How has the need shaped you

That's why you can't remember the first few years of your life

Every memory is ultimately a reconstruction. "I don't call anything from the hard drive and there it is again," says Pohl. When we look back, we always bring events into a coherent form, we tell a story that is in harmony with our present selves. And this process is error-prone, the memory malleable.

"For things where I have saved a lot of information and have often called it up, the probability is high that the memory is authentic," says memory researcher Pohl. If you see something from the inside perspective, it could also be a clue. Actual, genuine memories are also sometimes remembered from the outside perspective. Some people can also switch between perspectives.

In general, both experts emphasize, skepticism is appropriate when it comes to memories from the first years of life. What we think we remember here is often based on photos, videos or stories that were told to us later.

How malleable our memory is shows that in extreme cases we not only decorate - we think we remember things that never happened. Experiments in which the American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus implanted memories of events that never happened in test subjects through suggestion and subsequent information - such as getting lost in a shopping mall as a child - have become famous. A quarter of the test persons believed this afterwards. With such investigations Loftus wanted to find out how false memories come about - also of child abuse.

However, even in laboratory situations, it was only possible to implant fake memories in some of the test subjects. The overwhelming majority stuck to the fact that what was given did not happen. In a meta-analysis from 2016, trauma researcher Chris Brewin from University College London found 15 percent who developed a “complete” memory under suggestion.

According to Brewin, there is now consensus that people can have traumatic events sometimes forget it and remember it later. It is also possible that psychotherapy that uses suggestive techniques can create false memories. And that “highly emotional images that appear spontaneously”, according to Brewin in a recent article, “do not have to have anything to do with real events”.

Anyone who thinks they have encountered traumatic experiences in early childhood should therefore have a healthy amount of skepticism: especially when the memory popped up because one went on a search. There is forgetting - and involuntary reminding through a hint - Volbert emphasizes that. “But it's not the typical reaction to traumatic events.” As a rule, it is more of a problem that people who have experienced something traumatic cannot find a distance and are inundated by the images.

In order to check the authenticity of memories, the forensic psychologist therefore looks at how they came about. Were there any suggestive influences? A need to explain, combined with the previous conviction that something must have happened? “Those are the problematic processes,” she says. Pictures can emerge here that gradually come to life the longer you think about them. According to her, it is therefore important that both therapist and patient know: Sometimes you have things in your head that seem like memories, but which do not necessarily have to be.