentucky lady

  2. Wow... this really hit home. I'm almost 30 now and every now and then I think 'is it weird I hardly remember anything from my childhood?'. Specific events here and there but it's kind of hazy, and almost anything before high school I really can't remember if it happened when I was 8 or 13, unless there is something specific to anchor it (say, playing an online game and knowing we didn't get internet till I was 12).

    I've made up various explanations for this... 'well I'm an only child and my parents don't really talk about the past, so maybe it's just because I never talked about it with anyone to reinforce and remember it.' was the latest.

    This makes sense though.. especially since the memories I have that are strongest are from very structured group activities I was involved in, like choir rehearsals. Even those events are a little hazy but I have a much better grasp of them than anything about my home life.

    If it ever comes up, I feel so odd - because I remember things like living with my grandmother for about a year in middle school. But I don't remember what year, or why, or what was going on. I also remember living with my dad for about 2 years, and my mom wasn't living with us, but I think she was still around. But I have no idea where she was living or what was going on, again I think in middle school.

    Things like that just seem like such huge gaps - how do you forget where your mom was for 2 years?! - but it doesn't feel like a trauma or something to be upset about. She was around, I still saw her, she was just living somewhere else I guess.

    Ah well.. thanks a lot for posting this. And your whole blog.

  3. I also have huge holes I'm my developmental memories. I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis so I was afraid it was related to the disease, even though MRIs have shown little damage. Thanks for posting this. It makes sense & is a lot less scary than the prospect of repressed trama or a broken brain.