Remember in the 1990’s when recovering repressed memories was all the rage? Then, right on the heels of this came the propaganda that any memory that you have not always had in your conscious memory is suspect. Talk shows covered false memory syndrome, accused therapists of planting memories of abuse, etc. I don’t think society ever recovered from this, and now many people completely discount any memory that a person has not always held in his conscious memory bank.
I periodically receive emails from people questioning the veracity of my story because I had no memory of it until my late thirties, accusing me of everything from false memory syndrome to being psychotic. My response is always, “Then why have I improved through therapy?” They have no answer for this.
What kills me is that the same people who discount my recovered memories don’t think a thing of a soldier who has repressed the memory of his buddy being blown to bits in front of him. The only difference between his experience and mine is that other people can vouch for a battle having taken place whereas my abuse took place in secrecy. Without a witness, these people believe that my abuse couldn’t possibly have happened.
I know a little boy who survived a car crash that killed his mother when he was five years old. His mother died on impact, and he was stuck in his car seat for hours until somebody found the wrecked car. The little boy had no memory of the car crash the next day, and nobody questioned his sanity. Nobody said that the car crash couldn’t have happened or that he was psychotic because he has “blocked out” the memory of this traumatizing event. In fact, most people’s reactions were that blocking out the memory was “normal” and that it was a “blessing” that he did not remember sitting in a car for hours with his dead mother.
Being abused is equally as traumatizing, and yet when the child does the same exact thing (“blocks out” the memory), people assume that the child must retain a working memory of the trauma for it to have happened. This five-year-old child will likely start having flashbacks when he is an adult as he processes the trauma, and nobody will accuse him of being psychotic, having false memory syndrome, or making it all up. However, a child abuse survivor processing trauma in the same way will be questioned because the memory was not always held in conscious awareness. Why is that?
Photo credit: Hekatekris