Memory Shadows

April 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Posted in Experiences, History, Psychology, Writing and Life | 4 Comments
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What causes us to remember some things and not others?

From reading I have done, I discover that there are three major processes relating to memory: encoding, storage and retrieval. I also learned that there are probably three stages of memory: sensory memory; short-term memory; and long-term memory.

I’ve written about ‘losing my history’ through a lack of artefacts from my childhood. But there is more to the loss than that. The simple fact is that I have a poor memory of that time.

Apparently, we do not retain much of the information around us because we do not “rehearse” it, which we need to do if we want it to reach our long-term memory.

I can remember tunes and songs I grew up with and sing them still – I suppose I used to sing them often, but I cannot remember specific events in my life unless there was something that really stood out about them. But even then, I wonder why I cannot remember my mother and her brother being reunited on television not long after TV first came to Australia in 1956? I was about nine, my younger sister seven, and she remembers it clearly.

Psychology gives us four main reasons for this forgetting:

  • The event didn’t make it to long-term memory;
  • Interference of one memory with another;
  • Inability to retrieve the memory;
  • Motivated forgetting, either suppression (intentional) or repression (unconscious).

   I know that I made my First Communion when I was seven and was Confirmed when I was ten (I am in a photo taken at home that day), but I cannot remember the actual days themselves. My sisters and my younger brother remember theirs, so why don’t I?

My husband and I went to the same high school for four years. We lived in the same street and, for the last two years, we caught the same bus to and from school. We would walk and talk together as far as the T-intersection at our street; he’d turn left to his home and I’d turn right to mine. He remembers it all clearly. I don’t remember it at all.

If one or more of the above four are the reasons for my forgetting these events in my life, then I wonder which it could be. They were all things that were important to me at the time, so surely, I wouldn’t want to forget them. There wouldn’t be a clash of memories either, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried to forget them.

So that leaves the inability to retrieve the memories because they have not been ‘rehearsed’. But, if that is so, why can I remember something like playing in the sandpit with my baby brother, when I haven’t thought about it for over fifty years?

Perhaps there is more to memory and its retrieval than we realise, and there are still many questions that need to be answered. But I really would like to remember a lot more of my childhood. It would cut down on a lot of frustration in my writing life!

© Linda Visman,


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  1. Memory is a fascinating subject!
    Some things are so firmly imprinted upon us that we never forget them. Unfortunately, these are sometimes the worst experiences of our lives.
    On the other hand, the memories of the good things so often add up to create feelings of love.

  2. Yes! I’m the same. My three siblings remember far more than I do from our childhood. There are bits and pieces I remember, but mostly, I know what I’ve heard about it since then. Do I not really want to remember or was I more focused on other things than on daily happenings? As a constant daydream, I’m guessing it was the latter.

    • Thanks for the visit & comment, LK. I think I must be like you – more focused on other things (like books). 🙂

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