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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

I Want to Forget

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 22nd 2007

Many people have made the self observation that it is much easier to recall unhappy events than those that were happy and pleasant. Now, a study done by the Department of Psychology at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill demonstrates that memories connected with powerful emotions, happy or sad are difficult to forget. In fact, the study demonstrated the fact that it is the combination of visual images and powerful emotions that cause memories to be very vivid and resistant to forgetting.

This study demonstrates the reason why events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the disaster at the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 remains fixed in peoples' minds. Even though the Kennedy assassination occurred back during the early 1960's most of us who lived through it retain clear memories of where we were and what we were doing when the news came through. These memories were reinforced by watching the images of the assassination and all the events afterwards on television. Most of us also remember experiencing deep grief, just as if we had lost a personal member of our family.

In the same way, most of us have imprinted on our minds, the attack of 911. The stunning and repeated replay of the actual attack on and collapse of the towers were traumatizing. Emotionally, we were shocked by the fact that everything we took for granted about our personal safety and security in the world was shaken to the core.

The researchers point out that the study demonstrates the fact that there are limits to how much control we have over our minds. They suggest that further studies are needed to learn to help people forget those awful events they no longer wish to remember. They report that even a mild emotional reaction can provoke memories of earlier traumatic events that we would like to forget about. Further studies need to be conducted on treatment methods to help people gain control over their minds and ability to remember and forget those things they choose to.

In the mean time I want to point out that there are current strategies that people can use to help themselves gain a greater sense of control over unpleasant emotions and memories:

1. Meditation with pleasant visualizations

2. Exercise

3. Sleep

4. Yoga

5. Avoid television news and violent programs and movies.

These are the very things that can provoke those unpleasant emotions and memories and, thereby, increase anxiety and depression

What are your comments about this issue?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

I'd love to forget almost everything - Jill - Dec 6th 2009

I can remember being 8 months old and standing in my crib, trying to speak Italian (I didn't know it was italian at the time) as my grandmother was doing seated in a chair several feet from me.  I remember VIVIDLY many, many small moments from my life (I'm 62 now) and NO ONE else seems to remember these things or be able to identify with my ability.  This is causing me great pain (emotional and psychological) and it seems to be getting far worse as I age.  I can remember isolated minutes from so many MILLIONS in my life, they are evoked by: musical stimulus, visual stimulus, scent, or anything chained to the event itself. There's music I CANNOT listen to; there are many other markers I have to consciously turn away from.  This is driving me crazy.  I have no control of it.  it's making my life a living hell.

helping ourselves - Julissa - Nov 3rd 2009

I agree with Dr. Schwartz that we have to avoid those things that keep adding negative images to our brain, if we have something we want to forget we have to substitute that with positive images, fresh, new ones. As we leave things in the past.  For example, when its about a person, and we are feeling heart broken it is best to help ourselves not listening to romantic music, I have found that what makes me feel better is listening to classical music.  Instead of watching love story movies, watch fiction, humor, avoid falling into cliches of relationships or how romantic love should be. Think on things you feel good with and do them.  Spoil yourself if necessary, nobody else will do it for you.

i want to forget - lukman - Mar 29th 2009

i love my girl.

loving, still loving and will love forever..evenafter my death

but some circumstances i cannot marry her. now i want to forget her. i cannot concentrate on anything. i am becoming mad.. i am not able to sleep.

my heart gone down. i am losing my health.

i love her , than anything in the world. but i dont want to suffer anymore. please i want to forget her...

 

The Ex - Sam - Mar 29th 2009

Its been 6 months, I think about her every single day and nothing helps, I've also been unable to cry any pain I have out. I don't know what to make out of all this so I ignore what bothers me and go on about my day, I'm too scared to talk to her.

I WANT TO FORGET - edem nicole - Apr 30th 2008

I heard about a death of family member is about 2 months but I can,t forget and I have hard time to sleep at night. I can't focus on anything i'm doing I want to forget.

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