Why Are First Memories Bad Ones?

When I was around three, a woman came to visit our home. My parents didn’t smoke, and when this woman left a pack of cigarettes on the windowsill, I reached for them to see what they were. She slapped my hand. I wasn’t going to hurt them. I just wanted to see what they were. I can visualize that windowsill in the bedroom. The double-hung window was open to the screen, and I felt a hot breeze. I was humiliated, although I didn’t know that word then, and I was angry because I was merely curious, not destructive.

But how much of that memory is true? And why is the first memory I have of something negative?

A friend’s first memory is of picking flowers in her grandmother’s yard and her grandmother asking her where she got them. She lied and said she’d walked to the park and picked them. She was around three and was consumed with guilt for lying. She has no memory of her grandmother’s reaction because of course she wouldn’t believe a three-year-old walked a mile to the park on her own, especially when the flowers in her yard were missing.

My sister’s first memory is of being left out. She is 18 months older than I am, and I am 17 months older than my first brother. The family was out in the yard by a swing set. Dad was helping me on the slide. Mom was holding my baby brother. As the oldest, Elaine was on her own, and she resented that she didn’t have someone to help her.

Another friend’s first memory was of her father, the only memory she has of him since he was killed in a car wreck when she was three. He was holding her, and she was crying for a candy bar. She can’t remember getting the candy.

I did a bit of Googling, and studies show that most of us remember negative emotional responses, especially those dealing with fear. I suspect it has something to do with the fight or flight reflex.

It doesn’t seem fair that our brains focus on the negative, so I’ve decided to focus on the positive. I sure can’t go back and change a first childhood memory, and now that I’ve thought about it so much, I can’t seem to forget it. But I do choose not to make it important to my life. And when I remember other earth-shattering events in my life, I’ll counterbalance them with consciously remembering some wonderful things that have happened to me.

Because I’ve had a wonderful life, filled with ups and downs, of course, but what a wonderful life!