The Choice to Forget

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The Choice to Forget

The Choice to Forget

Emily Conrad

Brigham Young University

Motivated forgetting is often referred to as the pathway to happiness. Although forgetfulness is viewed as a flaw, motivated forgetting is viewed as a blessing. Motivated forgetting is a when an individual goes through an experience that negates what the mind wants to experience. Instead of remembering the sadness, regret, or fear that happened, the mind censors the experience by causing an individual to forget. This fight mechanism in the human body has been proven to happen to all ages, from young children to elderly grandparents. Motivated forgetting also leads to additional consequences, psychologists today question whether motivated forgetting is a choice and whether the consequences of forgetting outweigh the emotional damage of remembering.        

Sigmund Freud, a famous psychologist, argued that our memory censors a lot of information. Frequently, this censorship can be beneficial to our wellbeing. Censoring the memories can avoid anxiety and depression in many people. A study by Donald Levis (1999) lead to the conclusion that most children under eight who are physically abused often alter their memory to either completely forget or remember less dramatically the events that happened. Although this study has persuasive results, there is a lot of argument about whether motivated forgetfulness is an actual method the brain uses to protect itself, or just a lack of perception towards the situation. For example, with child abuse, children under eight may not understand what was happening, which results in misconstrued memories and potentially false information. Donald Levis (1999) said, “there is perhaps no other topic in recent history that has generated such emotionality as the ongoing traumatic memory debate involving alleged reports of physical and sexual abuse.”

In an American study, 81 percent of university students and 60 to 90 percent of therapists agreed that “traumatic memories are often repressed.” Today, however, increasing numbers of memory researchers think repression rarely, if ever, occurs. People succeed in forgetting unwanted neutral information (such as yesterday’s parking place), but find it harder to forget emotional events.

This topic, like Donald Levis stated, is extremely controversial. Lieden University in England concluded with their study once again that childhood maltreatment leads to memory suppression (Harmelen, 2011). Although this memory suppression is involuntary, it is theorized that the suppression is a protective mechanism so the child can still develop without being harmed by the emotional side effects of such negative experiences. Negative events can result in emotion inhibition strategies, which results in avoiding certain memories. The study also found that intrusions of negative memories were strongly related with psychiatric distress. Positive memories can be released and put in focus when motivated forgetfulness is enabled. This benefits the individual’s mental health; keeping them from depression, anxiety, and trauma.