Posts Tagged ‘False Memory Syndrome’

A reader emailed me with concerns about false memory syndrome. This reader is in the same place that I was once and that many of you have been. When your repressed memories start pouring out through flashbacks, they seem unbelievable. You ask yourself if these horrible things could possibly be true because they seem so foreign to you. You don’t want them to be true, and you hope that they aren’t. However, they are so detailed and “warped” that you think that either they must be true or you are just plain “crazy.” At least, that’s what it was like for me.

This healing/flashback process is hard enough, but thanks to the propaganda in the 1990’s about false memory syndrome, many child abuse survivors worry that some unscrupulous person has implanted these memories into their heads. That’s even scarier than the flashbacks being true. You fear that there is something really “wrong” with you and lose the ability to trust yourself.

I am not saying that no unscrupulous therapist has ever implanted false memories into a patient. I cannot fathom why a therapist would do this, but I also cannot fathom why someone would abuse a child. I am not going to get into an unscrupulous therapist’s head. However, I do not buy into false memory syndrome being some sweeping, widespread issue as society was led to believe in the 1990’s. I believe that movement was a way to silence those of us who were recovering child abuse memories that certain members of society did not want recovered or believed.

I have had people email me accusing me of suffering from delusions implanted by a therapist. Here is my response to this ridiculous accusation:

    1. I did not enter into therapy until after I had already recovered numerous repressed memories, so nobody had access to my head to implant anything.
    2. My sister recovered many of the same memories even though we have never seen the same therapist.
    3. If these are all false memories, why is processing them resulting in my getting healthier emotionally instead of more unhealthy?

I also find the accusation of false memory syndrome to be insulting. I am not some weak-minded person who can be that easily manipulated by another person. I mean no offense to anyone who has fallen prey to false memory syndrome. My point is that I have a very strong will, and the thought of me allowing anyone else to implant that many memories into my head is simply ludicrous.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader sent me an email asking why so many people do not believe in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I replied to her email, but I thought this would also make a good blog topic.

I think that many people resist the existence of DID for the same reasons they resisted accepting that the earth is round or that the earth revolves around the sun. People form their beliefs based on their own experiences and the experiences of others, and they tend to resist ideas that don’t fit neatly into the little box they have created to explain the world around them.

The same thing happened with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In her book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman explains the history of PTSD. She says that PTSD is the same “woman’s disease” that you read about in the 1800’s, only it was called “hysteria.” Everyone believed that hysteria was something only experienced by women until a bunch of soldier’s came home from WWI exhibiting the same symptoms found with this “woman’s disease.” Today, few people question that the trauma of watching your buddy’s head get blown off in battle can result in flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.

Society has finally accepted that PTSD is a real disorder, but people tend to apply it only to people who have endured documented trauma, such as the battlefield or perhaps a serious accident in which a loved one died. Many still resist applying PTSD to survivors of child abuse. Also, there is no question that the Iraq war happened, but we only have the “he said, she said” to go on when it comes to child abuse. So, a PTSD diagnosis for child abuse has not fully been embraced by society at large.

If society cannot wrap their brains around PTSD resulting from child abuse, then DID is going to be even harder for them to accept. This moves us into the realm of repressed memories from abuse that happened when the survivor was very young (typically under age 6). As you might remember from the 1990’s, the media did its darndest to allege that repressed memories were unreliable. This is a convenient myth for child abusers to perpetuate because then they are free to harm young children all they want without any fear of repercussions. After all, who is going to believe the grown woman (or man) who just starting having flashbacks 30 years later?

As Martha Stout pointed out in her book The Myth of Sanity, DID is not something to be “believed” or discounted. It simply is. My experience is my experience, and this experience has been shared by many other child abuse survivors. I believe that, in the next couple of decades, society will learn to accept the reality of DID, just as they learned to accept that the earth is round and not flat.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Periodically, I receive emails or comments from people who do not believe in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or recovering memories. Some of the comments are from well-meaning people who have some sort of need not to believe in them. Perhaps they are fighting their own demons, or perhaps they have seen their own families torn apart when a relative recovered memories of abuse, and they chose not to believe the relative.

Others might have a more disturbing agenda for contacting me about their skepticism of DID and recovering memories. Those who harm young children do not want anyone to believe that a young child can recover memories of trauma. The widespread misconception that it is impossible for a young child to remember trauma and recover that memory as an adult is insulation for those who harm young children. As long society believes that it is not possible for a young child to remember, then the abuser need not fear ever having to face justice for harming young children.

I choose not to publish those comments on my blog for a couple of reasons:

1. This is not a debate blog.

The purpose of this blog is to offer healing and hope to those who have suffered from child abuse. While skeptics might consider me to be “delusional,” this “delusional” blog has provided hope and healing to numerous readers.

I regularly receive emails and comments from readers thanking me for talking about the tough topics and telling me that they have the courage to continue fighting their own internal demons because of the strength they see in my writing. I have even been told several times that a person who was contemplating suicide changed his or her mind because of something that I wrote.

That is the reason that I write this blog. It isn’t that I cannot debate the issue. I have a law degree from a highly respected law school, so I can be a formidable debate opponent. I choose not to do it here.

2. I don’t want to erect stumbling blocks for my readers.

I have been healing for over five years. I have already worked through the “Am I crazy?” feelings. I have already validated my experiences with my sister, who was there for most of the abuse. We recovered the same memories separately, and neither of us have ever been hypnotized or had a therapist tell us what to remember. We also live in two different states, 10 hours apart by car, and worked with therapists who do not know each other.

However, many of my readers are not this far along their healing journeys. A normal part of healing from child abuse is denial. First, you deny that you were ever abused. Then, you acknowledge the abuse, but you deny that the abuse was “that bad.” I will not permit a debate on my blog to undermine the healing process of my readers.

I am not saying that no unscrupulous therapist has ever attempted to implant memories into a patient. I am just saying that it did not happen to me or to my sister.

One way to tell if recovered memories are real is whether they “fit.” Nothing in my life made sense until I started recovering memories. From the outside, I was a successful person who had a life that many people envied. From the inside, I battled numerous, seemingly unrelated issues. My life only made sense after I faced my truths.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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