There has been a huge movement to deny the existence of repressed memories even though there is over 100 years of recorded history of this happening, Sigmund Freud found that hysterical symptoms brought on even minor upsets or injuries could be traced back to traumas early in life for which the memory and associated affect had been repressed.”1
Prior to WWI, psychoanalysis had focused on the denial or repression of unacceptable inner drives. Denial of external reality was considered to be indicative of severe psychopathology or a weak ego. The war experience, however, showed that denial could be used by normal persons in an adaptive or maladaptive fashion. Dissociative states such as feelings of depersonalization, de-realization and detachment from one’s body, and amnesia and fugues, which, like denial, were commonly associated with trauma.2
Researcher Elizabeth Loftus, who reversed herself and began to work very hard in defending accused pedophiles, disputes the reality of repressed memories. She stated in the 1980s, however: “According to Freud, people often push unacceptable, anxiety-provoking thoughts and impulses into their unconscious so as to avoid confronting them directly. This psychological defense mechanism is called repression. Thus, a young woman who is sexually attracted to her father may try to repress her disturbing incestuous desires. But her behavior may indicate that these feelings are not completely forgotten. The woman may pause or fumble for words when discussing certain things about her father, and she may show other signs of anxiety such as sweating or blushing.”3
She also said, “A leading interpretation of these results is that memory traces consolidate with the passage of time, and that a critical incident can disrupt the process of consolidation Other interpretations are also possible: for example, that the critical incident affects retrieval, rather than storage, of information in memory. These experiments provide support for the theory that exposure to mentally shocking events can cause retrograde amnesia for other events that occur a short period of time earlier…A promising explanation for these memory deficits is that mental shock disrupts the lingering processing necessary for full storage of information in memory. Our results showed that impairment in memory occurred not only for an item seen immediately prior to the critical incident, but also for items occurring nearly two minutes earlier. Although this may seem to challenge the consolidation explanation, it can be accounted for by assuming that there are two consolidation processes, one for short-term consolidation but also for long-term consolidation.”4
I had a repressed memory of one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood. You can read about it in my autobiography, Conquering Incest: My Life as a Trauma Survivor. Just like other child abuse deniers, these people who profess that there is no such thing as repressed memories expect me to deny my own reality to fit their belief system.
To conclude about repressed memories, an obituary in the Washington Post on March 1, 2012 titled, “Saved 100 Jews from the Nazis in Amsterdam,” told the moving story about a remarkable woman, Dr. Tina Strobos, who protected 100 Jews in her attic. Talk about traumatic! The obituary stated: “For years, Dr. Strobos once told an interviewer, she had forgotten many of the events that took place in her attic during the war.” She said, “I’m sure it was because I didn’t want to remember all those things. So, you just close the whole attic of your memory.”
For those who continue to say, “You can’t repress traumatic memories,” I can’t help but believe that Dr. Strobos would have disagreed with that statement.
At the beginning of this series of posts, I said, “everything is stacked against a survivor who wants to seek justice.” Hopefully, you have a much better understanding of why tens of millions of survivors deserve their day in court and why our efforts have been thwarted in receiving the justice we so justly deserve.
1 “Trauma and Dissociation: 20 Years of Study and Lessons Learned Along the Way,” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Vol. 1 (1) 2000
2 “Conversion Disorders,” by Edwin A. Weinstein MD, War Psychiatry, Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC, 1995
3 Wortham, C. and Loftus, E. Psychology, 1981, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, p. 203
4 “Mental shock can produce retrograde amnesia,” Loftus, E. and Burns. T. 1982, Memory & Cognition, 10 (4), 318-323.