What Is Motivated Forgetting?

Last Update on April 14, 2023 : Published on April 15, 2023

Understanding our mind and memory can be very challenging because many times our mind and its interaction with our memories can confuse us. Do you know why we remember some things and forget some other things?

You might say, things that aren’t worth remembering are forgotten and the ones that catch our attention are easy to remember. Well, this is true but there is a lot more to our memory. Our mind decides for us what memories to keep and what memories to hide from our consciousness.

It does that only to protect us from the pain some memories can cause. However, sometimes our mind forgets a few things on its own and for some memories, we motivate our mind to forget them. In both ways of forgetting some memories, there is motivation involved. This type of forgetfulness is known as motivated forgetting.

Let’s learn more about the phenomenon of motivated forgetting…

What Is Motivated Forgetting Theory?

The motivated forgetting theory states that we humans tend to forget some unwanted memories to escape the pain and anxiety such memories might elicit. Motivated forgetting theory has been a debatable topic for many theorists.

Friedrich Nietzsche was the first to plant the idea of motivated forgetting in the year 1894.  Nietzsche believed that we use motivated forgetting as a means of self-preservation. He claimed that there is a motivation behind forgetting certain memories and that is to protect oneself from the hurt, pain, or anxiety certain memories can cause.

Sigmund Freud would always second Friedrich Nietzsche on motivated forgetting. Freud in his theories talked about repressed memories which are very similar to motivated forgetting. Both these theorists believed that it is important for us to forget a few things in life so that we can move on.

Also read: Surprising Causes Of Memory Loss Other Than Dementia

If not, these painful memories can become barriers to our growth and development. There is a strong motivation behind forgetting certain memories hence the term ‘motivated forgetting’.

Types Of Motivated Forgetting

As we just discussed, motivated forgetting is a phenomenon that involves intentional forgetting so that we can reduce an emotional/impulsive response. Now, motivated forgetting can take place consciously as well as unconsciously.

Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, the process might differ but the result is the same. Even the motivation to forget certain information is the same. Let’s have a look at the two different types of motivated forgetting…

1. Suppression:

this type of motivated forgetting involves intentional and conscious forgetting of certain information that upon recollection could cause some emotional pain. You purposely forget a few things so that you protect yourself. The entire process is very conscious, i.e., you’re aware that you have forgotten something and do not wish to recall it ever.

2. Repression:

Freud talked about repression a decade after Friedrich introduced the concept of unconscious forgetting of information. Many psychologists believe that repression is a type of defense mechanism used by our brains to save us from misery. Repression is when your brain forgets some information without giving you a hint. Can you recall what exactly happened when you met with an accident? Well, that memory is repressed!

Also read: The Psychology Of Memory: Formation, Duration, Types, And More

Examples Of Motivated Forgetting

Motivated forgetting has been studied for a long time but cases of motivated forgetting were first observed after world war II ended. Many experts claim that motivated forgetting is a response a brain generates when faced with traumatic events.

Let’s have a look at some examples of motivated forgetting;

1. War: after world war II when people were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, psychologists observed that many of them forget some essential information about things that happened during the war. It was then declared as the initial observation of motivated forgetting on a large scale.

2. Trauma: when someone experiences a traumatic event, they forget details about what happened at the prime of that traumatic event. Remember being in an accident? Can you recall the exact moment you hit the car? No, right? It is because of motivated forgetting.

3. Going against the value system: a person committing a crime for the first time or doing it completely out of their will can forget the whole thing. This kind of motivated forgetting happens when one does something awful, to protect you from the pain your mind makes you forget about it.

4. Psychogenic amnesia: it is referred to a permanent memory loss of the time that leads to trauma to the time after trauma. In this kind of motivation forgetting your mind erases the trace of having experienced it at all.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about motivated forgetting informative, interesting, and helpful. Do share this blog with your friends and family so that we all know why we completely forget some memories which only psychological interventions can uncover.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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