False Memories, Real Memories
Child abuse, recovered and repressed memories and "false memory syndrome" are very sensitive topics and are currently highly controversial subjects in our society. Research into the process of memory encoding, storage and retrieval is still in its infancy, but there is substantial evidence that indicates that memories are not stored intact. Instead, different elements of what is considered "a memory" may be stored in different parts of the brain and then "reassembled." This fragmentation of memory storage may be even more pronounced if the event(s) was traumatic and occurred very early in life. One of the reasons posited for this is that the portion of the brain responsible for coalescing memory fragments into a single whole does not develop until sometime between the ages of 2 and 4 years. This, together with the passage of time, means that there can be distortion and fragmentation of the details of a given memory.

However, abuse survivors usually remember at the very least that their abuse occurred, even if they do not remember exact details of their abuse or confuse the details with other material. In fact, most studies estimate that at least 50% of persons enter therapy with all or part of their abuse memories intact. The remaining group may have been so traumatized by their abuse that they have literally blocked the memories until such time as it is safe for them to remember. This protective process, called repression, is a standard concept in most psychotherapeutic disciplines, and is not unique to the area of child abuse and recovered memories. It is the psyche's means of protecting the individual from excessive trauma whatever the nature until such time as the person is ready to address the memories.

THE MORRIS CENTER believes that the vast majority of survivors who come forth to deal with their abuse histories were in fact abused to some extent and may well have repressed some or all of their memories of the abuse, only to have them surface later due to some kind of external trigger or their own readiness to deal with the issues. However, this does not mean that there are not valid cases in which memories have been fabricated, suggested or even "implanted" and are therefore not legitimate. Actions of unethical therapists can cause this, but so can exaggerated media reports, sensational "talk show" banter, and individual imagination. We believe that some, if not all, of the persons who have recovered memories and then recanted their stories are telling the truth. We also believe that the number of these "false memory" cases is minuscule and statisticallly irrelevant when compared to the actual incidence of child abuse and the number of persons who enter therapy with at least some of their memories intact. Nevertheless, we encourage you to be careful with this aspect of your recovery. Only you can be the true judge as to whether you were abused as a child. There may be corroborating evidence a doctor's report, a friend or neighbor who "knew" but didn't say anything but in the end, you must be truthful with yourself about what happened to you.

Previous Manual Page | Print This Page | Next Manual Page

Survivor to Thriver, Page 10
© 2007 THE MORRIS CENTER, Revised 11/06