Social Question

tedibear's avatar

Is it "normal" to not remember much about your life?

Asked by tedibear (19039points) June 19th, 2011

Apologies if the initial question doesn’t make too much sense. Here come the details:

My husband remembers very little that has happened to him in life. I’ve asked him about school, his grandparents, even our first date 12 years ago. There isn’t much that he can recall. He knows things that he has been told, like taking juice boxes from a couple of kids in kindergarten. He actually remembers a very few select things – most of them neutral or negative experiences. Positive things seem to not exist in his memory. He doesn’t remember the names of any teachers with the exception of two college professors that were not very good and one junior high teacher who was excellent.

In terms of relationships, he has only had two that were really serious, and I’m one of them. (Not that he didn’t date, just that the dates never progressed into anything else.) The other one, well, what little he has talked about has been negative. And with us, he’s far more likely to remember problems, if anything at all.

However, he does remember almost every formula from the math and science classes he took. (He graduated from college in 1992.) He remembers other things from school as well.

It seems like he remember facts and figures (many that he doesn’t use very often) but positive emotional experiences or those involving people seem to be lost or hazy. Anyone know what might cause this? I’m pretty sure he wasn’t physically or emotionally abused by his parents or anyone else. He had a grandfather who was an alcoholic and his mom is a bit of a control freak. Not with us, but with herself.

Besides what may have caused this, I’m wondering if anyone else out there has experienced this? If so, has it caused you any problems and how have you worked through them? I have to say, as someone who can list all of her elementary school teachers and many things that happened while growing up, this is a bit of a mystery to me!

I’m putting this in “Social” because I want people to be able to tell stories and express their opinions.

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16 Answers

athenasgriffin's avatar

I couldn’t tell you a name of one of my teachers in all of school. I don’t have a great memory and really, as strange as it sounds, I’m happy that way. I don’t think I would want to remember everything.

For me, things fade almost as soon as they happen. I can remember things that happened to me years ago, but the emotions are very remote.

Even really bad experiences are dull. I remember I don’t like dentists, and I know that I have had a really painful dentist experience, but I can’t remember anything about it.

nikipedia's avatar

In the brain, we have multiple different kinds of memory systems for storing different kinds of memory. It sounds like you’re saying that your husband has a great semantic memory, memory for facts, but has an impaired autobiographical memory, or memory for events in his life.

I heard a talk a few months ago by a scientist named Brian Levine who studies autobiographical memory. I can’t seem to find any papers on this, so I guess he hasn’t published it yet, but he has a small group of people he is studying who are exactly like your husband. They have totally normal (or even above average) intelligence and memory for non-autobiographical information, but they recall very little, or sometimes nothing at all about their own earlier life events.

At the talk, he said that when he presents this data, he often gets people coming up afterward to say that they have the same experience. So it looks like this might actually be fairly common, and there’s probably a spectrum of impairment/ability.

On the other end of the spectrum are people like Jill Price, who have perfect autobiographical memories for each day of their lives. A 60 Minutes episode about this will actually be re-airing tonight, if you and your husband are interested in learning more about autobiographical memory!

Tay122's avatar

Of course you will forget when you were a baby or pre school but the fact that he doesnt remember a first date may not be that hes not mentally normal but just says he might not be as sensative as where you and me remember things like that and happy moments from the beginning.

Cruiser's avatar

I am not sure what “normal” is in any aspect of life other than what I perceive my life to be…that being said I remember EVERYTHING of my life going back to 1 -½ yrs old. A curse and a blessing.

tedibear's avatar

@Cruiser – Exactly… normal is a relative term. Especially with my relatives. It’s just a little odd to me, so I wondered if others have this same experience.

Linda_Owl's avatar

To not remember one’s life is highly unusual & it could be symptomatic of some psychological impairment. My memories go back all the way to when I was still small enough to be held in my Mother’s arms as she danced with me & I still remember the music! I cannot imagine the emptiness of a life not remembered, it would be so sad to not remember friends, learning to skate, learning to swim, one’s first ‘crush’, the first time you fell in love – I cannot even imagine such a mind-set. We need to remember both the pain & the pleasure of our lives in order to live fully.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I don’t remember much about my childhood, or about school. I wonder if it’s a function of having controlling parents? Everything always seemed temporary.

downtide's avatar

I can count the memories I have from before the age of 10, on my fingers, and all but one of those memories are negative ones. I don’t think that’s normal, but it doesn’t impair me in any way.

ucme's avatar

Anything that happened in my life up until the age of 6 I pretty much have to trust my Mum on.
I must have been alive & kicking, but there’s no memory there whatsoever.

Stinley's avatar

This sounds exactly like my husband. However he is in denial about it and always insists that he is right and I am wrong even though there are countless times when I have proved him wrong. I think he can’t accept that although he is clever and has a great mathematical mind, his memory is somehow “defective”.

envidula61's avatar

Sounds like he has a math brain, and not a social brain. People’s minds develop in all kinds of ways. His focus is more on quantitative things, not mushy social things.

tedibear's avatar

@Linda_Owl – Follow @nikipedia‘s link in her post about autobiographical memory. It’s pretty interesting.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think it’s odd, personally. Did….he have a bad childhood that you know of?

tedibear's avatar

Nope, a fairly normal one. Grandfather who was an alcoholic, but no abuse from him or elsewhere. He did suffer a bad blow to the head falling off a slide when he was 5. I don’t know if that’s a contributing factor or not. Though if it was, then why can he remember every math formula he ever learned and not much about his life. And this includes things from two or three years ago, not just his childhood. It’s just so odd to me!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hm. Well. Must come in handy during an argument!

I knew a guy once who was just dumb, dumb, dumb (I’m not implying your husband is dumb! But this other guy was stump stupid!) However, he could name basketball and baseball stats back to the 1933 World Series. Some if it is selective. Or…maybe it just isn’t important to him…

zensky's avatar

I don’t either, though I don’t know what’s “normal”.

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