Sometimes forgetfulness is better for our mental health than remembering, according to psychologists, but understanding the causes of memory lapse also helps us remember better.

We all tend to forget things, a sad fact which makes us take note of the flawed creatures we are. 

That fact is discomforting and can make us angry, but it could also help us relax - after all, would we always want to truly recall everything?

Humans want to stay loyal to their own memories from childhood to old age. We usually forget that our memories are also scarred by traumas and hurtful, heartbreaking incidents. 

Even worse, we do not usually remember our traumatic experiences as they were, tending to recall them in a distorted manner, which is called “memory amplification”. As a result, remembering might be more problematic than forgetting in our efforts to put the little house in our brain in order, according to psychologists. 

“Unfortunately, memory amplification carries real consequences: the more amplification people demonstrate, the more likely they are to report the “re-experiencing” symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as intrusive thoughts and images,” wrote Deryn Strange, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Melanie K. T. Takarangi, associate professor of psychology at Flinders University. 

Forgetting gets a bad rep, but is it so bad? Our neurotic system tends to forget traumatic experiences to get rid of its negative effects. In that sense, forgetting is a liberating experience from our suffering. 

“The human brain is remarkably flexible. Its ability to selectively prune our memories’ errant branches is a necessary adaptation. If we remembered every moment of every day, most of us would get too bogged down in our own minds to be functional,” wrote Lauren Gravitz, a science and environment writer. 

Forgetting helps to remember

Trashing some memories, which could be translated as a forgetting exercise, also helps us remember better, shrinking the heavy burden on our neurotic system, according to a 2007 study. 

“We’ve argued for some time that forgetting is adaptive, that people actively inhibit some memories to facilitate mental focus,” said Michael Anderson, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oregon.

A fresh memory could be more a result of purging unnecessary information than processing it, the study suggested. “Your head is full of a surprising number of things that you don’t need to know,” Anderson said. 

But how could you purge useless information in favour of the essential? 

Purging isn’t just something that systematically happens as your life goes by. Experts think that moments of crisis usually force people to think about what they need to purge. 

Psychologists believe that if you identify who you are and what you want to do in your life at that moment, you will be in a good position to remove what you don’t need anymore, keeping things close which really matter.

A memento mori mosaic from excavations in the convent of San Gregorio in Rome, featuring the Greek motto 'Know Yourself'.
A memento mori mosaic from excavations in the convent of San Gregorio in Rome, featuring the Greek motto 'Know Yourself'. (Wikipedia Commons)

In other words, you will forget things you don’t need to recall forever, which will clean your neurological storage from unnecessary information, unburdening yourself from mental loads you could not believe how long you have carried at all costs.  

Memory-improvement techniques

Scientists think that memory-improvement strategies, like rehearsing information, might help people find out what is really necessary and what is not for them. These techniques also help people separate wrong information stored in their memories from the right ones. 

Most of the time, our mental system is stuck with various motivations, information, fantasies and realities, making critical effects on our interpretations of old events or the way we remember past memories. 

When you see an old friend on the street coincidentally, you recall the old memories with him or her. If the old friend appears to have a better job than you, your memory tends to remember things about him or her, which could explain why he or she is more successful than you. But in the reverse case, the process is still on, giving you different sets of facts about the relationship and its remembrance. 

As a result, all memories are subject to the current understanding of events. 

Memory-improvement techniques, rehearsing what you thought you already knew, will help you remember various events, concepts and behaviour in a better and more objective manner. 

One of the biggest obstacles of having a good functioning memory is rooted in wrong learning and misunderstanding. This could prevent the mental system from handling future information in a rational way due to the failed understanding of previous incidents. 

This situation has been called interference, where two different versions of the facts clash with each other, leading to distraction and forgetfulness. In this situation, experts recommend settling the issue by rehearsing both versions of facts. 

The rehearsing process will eventually show which version is right or wrong, addressing the issue and freeing memory from wrong information and unnecessary burden. 

After that, the person’s memory will likely tend to remember the rehearsed information, forgetting the unprocessed old learning. 

Covid-19 side effects

The deadly pandemic has permanently changed lives across the world. The virus has not only made people psychically ill but also damaged their memories, according to health experts. 

People who have luckily recovered from the disease, have also reported various complaints like short-term memory loss, distraction and confusion.  

As Covid-19 has messed up people’s memory, it has also locked down people at their home with little choice and with fewer activities in which to engage, increasing boredom and anxiety and even leading to yet more forgetfulness. 

A recent study showed that social isolation could lead to serious neurological failures like cognitive decline and dementia. 

“We are seeing a really growing body of evidence that’s showing how isolation and loneliness are linked in incidence of different types of disease [and] with premature mortality,” said Daisy Fancourt, an epidemiologist at University College London (UCL) and one of the co-writers of the study. 

Source: TRT World