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Posts Tagged ‘false memories’

A few days ago, I ran across something in an old journal entry. I’m pretty sure that most anyone who deals with dissociated memories of abuse also deals with fears that the memories didn’t “really” happen- that they just “made up” the memories. The reality is that memory is complicated and malleable. Under the best of circumstances it doesn’t function like a video recorder and is subject to distortion. Under the pressures of intense trauma being done to a small child and then the child trying to contain and make sense of what happened, it’s quite likely that what is remembered is not quite exactly what happened in some way. Sometimes the memories aren’t clear, particularly when they are missing important pieces of information or only involve one sense, and so they are susceptible to distortion while trying to make sense of them. When good therapists work with clients who are dealing with dissociated memories, they never probe for the memories, but allow them to emerge in their own time. These therapists also won’t say which memories or parts of memories they think are accurate, because it is the person who is remembering that is the best judge.

When I started therapy with Mama Bear, it was at the height of the “false memory syndrome” frenzy. At some point during that first year, I heard about it, and it did terrible damage to my ability to trust what was emerging. In many ways, it was a handy excuse for the parts of me that needed for me to stop looking at my history. “You can’t trust your memory. You can’t trust your mind. It’s impossible for you to have never seen any signs that this abuse was there.”

Well, yes, I had started to be afraid of sex right after I got married, as soon as I was safe from my family. But maybe I just have sexual issues for some other reason. Besides, it started to get really bad after I found and read a book that contained something about sexual abuse in it. Maybe that book started the whole idea? And then around the same time, I saw an Oprah show with Truddi Chase. That’s also around the same time that I can identify first having disruptive dissociative symptoms while in public. Of course, at the time I had no idea that they were dissociative symptoms and simply was bewildered and frightened by what I was experiencing. But maybe the dissociation was suggested to me by that show and somehow my mind took it and eventually developed it into something that looks like a dissociative disorder?

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I always had the doubt that somehow the idea had been planted in my mind and my mind developed it into this whole elaborate, tortuous experience. As I worked with various therapists and as I learned more about dissociation, the doubt eased, because it really is pretty preposterous that everything could fit together so well, match so exactly with what things would look like if the abuse had happened, and, most importantly, that significant healing and relief would be experienced when I accepted the reality of the abuse experiences. But underneath it all, there still was that nagging doubt, “But I first heard about sexual abuse and dissociation around the same time that I started to experience symptoms…”

Then I read that journal entry on Wednesday. When I read it, I understood that I was wrong about the time line. I described having an emotional memory of the abuse with my father triggered in a sexual situation with my then fiance, months before the wedding. I also described a part stopping me from being able to talk with my fiance about what had happened. I had no idea that there was a part involved, all I knew what that when I tried to talk, I felt as though I was being suffocated.

This all happened long before I was exposed to information about sexual abuse and dissociation. And I know from the description of what happened that I was triggered by a memory with my father, not my grandfather. Deep inside, I had still been hoping that maybe I was wrong about my father, but I’m not. Furthermore, the memory belongs to a group of things that happened that I had really been hoping I had somehow distorted under the stress of the memories coming out and that they hadn’t actually happened.

Over the course of two journal pages, I had the basis for all of my denial torn out from under me. Yes, denial doesn’t really rely upon logic, but by this point it has been weakened enough over all that hitting me in the face with evidence that counters the denial makes it pretty hard to keep it up. Being confronted in all of those areas at the same time was a big shock for me, though. Too big of a shock to deal with on my own.

Continued in Together

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Catherine Kleeman

Catherine Kleeman

“If I there was any way that I could have made it work to not accept that my dad abused me, I would have. But it was tearing me apart inside. It felt like it was killing me until I accepted it.”

It was my session today and Mama Bear and I had been talking about my relationship with my mother. I could see that even though I love my mother and I know that she loves me, our love for each other really might not be enough to overcome the problems in our relationship. I don’t want to lie anymore about what happened, but I fear that she can’t take the truth.

I say that I don’t want to lie anymore, and I really don’t, but at the same time, a large part of me would do anything to crush everything to do with my father’s abuse down into a tiny ball that I could hide in a corner and “forget.” I would do that because I am all but convinced that is the only thing that will allow me to have a relationship with my mother.

Mama Bear’s response was, “No one should feel the need to apologize for knowing and saying what her reality is.”

What a painful choice to make, though… Do I value more the chance to have my full self, hope of eventually being whole, to be real, and to heal enough to make the sorts of connections that I want to make with other people, or to have hope of maintaining a relationship with the only person who loved me as a child? The wiser part of me understands that I need to be whole, but the child in me would do anything to keep my mother. After all, my mother is the one who gave me the love that I needed in order to have some corner of me that was healthy enough to make choices when I was a young adult. She didn’t protect me, but she did give me a place where I could feel loved and relatively safe. She was my everything.

Last week, I realized that I have always lived a dual existence, since the abuse started. Some pretty horrible things happened to me as a child and as a result I developed all of the parts of me that took the abuse. At the same time, my mom provided love and I believe that she always has loved me strongly. When I was physically with her, I knew that I was safe. All children are dependent upon their parents, but I was desperately dependent upon her, because it felt like she was the only thing keeping me from a dark abyss. On the other hand, from what I can piece together, I had the strong message from her that she couldn’t take knowing anything about the abuse. She still can’t. She changes the subject and acts like I have said nothing, when I even make a reference to being in therapy. I could not afford to let the abuse affect my relationship with my mother at all. Without her, I would be without anyone to give me even the illusion of protection. So there is a part of me that has to be completely separate from the abuse. In fact, I think that is why there is such a strong dissociative barrier between the me that grew up “normally” and all of those parts of me that took the abuse. It had to be that strong, in order to protect my relationship with my mom.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with a part that still feels completely cut off from any of the abuse. Everything about the abuse feels foreign to that part and it seems utterly incomprehensible that my dad could have done the things that other parts say that he did. This part whispers in my ear, “It couldn’t have happened. This is all a mistake.” I wish that it was a mistake. I hate that I believe that my dad violated my body starting around age 3. I hate that I seem to remember performing sexual acts on him. I really hate… Well, I can’t talk about that right now. Let’s just say that I hate everything about it. It would feel awful to believe that somehow I had put myself through all of this, but as I said at the beginning, I’ve tried to do just that, over and over again, because it seems better than the option of accepting that I really had to lie there and let those things happen, even help them happen. It would be better than thinking that my Daddy could have made me feel so frightened and dirty. It would be better than knowing that my dad was having sex with me right under my mother’s nose and she could’t let herself see it.

Or would it really be better? Those frightened, hurt child parts of me think so, but the greater me has seen that when I finally accepted what happened and started to treat myself with compassion, then I suddenly started to make huge strides in my healing. I can also see that I fall apart, experience chaos inside, and want to hurt myself when I start to believe again that it’s impossible for my dad to have abused me. Rationally, it makes no sense that I would heal when I believe and act on a lie and I fall back into a dark place when I see the truth.

So, I think that it is time for me to have the conversation with Mama Bear that I have been too afraid to have before now. “It there anything else that could look just like what I have experienced and not be significant abuse? Could I somehow have created the dissociation in myself? Is it possible that I could have created everything and none of the abuse happened at all? Or is it safe for me to believe myself? Can I trust myself? All of the hubbub about false memories have left me even more afraid to believe myself than I would have been otherwise.” I know that she believes that I was abused, so I think that this type of conversation would help to put some of my concerns to rest. I also know that if there are any answers that would be difficult to for me hear, she will be gentle and help me work through them, but then at least I would know what they are, rather than being afraid of the unknown. It makes sense to have this conversation, but the thought of having it makes me incredibly anxious!

Do you deal with the struggle to believe or not believe? How do you deal with it?

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