As many of you know, my mother is a Dr. Mom (Ph.D. Jungian therapist) and I respect her immensely. She has been my guru and my muse on many-a-post(s) here. Today is one of those days. (Hi Mom!)
Last week, she shared an article that resonated so deeply that I knew I must share it with you.
Before I begin, please know that this will not be for everyone. In fact, some of you may think it’s utter BS. That’s okay.
Others of you may question its validity and that’s also okay. Try to keep an open mind.
But for those of you who have locked-away memories that (even after years) you cannot recover, this may be for you.
I will not be sharing the article in its entirety, but will excerpt a few of the stronger points and include a link for you to read it for yourself. It’s well-worth the 5 minutes or less it will take you to read it.
The article is called, “Memory Isn’t Important to Recover from Trauma” by Sarah Newman, MA, MFA, and the full link is:
I am going to highlight a few paragraphs and discuss them:
For survivors of child abuse, memory isn’t your best friend. Memories may be intrusive. You might flashback suddenly and relive the trauma all over again. You can be well on the road to recovery, and these images and all the feelings they evoke may return.
Sound familiar? It does to me! This is the basis for the entire article.
For some, the abuse began so early in life that it’s unlikely they will remember those incidents.
I have some memories that are clear-as-a-bell and others that are blurry, frightening and dream-like.
For years (and years!) I have tried to remember *exactly* what happened and who perpetrated the event(s) because I was told that I needed to … to fully heal.
Perhaps these blocks are trying to protect me? No “perhaps” about it! They are!
I believe that this exercise of trying to remember/ not remembering/ trying to remember (over and over again) has left me in a kind-of limbo of perpetual victim-hood. I know something happened but don’t know what it is. I feel angry and frustrated that I can’t remember interspersed with not knowing if I can trust my actual memories.
Then, I’ve tried to just let go and feel guilty for not sticking up for myself better.
I’ve been living it for years.
I never had “permission” from specialists who should know (therapists/ psychiatrists, etc) to move forward without all the details.
Sometimes to deal with the hurt we experienced, we categorized it as “our fault.” We did something wrong, we deserved it.
Once again, I see myself so clearly.
For those incidents I do remember, it’s “If only, if only, if only” I hadn’t done this, that, or gone there. Did I invite it somehow? Did I not protest enough?
For those incidents that travel across my blurry screens of memory? I wonder, I wonder, I wonder… what really happened? Why am I afraid of this, or that? Did I do something to cause it? Did it really happen at all?
Years of trying to “substantiate” my feelings were fruitless.
What I find most upsetting about this is difficult for me to explain… but I’ll try.
I remember one therapist in particular who twisted several situations into something so ugly that I left her office shaking, feeling misunderstood and worse, violated.
It’s taken me years to realize that in her quest to get to “the truth”… she had literally fabricated memories I’d never had, and worse, implicated loved-ones that I know for a fact never, ever harmed me or my children.
*At the time, though, I was vulnerable. I questioned myself. I tried to dig deep and see if she was right. It was daunting, exhausting work. In the end, I felt I was vindicating people I loved. I have never felt so misunderstood.*
In my opinion, it takes a very special therapist/ client relationship to dive the depths of forgotten (or locked-away) memories.
In the end, the memory itself isn’t important. What’s important is how I felt. These feelings don’t happen in a vacuum and it’s feelings we have to recover from — not the event itself. We’ve survived the event. There is no way to expunge what happened, but there is always hope that we can move forward from the feelings surrounding it.
If you stop for a moment and meditate on this, I’m sure you’ll resonate with this, as I did.
What I’d like other trauma survivors to know is that not remembering doesn’t mean we’re not doing the work. We are recovering, whether we slowly recall specific traumatic events or never do so. We have permission not to remember. It doesn’t mean our mind is broken or that we’re overreacting.
This feels like my life story. I’ve been called a Drama Queen for as long as I can remember. Why? Because I’m empathic, dramatic (yes!) and vocal. If it were a positive affirmation, I would wear the crown with pride! However, we all know that it’s a negative, mean-spirited moniker.
We don’t have to build a case to have a feeling.
I nearly wept when I read this. Blessed permission to just be who we are! To have the feelings we do!
Allowing ourselves to […] honor our emotions and our childhood self [is] a gift we give the helpless child inside. [Moving] forward a strong survivor who never has to be victimized again.
I love this!
Allow me to finish up with a short story that I think illustrates the point:
I’ve talked before about how I hate those memes and posts in FB that share photographs of tortured, maimed or mutilated humans or animals. Once seen, they cannot be unseen. The description alone is enough to tell me what I need to know.
Memories behind locked doors are like those photos. You know they’re there but you don’t need to see them to believe it.
If there’s ever a reason to open the door, your mind will allow access.
Otherwise, trust that there’s a damned good reason to keep it closed. You have permission to move along… and heal.
Excellent response. Thank you for taking the time to write! I’m so sorry for the trauma you endured! Good job being brave and dealing with it all to move forward! 💕
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This is a very interesting post. I have a lifetime of experience around this subject. The funny lesson to me was that I DID NOT feel when I had no memories of my past. I was a ghost to myself. I had early and sustained childhood trauma. I hit life as an adult completely baffled about who I was — my past didn’t exist which unfortunately left me vacant on every level. My memories unearthed my beginnings. I needed them to come out of the abuse my adult life had in every avenue. While I believe you shouldn’t go on a hunt to restore, I believe strongly that I needed my mind and body to recall my past. My past was silently dictating my present and future. Man, without my memories I would most likely be dead or miserable. It takes great courage to live the truth. It is what I’ll choose. Thanks for bringing this up!
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It certainly did! That makes so much sense about therapists. I can imagine it would be relatively easy to do, too, which is why it’s vital to never become complacent. ❤
Beautifully written, Sherry! Glad this article spoke to you as much as it did to me and hope it helps others who are struggling with repressed memories of abuse. Like you, I had a bad early experience with a therapist who hadn’t done sufficient work on herself before entering the field, and it took me years to understand how she had projected her own experiences of abuse onto me and the damage she had done in the process. This experience taught me a valuable lesson though. When I began working with clients myself, I was acutely aware of the need for constant self-awareness and self-assessment to avoid what’s called in psychological parlance “transference” and “counter-transference.” If those entering the mental health fields can’t or won’t develop an awareness of these processes, they have no business being in the business.
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