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Posts Tagged ‘repressed rape memories’

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

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I recently wrote a blog entry entitled Is it Possible to Have Been Raped as a Girl and Not Remember?. After this blog entry published, I received emails from readers asking me to discuss this topic further. This is my first installment. If you have specific questions or issues you would like for me to cover, please email them to me or post them in the comments to this blog entry. You can find my email address on the About Faith Allen page. I will not use your name unless you ask me to.

One reader wants to know more about the situation of remembering some sexual abuse incidents but repressing the memories of the rapes. This was my situation for about a year. I first entered into therapy after I began recovering memories of being sexually abused by my mother. (Before this, I had no memories whatsoever of sexual abuse.) As I dealt with those memories, more memories surfaced of other forms of sexual abuse, but none of them involved vaginal rape. I kept telling myself that I could handle the memories as long as I was never vaginally raped. As I continued to heal, I reached a place when I had to face that this, too, had been taken from me. It was incredibly painful, but I needed to remember to heal.

Why did I remember multiple other incidents of sexual abuse but not the rapes? My guess is that I found the vaginal rapes to be the most traumatizing. Different people are going to have different memories that they consider to be the “worst of the worst.” For me, it was vaginal rapes. For my sister, it was animal rape. For others, it is mother-daughter sexual abuse or other forms of abuse. I think we often save for last the memory that we fear will break us. We ease ourselves into remembering the worst.

I have talked with child abuse survivors who have always remembered some forms of sexual abuse but not others. My observation has been that those whose sexual abuse began after age six appear to be more likely to remember some of the sexual abuse but might have dissociated the accompanying emotions or some of the more traumatizing incidents.

I know one sexual abuse survivor who remembered being raped hundreds of times by a family member. Because she had these memories, she did not believe that anything had been repressed. She was wrong. Through therapy, as she healed from what she had already remembered but had refused to “feel,” she started recovering memories of other abuses that were even more traumatizing than the memories she had always held. She took this very hard because she thought that what she remembered was hard enough. She felt like she was losing her mind as more memories of even more traumatizing abuses surfaced.

It is normal for people who have endured trauma to repress the memory. It is possible (and common) for child abuse survivors to have memories of some of the abuse but not others.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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