Motivated forgetting: Sigmund Freud

Freud’s motivated forgetting theory is a theory of forgetting.

It is human nature to try to protect ourselves and our feelings. Motivated forgetting refers to the process of doing just that: consciously or unconsciously blocking out negative, painful or threatening memories. The work of Sigmund Freud has revealed two types of motivated forgetting: repression and suppression.

To remember which of repression and suppression is conscious, and which is unconscious, try thinking of the acronym RUSC:

Repression =
Suppression =


Repression refers to the unconscious process of blocking negative memories to the point where the individual is blissfully unaware that they exist.


Conversely, suppression refers to the conscious process of blocking negative memories. In suppression, and individual may entirely ignore or refuse to acknowledge that such memories are real.

Limitations of the motivated forgetting theory

Although the motivated forgetting theory partially explains why we may ‘lose’ memories, it does not: