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i don't "believe" in repressed memories


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I hope this is the appropriate forum.  If it's not, please move my post to wherever it needs to be. 

I know that, scientifically, the concept of repressed memories has been both proven to be true and proven to not exist.  I have a degree in psych and my professors always taught me that repressed memories do not exist, and therefore I have always more or less believed that to be true.

This is a really hard thing for me to post, and just typing all of it makes me feel psycho, so please bear w/ me if I don't make total sense.

Basically what I am wondering - in the opinion of those who have experienced abuse, anecdotal evidence, whatever - do you "believe" that memories can be repressed?

I am asking because for years I have thought I was sexually abused as a child. 

I think this for many reasons, the first of which is **why else would I be certain it had happened?**

There are some signs:  PTSD symptoms throughout my life, self esteem problems, body image issues, a time where I cut whenever I was upset, inability to trust others, especially men, shame and guilt as pervasive emotions no matter how great my life is going, and sexual things:  I don't know how comfortable I feel putting them out here just yet, but I would be okay w/ PMing them. 

Confounding factors are certainly my (ex) alcoholic (ex) anorexic (ex) emotionally abusive mother and my absent father, being bullied in 6th grade to the point of changing schools, and being date raped at 17.

The thing is, I have *always* thought something happened.  Even as a younger child.

In 5th grade my grades dropped suddenly and nobody had an explanation.  At that same time I became depressed and suicidal (um, not so normal for a 10 year old?) and I got "caught" writing a sex story.

The reason this creeps me out is because I realized the other day that I remember NOTHING from 5th grade.  I can remember random details about every other time in my life, but 5th grade is a blank.  I got nothin'.

How normal is this stuff?

I was dx'ed w/ PTSD years ago, it has gotten much better though through years of therapy and meds.  And I've never really experienced nightmares or flashbacks.  Nothing to validate my "feeling".

I'm so sorry for rambling about personal things, I guess I am just trying to paint a background image...

My younger sister (by 3 years) also says she feels as if we were molested as children.

She can't remember anything, either.

Do repressed memories exist?  Or am I totally just psycho?

;)

--Bella

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Bella,

don't know a lot about this. i'm an anthropology major not a psychology major. i'm a little tiny bit read on the issue of memory in therapy and trauma recovery.

i'm not sure what i 'believe'. but two things:

first, we need to clarify that there are actually two parts to this issue.

a) the notion of 'repressed memory' and whether people, during and/or after traumatic events, will somehow deal with the event by blocking it out of their conscious awareness.

b) the idea of 'recovered memory', which is the issue many psych research/theory has taken issue with most vehemently, and where the point of contention lies wherein a client will, through the process of therapy (various techniques presumably), RECOVER their lost or repressed memory. there is suggestion that therapists can influence clients to 'remember' trama. there is question as to the validity of these memories. research (without sourcing, my own personal recollection) found that memory was often false/inaccurate. of course this raises a whole lot of questions and problems.

second, memory anyway is a pretty tricky thing. how the memory comes to us, the content of the memory, and what it then means to us, all has bearing on the memory. i have had dreams that were disturbing and suggested abuse. i chose not to take these images as fact but as metaphor. it's possible i suppose to take that feeling that something happened in the past and hold it as real, without looking to substantiate it or hold others accountable for what they did. to basically take it as metaphor means to take the notion of betrayal, of violation, or boundaries crossed, and understand the implications of this without focusing on the who, what, when, where, how.

i'm talking about the memory recovery part really, not the repressed part. of course, the underlying thought is that the memory would remain repressed, but the repression, the very notion that the memory exists in that repressed form would be a valid idea.

as far as whether 'repression' is a useful or valid concept, it's a larger discussion - but loosely, anthropologically, i suppose, if we don't remember everything, yet we experienced it through our senses, it is possible for us to 'remember' without 'recollection' (like body memory), and it's possible for meaning to exist that isn't yet fully comprehended in our own mind.

i hope this highly intellectual answer isn't upsetting or anything.

pj

edit to get rid of smiley b -- second time's the charm, peej

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That makes *so much* sense.

I guess, then, the issue becomes going to therapy for something that may or may not have happened.  Working out the present while not digging into the past.

Which seems somehow more confusing but less frightening...

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i do think that people have repressed memories.

i think it's a coping mechanism.  my unscientific  survey of friends  has led me to beleive that it's a coping mechanism we pick up as kids, and that it can continue later in life.  which is why if something crap happens, sometimes i will still have to be reminded that it happened. (i mean like something last month.)

however... i think the danger is in the recovery of these memories.

as a child i had that false memory syndrome where kids end up saying what they think the therapist wants to hear, even thought it's not the truth. 

we're adults now, but i think that the reliability of repressed memories is related to how they are recovered.  i have no doubt that therapists have inadvertently let patients to recover memories that did not happen.

the two repressed memories that i have recoverd i rememberd them all of the sudden.  one was in class in highschool, the other while driving in my early 20's.  they just came to me all of the sudden, as clear as if they had just happened, but prior to that i'd have absolutley no memory of these two events. 

i was able to verify both events with other family members, so i know they were real.

so, yeah... i think they are real.  i just think one must be very careful with them, as even spontaniously recovered memories aren't always real, and well... after the false memory thing as a kid, i'm suspicious of certain parts of therapy.  (love therapy in general... just think one should be cautious about memory recovery in therapy is all.)

just my opinion on the matter.

penny

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There are some signs:  PTSD symptoms throughout my life, self esteem problems, body image issues, a time where I cut whenever I was upset, inability to trust others, especially men, shame and guilt as pervasive emotions no matter how great my life is going....
I have (or have had) all of these, too.  On top of that, I have anecdotal evidence:  of my father trying to find me and being unable to, of my mother witnessing my near-swoon when she casually showed me the obit picture in the paper of my alleged abuser, of the no-names but fit-too-damn-well confession in his suicide note.  My therapist at 10 thought I showed all the signs, but then she was a shamanistic crank who I would like to divest of all her credentials.  (Attempted recovery.  Bitch.)  For myself, the only possibly-related memory I have is of my empty shell wandering down empty hallways, finding my Dad, and hiding behind him when some cheerful strange man came walking by, commenting on how quiet and mature I looked.  (In hindsight, he may have been my eventual sixth grade teacher.  I don't remember the face.)  My personality was completely inverted at six.  Perhaps that means something. 

I don't have anything productive to add to this conversation.  Just a "me too," about as surely as anyone can say so. 

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This is something I think about very often.

I have often wondered about PTSD and repressed memories myself - I guess if you have the "feeling" there is a good chance that it's true... but it's hard to actually go through therapy and try to find those memories because sometimes people can actually put those thoughts in your head.

For me, I KNOW I was molested when I was 10.  Once.  Well, once was enough.  I KNOW that my body image issues, trust issues, MEN issues started around that time as well, but I have flashes in my mind of when I was even younger doing "sexual' things.  I have flashes in my mind that my father wasn't always being a father to me... that he was doing *something*  (I don't get that visual, so I don't know what it is) to me when he should have been protecting me from that sort of thing instead.

I even confronted my father about something that has been with me for a long time.  He explained the situation, in his favour of course.  "That didn't happen... what really happened was..." 

So why do I still feel it?  I don't know.  Am I making it up because I'm pathetic an need a reason to feel sorry for myself?  Or are there really repressed memories there?

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So why do I still feel it?  I don't know.  Am I making it up because I'm pathetic an need a reason to feel sorry for myself?  Or are there really repressed memories there?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

YESSSSSSSSSS.  That's what I always grapple with.

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Bella,

A great topic of discussion. Sorry to not offer a more personal answer ATM.

presentjoy,

great reply. Much of the debate and confusion for hypotheses and theories about the validity of memories centers around repressed memories vs. recovered memories. The manner and style of interviewing/questioning victims and witnesses can and does influence answers people give in experiments and in real life.

I have attended lectures given by a couple of the leading researchers in the areas of repressed and recovered memories as well as how they are influenced by factors such as age and authority figures (sorry about the passive voice, can't write).

Also as mentioned, at different ages we store and interpret memories differently based on our intellectual maturity and just the basic mechanisms of how memory works and develops over our lifespan. So, we do have memories from when we were very young it is just that they were stored in a way that we no longer have access to in order to retrieve them.

realitytest,

thaks for bringing up the legal issues. I had a professor whose area was memory and he was asked to testify as an expert. The Judge told my prof that he thought repressed/recovered memories where bullshit and basically told the jury to dismiss all of the prof's testimony.

Not saying I am an expert about any of this, just have alot of reading and lectures on topic. I am late for my pdoc so I'll try to post some links when I get home.

Erika

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This is a great topic!!!  I do think I have many many repressed memories.  It's hard to know what's real and what isen't.  I too believe in the strong poss. that I was molested or sexually abused somehow also.  Don't remember it either, but I have a strong distrust w/men also to the extent I go out of my way to see a female doctor or female therapist.  I'm pretty emotionally shut down sexually, but do "give in" to the husband.  I became pretty introverted from age 5 on...who knows.  I do know that plenty of my emotional/psychological shit came from my mom who put us through a lot of really bad shit.  The ole I'm sick of you and putting you up for adoption.  Oh I could go on, but I'm sure there are memories much worse then I can remember.  Sigh.

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Hi bella,

I have nothing particularly useful to add but yes, I do think we often repress memories as a defense mechanism. Some of the studies show that little kids aren't able to process certain experiences so their brains stow them away for future reference (gross simplification on my part, sorry). I'd say if you don't remember 5th grade and you show all the signs and your sister suspects it too, well  ... I understand your reticence about remembering. I don't want to remember either. I want the ptsd to go away and I want recovery but dammit, I do NOT want to remember. So yeah. Great topic. Millie

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I would say that it is possible to repress or 'forget' things that are too hurtful to recall or to deal with. I know that I have spontaneously recalled hurtful things that happened when I was a kid but of which I had previously had no conscious memory. It didn't happen in a therapy session, nor was my therapist encouraging anything like that. We had been talking about my personal history, and these were not so much significant incidents in themselves, they were more typical of my family life. The incidents could be verified by my sister, although it wasn't necessary.

I'm not saying this is your case, but it's possible to have all those 'symptoms' but not have a history of being abused by as a child. I have all the 'symptoms' and 'signs' of childhood sexual abuse, and every certainty that it did not happen. Relatives who would have known, and who would absolutely have defended me, and told me or my therapist confirm that there was none. My pdoc/therapist has said that if he didn't know better then he'd have assumed that I had been abused.

Part of my trouble draws from an abusive marriage in my early 20s, so the abuse doesn't necessarily need to go back to childhood to have some real similarities.

Fiona

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  • 4 weeks later...

as i work more w/ my new tdoc, who i actually like this time around (usually i "quit" therapy), i think that there's just tons and tons that's happened to me and all overlapped to create these symptoms.

like a cumulative ptsd.

what i'm wondering is how normal is it to have a visceral memory but not a cognitive one?

for instance:  we were talking about a time my mom threw me down the stairs.  i was 2 and i don't remember it happening at all.  but as we talked about it, i felt so dizzy and i couldn't breathe and i almost vomited.

this happens to me a lot - i can intellectually separate myself from traumatic things that have happened, but sometimes - very suddenly and intensely - i will get overwhelming physical "memories" or have intense emotions that come from seemingly nowhere.

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what i'm wondering is how normal is it to have a visceral memory but not a cognitive one?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, I don't know how "normal" it is, but it happens to me all the time. My tdoc says it's my body remembering things that my brain couldn't process. Hope that helps. Millie

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hm, yes, i'm trying not to use the word "normal" but i suppose i meant common, ie are there others like me.  ;)

do you also have intellectual memories?  or is it mostly the "body memories"?

have you found triggers?  ways to help them lessen?

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like a cumulative ptsd.

what i'm wondering is how normal is it to have a visceral memory but not a cognitive one?

for instance:  we were talking about a time my mom threw me down the stairs.  i was 2 and i don't remember it happening at all.  but as we talked about it, i felt so dizzy and i couldn't breathe and i almost vomited.

this happens to me a lot - i can intellectually separate myself from traumatic things that have happened, but sometimes - very suddenly and intensely - i will get overwhelming physical "memories" or have intense emotions that come from seemingly nowhere.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Common reactions, the degree to which one suffers is of course different for all of us. Just my opinion, but I think the bodily memeories can be scarier because they don't seem as easy to control at first as intellectual memories.

As I progressed in PTSD therapy, I was able to identify and develop coping skills to deal with triggers, which was a huge relief. Reaction to triggers, the bad bodily and intellectual memories will gradually weaken as you talk about the traumatic events more and more.

It seems all bassackwards that the more you talk about the expereinces that brought on the PTSD the less control the memories and triggers have over a person. It is like draining an old wound full of puss and as the puss drains the wond is eventually able to heal from the inside out.

Good to hear you like your doc. PTSD therapy is rough, hang in there, and remember you are couragious and brave for going forth.

Erika

edited because I can't type or spell

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Guest aHidingRegular

I'm not posting this under my regular login because I don't want it turning up via Google...

I think I was molested as a very young child.  I was highly sexual even at two years old.  I masturbated all the time (3-4 times a day) as a child, and I've been excited by BDSM elements for as long as I can remember.  Mom caught me playing "sex slaves" with Barbie once when I was about six.  And I wasn't exposed to anything like that as far as I know.  I just came up with it on my own.

I've also heard that it's extremely common for abuse survivors to, as adults, find children sexually attractive.  That's definitely true in my case, although I would NEVER actually do anything to a child.  I just like looking and fantasizing.  Which completely creeps me out, mind you, but I can't seem to help myself.

Maybe I'm just a freak of nature.  I don't know.  But it seems awfully bizarre that a two year old would be masturbating over torture scenes, doesn't it?

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