My story is extreme. I forgot the majority of my childhood. Even before I started recovery, I used to ponder my lack of memories. I even told my father I could not remember living in the same house with him. He pretended not to understand why. Most of my memories have been tied to my inner parts who would take over during traumatic times. This recent discovery of Dissociative Identity Disorder has led to a much better understanding of my past and how I handled it.
But I have heard from many survivors about their own stories of memory repression. Sometimes, they remember most of their trauma, but not everything. Sometimes, there are only a few events which are repressed. Sometimes, they remember everything with no emotions tied to the memories at all.
However it manifests, the biggest problem with memory repression is the doubts. People love to tell us how repressed memories are somehow less reliable than other memories. While I will be the first to admit human memory is fallible to some extent, repressed memories are certainly no less reliable. But society has told us differently. There have been entire foundations created to discredit the recovered memories of abuse victims. So now, survivors have to deal with the stigma of mental illness, the stigma of abuse and the stigma of repressed memories. Sometimes, it seems insurmountable.
But not today. Today I want to talk about recovered memories. And I want to educate all those struggling with the old brainwashing that they are fallible. And I want to encourage all those struggling with their own memories they just can’t believe. And I want to tell those who don’t believe these memories to shut up (that’s the nice version). Honestly, these doubts come from our inner defenders or the projected defenses of others. The doubts are not real. The memories are.
Here are some reasons repressed memories are real:
- The memories come from our body which doesn’t lie. The mind lies. The mind makes things up to keep life more tolerable, but the body knows the truth. When the body and the mind are not in sync, the body pain, the illness, the dis-ease sets in. In my own experience, after 6 years of memory recovery, my unexplainable chronic pain and inflammation have practically vanished.
- When children use their imagination, they make up things like rainbows and unicorns. And this goes for our inner children too. They aren’t lying to you. As a matter of a fact, our inner children have been dying to tell us the truth for decades. And we have been continuing their invalidation on the inside.
- Alienating our childhood network is not a half-hearted decision. Nobody would do this lightly. In many cases, accepting the reality of recovered memories means alienating ourselves from extended family systems. It means we will not experience a family holiday in the same way again. Potentially, any financial safety net will be completely removed from our lives. The idea that someone would be doing this out of spite or to create difficulties for someone else makes no sense at all.
- Lies are for creating a preferable reality. Think about the times you have lied in the past. Maybe you were trying to avoid offending someone. Maybe you were trying to make yourself look good or better. Maybe you were trying to achieve something you did not believe you could achieve without the lie. But did you ever lie to create a worse reality? I am going to guess you have not. When you recover memories, it is often not the reality you would want. If it was, you probably would not have repressed it in the first place. The denial is the lie.
- The shame and stigma associated with childhood trauma is intense. Nobody would make this up because there is still an inner part who blames the self for the entire thing. The shame can be overwhelming. If I was going to make up memories, I would make up memories about being born in to royalty or something cool like that.
So the next time you feel those strong doubts coming up about your own memories or someone else’s memories, consider what I am saying here. Consider how your invalidation of repressed memories may be an attempt to avoid the truth. If we want to change ourselves and change the world, we must start with the truth.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW
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