Childhood Amnesia: Is It Possible To Lose Your Childhood Memories?

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Most of us know what amnesia is, but most of our ideas about it come from fiction and may have little basis in reality. In soap operas, for example, a character might lose their memories, usually due to some trauma or brain injury, only to regain them suddenly when triggered by another person or event. It turns out that this scenario is just a case of TV magic, meaning that it is unrealistic and unlikely to occur, especially when it comes to childhood memories.

Childhood Amenisa is A Scary Condition. It Can Be A Sign of Something Else.

Childhood amnesia is a condition that occurs naturally over time. If you've forgotten some or most of your childhood, you're not alone. This happens to most people to varying degrees. Some worry that their childhood amnesia could be indicative of severe trauma, but that's usually not the case. In fact, the very idea of repressed childhood memories is highly debated because you cannot prove that something has been repressed unless you have evidence that it happened in the first place.

What Is Childhood Amnesia?

Think about your earliest memories. Go as far back as possible and try to paint a picture of each year. How far back can you go? If you're like most people, your memories likely start to get fuzzy when you try to recall anything before preschool. Childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia means that someone is unable to remember their early childhood. It's very common, and not necessarily a sign of any brain injury or external trauma.

Although the average person can't remember sucking on a bottle as a baby, many people find it strange that they can't remember life as a three-year-old. At three, you know you were probably talking, and you could likely even use the bathroom, but it's still rare to remember that part of your life. Your memories are probably faded like an old picture that has been sitting in the sun for too long.

You've probably heard your parents or someone who knew you when you were a toddler talk about events that happened during that time, but you can't remember what they're talking about. It may be a bit frustrating or strange to not remember parts of your own life. Odds are that nothing eventful happened during that time, but it can feel strange to know there are parts of your life you can't remember. It may feel like your life began at the age of four or so. Before this age, pictures, videos, and stories from friends and family are the only evidence of your existence.

Childhood Amnesia And Aging

Memories of being a young child generally fade over time. A child may be able to recall their early memories much better, but an adult may have more difficulty remembering what happened before a certain age. Why is that? Do our memories fade as we age? Or do we just tend to remember parts of our lives that are more eventful?

Children start losing early memories around their preteen years. By the age of 11 or so, they are less likely to recall early memories, and as their brain matures, they seem to lose those memories completely. Some children can even forget early memories by the age of seven.

People sometimes ask these questions about the subject:

What causes people to not remember childhood?
How much are you supposed to remember from your childhood?
Is it normal to not remember most of your life?
What is fuzzy brain?
How do I know if I have childhood trauma?
How do you tell if you have repressed memories?
Do I have repressed childhood trauma?
How do you recover repressed memories?
What is childhood amnesia?

Why Do We Forget?

You may wonder why we can't remember anything before a certain age. The brain is a complex organ, and we're still learning how it functions, so there are many theories about childhood amnesia.

One of the biggest theories is synaptic pruning. To understand this concept, imagine a flower bush. When the bush becomes too big, it needs to be pruned to stay healthy and continue producing flowers. Synaptic pruning suggests that the brain has the same need. To get rid of memories that are no longer necessary and make space for new ones, the brain may remove these memories if they're not needed in the present. In theory, this keeps your brain running efficiently. However, emotions also play a major part in recalling memories.

"If you're having difficulty remembering important parts of your childhood, that may be a sign of trauma. Talking to a therapist can help you explore childhood memories in a safe and supportive environment."

You're more likely to remember something if it had an emotional impact, whether positive or negative. Some people believe that young children attach fewer emotions to events, so they have a harder time recalling certain memories. After all, there is a difference between a child crying out of instinct and a child crying because of emotional trauma.

Childhood Amenisa is A Scary Condition. It Can Be A Sign of Something Else.

Finally, childhood amnesia could be related to brain development. When a child is very young, their brain is undeveloped, which may affect how their memories are stored and retrieved. The science of how memory recall works is very complex and worth its own article, but in short, our brains don't store memories the way a computer might. Instead, memories are a collection of reactions coming from the brain. As the child grows, the brain develops, and it can be difficult to access these collections from a previous stage of development as the brain has quite literally changed.

Can People Remember Being Babies?

Remembering being a toddler is one thing, but some people claim to remember being babies. They remember drinking bottles, crying for attention, and learning to take their first steps. This seems unlikely, but science doesn't currently have a way of knowing for certain if these memories are real or not. There is some evidence that babies can retain memories, but again it's hard to test this scientifically.

I Can't Remember My Entire Childhood – Is That Normal?

As mentioned previously, it's very common for people not to remember anything before the age of three. If you don't have early childhood memories, there's nothing wrong with your mind, and you probably don't suffer from any trauma. It's normal to lose your early childhood memories at a young age.

However, some people can't remember anything, or only very limited events, from their childhood before the age of 12. In this case, there may be some form of trauma at play. Childhood trauma can lead to dissociative amnesia, where we seal away a chunk of our memories as a defense mechanism against significant trauma.

If this describes your experience, it may be best to talk to a mental health professional. It doesn't mean that you definitely experienced trauma, but they can help rule out any serious issues so that you can better understand why you can't remember your childhood or certain pieces of it.

How To Attempt Memory Recall On Your Own

If you're curious to remember more of your childhood, you can try the following tips:

Write Down What You Do Remember

To clarify your memories, try writing down what you're trying to remember. Include as many sensory details as possible. As you create your own personal archive of childhood memories, you may remember more and more of your childhood.

See If You Can Find Any Triggers

Triggers have a negative connotation in psychology, but in memory recollection, triggers can be a positive thing. Feelings, sights, sounds, and scents can trigger a memory and bring you back to a specific time in your childhood. Experiment with triggers like old toys or even songs to help you recall early memories. Scent in particular is our sense most strongly tied to memory formation and recollection, so try to focus special attention on utilizing scents from your childhood that may help spur some memories. For example, if your childhood home had a lilac bush, try smelling lilac flowers and see what pops up for you. If nothing happens, don’t worry – just keep trying other scents, as well as utilizing your other senses, such as listening to music that you heard as a child.

Get Help With Your Memories On BetterHelp

If you can't remember anything before the age of three, that's okay and is to be expected. That said, if you're having difficulty remembering important parts of your childhood, that may be a sign of trauma. Talking to a therapist can help you explore childhood memories in a safe and supportive environment.

Studies have shown that internet-based therapy can have significant positive effects on those who have experienced trauma. A study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found online therapy to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms. In the study, patients participated in internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps those experiencing unhelpful or harmful thoughts to reframe thinking patterns. According to research, 69.2% of participants made significant progress immediately after treatment, and 77% sustained progress at a 3-month checkup.

You may read the full study here: A therapist-assisted cognitive behavior therapy internet intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder: Pre-, post- and 3-month follow-up results from an open trial.

Regardless of your schedule or location, you can quickly jump online with a therapist whenever you need support. You will also have the opportunity to work with therapists who may be outside of your immediate area, or even state. Read the reviews below to learn more about BetterHelp counselors who've worked with people in similar situations.

Counselor Reviews

"I have been working with Dr. Cheng for a few weeks now. She is extremely caring and patient. Very quickly she was able to identify my struggles and I feel very well cared. I struggled a lot with one on one sessions, but doing online has been quite less tiring for me. She is helping me with my anxiety and with past childhood traumas. I find that the exercises she provided me are of great use. I definitely recommend her."

" She is very easy to talk to and the feedback she provides is honest, and personalized to fit my situation. She challenges me to think about my past in a new way which is helping to address future concerns as they arise too! Very thankful to have her help and guidance!!!"

Conclusion

Not being able to remember childhood memories may be frustrating or somewhat scary, but it's actually very normal. If you're curious to remember more of your childhood, consider the ideas in this article or reach out to a counselor who can support you through the process. Take the first step today.

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