Navigating Crises: Tunnel Vision & Selective Amnesia



We were chatting with A’s old karate teacher last night and she was asking about his health. She had retired from teaching right before he went into surgery last March, but she had taught him for three years before that. She was so happy to hear how well he was doing.


Laughing, I responded, “Yeah, it has been a MUCH more peaceful start to this school year. We’re so grateful!”


She shook her head and said, “I hear you. Don’t you sometimes wonder how we even make it through those times? I guess we just get tunnel vision.”


“And selective amnesia,” my husband added.


And I realized it’s true.



Any time you’re dealing with a crisis, your whole focus needs to change. For obvious reasons, getting the laundry folded or ensuring there are no GMOs in that sandwich really can’t be at the forefront of your mind. Things that might normally be of the utmost importance, e.g. getting homework done or cooking balanced meals, might suddenly get neglected. Activities might be cancelled. Regular check-ups might get rescheduled.


Tunnel vision:


It’s what allows us to tune out the things that can wait while we tackle the major obstacle right in front of us. 


And it’s a gift! Without it, we would quickly become overwhelmed, confused, and ineffective. True, one can’t live without looking beyond a single focus for long stretches, but it’s a critical skill when, for example, your child is in the middle of a health crisis. Knowing that you don’t have to keep all the balls in the air right now is important– you’ll have time to pick them up once you’ve pushed this massive boulder out of the way.



Selective amnesia:


Being able to forget some of the scariest, most painful, or alarming moments is essential to moving on.


We see selective amnesia frequently in terms of giving birth– so many times, women will recall their birth experiences and, while they know darn well there was a lot of pain involved, that gets shoved far back in the memory bank. Some experts theorize that this is nature’s way of ensuring at least some of us have more than one child.


Selective amnesia is important when you face crises, also. It’s not so much that you can’t remember the scary details, it’s that you’re able to push them back and out of the big picture. Those who consistently dwell on the terrifying or disappointing are the ones who have a very difficult time moving on and focusing on the promising and celebratory.



Now, clearly we don’t want to live our lives with all our attention on one event– things would quickly spiral out of control if we neglect everything else. We also don’t want to just ignore any bad things that happen to us– there are lessons to be learned so can avoid or better handle things sometimes.


But I can’t help but reflect on my own life and what blessings both tunnel vision and selective amnesia have wound up being during some of our most difficult struggles.


And I believe it’s important that, when the need arises, we embrace these gifts we’ve been given.


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1 comment to Navigating Crises: Tunnel Vision & Selective Amnesia

  • Michelle

    Love.this post…can’t help but praise God for how He also sends special people into our lives at hard times to help take care of the little things so we can have that tunnel vision and somehow carry amazes me how even after the initial impact of a crisis, that these traits can seem to grow stronger in time, like an underlying force that keeps you going even when “a new normal” begins….in gratitude :)

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