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On my blog entry entitled Stuffing the Memories Back Inside after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following question:

Faith, on the subject of repressing memories, how do you know that something is actually a memory, and not some weird dramatization your mind is making up? This is possibly triggering, and I even feel a little sick to recall it, but recently, I had another “memory”, a very short one, of my abuser trying to kiss me. My reaction in this memory, was different to my usual reaction in other memories I’ve had before. I would usually just let her, but in this memory, I jerked away, and I even physically jerked away from nothing as I was remembering it. This was just so strange to me, because it was very different from the way I remembered all those other times. I don’t want to sound like I’m in denial here (maybe I am), but I can’t help but think that maybe I made that one up. Maybe I was mixing a memory with something I read or saw, maybe how I wished I had reacted? How do you know if it’s an actual memory, or just something you’re imagining? ~ Janet

Not knowing what is real and what is not is a very frustrating part of healing from child abuse. I had to choose to believe myself. Nobody that I know who was not traumatized would have “flashes” or “memories” of events that never took place. I was able to verify some of my memories, which helped me to believe myself with those that I could not validate.

I tend to believe myself when I physically react to the memory, as Janet mentions in her comment. Like Janet, I will sometimes jerk away, feel the need to suck my thumb, or have some other sort of physical reaction to the memory. To me, my physical reaction is validating.

The other piece is whether the memory (or collection of memories) makes sense. Before recovering the memories of abuse, nothing in my life made sense. Through the lens of the childhood trauma, my entire life makes sense. The memories filled in the missing puzzle pieces that brought the full picture into focus.

One final thought is to ask why you would lie to yourself about something like this. Why would you make up a memory that brings you nothing but pain and shame?

To a certain extent, I had to take a leap of faith to trust myself and what my subconscious wanted me to know. I have not been sorry. As painful as my past is, I am much happier knowing it consciously and dealing with it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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