Saturday, March 19, 2016

False Memories

Memory is a funny thing.

Why I or anyone else would lie about something as painful and shameful as childhood sexual abuse is a valid question to ask.
Long term memory is composed of experiences that are significant to us. If an experience is not significant, it does not get filed in our long term memory.

Traumatic memory is different.

When we experience an event that feels life threatening, all of our senses are activated. Our survival instinct, a fight or flight response, is activated. Traumatic memories are stored in a different part of the brain than regular memory. They are stored in the part of the brain where feelings are stored along with images and sensations they evoke. Traumatic memories are often dissociated or repressed especially when their is no way to process them in the present. When trauma can not be processed, due to lack of validation, support, or time, they cannot be filed in a meaningful context along with other long term memories.

These unprocessed traumatic memories often come up years later as post-traumatic stress symptoms. As in my case, one can feel like the experience of trauma is happening in the moment, even if it took place thirty years earlier.

My parents have accused me of having "False Memory Syndrome."

After researching FMSF (the False Memory Syndrome Foundation) here is what I know:
There never was an accepted diagnosis of “false memory syndrome”  There is no such diagnosis in the latest DSMF, the diagnostic manual for mental illnesses.  Every practicing trauma therapist who I asked told me that FMS is a term founded by parents who were themselves accused of incest. The abuse in their case was later corroborated by relatives!

One of the founders of the "false memory syndrome" foundation was a writer for a pedophilia magazine.  He was quoted as saying that pedophilia is a  “responsible loving choice.”

 I desperately want to have false memory syndrome.
 It would be far less painful than reality.
 I tried it on for years.  I tried to convince my therapists that my family is right.
 If anyone in my family can convince me that my memories are fabricated I would be so relieved.
I would appologize for my unintentional mistake.
And I would have a family again.

 The truth is that my father is the one with false memories.

My family's current behavior speaks volumes and validates my memories.  If my father is innocent then why is my entire family so afraid of what I know, that they have to kill me off?
 If I am indeed mistaken, or have "false memories", then what would stop them from trying to talk this through with me, and go to therapy with me as I ask?  Why won't they discuss the past with me, or even entertain the idea that my memories may not be false?
In my experience, not one person in my family can sit with the idea that maybe I really was molested by my father and grandfather. Not for a minute.

The FMSF sues therapists for implanting false memories in their patients through hypnosis.
 This doesn't apply to me at all.
  I was never convinced by a therapist that I was abused, nor hypnotized by anyone to  help me "remember" being abused.  I always knew I had been hurt, although I repressed and dissociated
 the details.  I didn't have any words to go along with the experience, so I couldn't talk about it until I learned the 'language' of sexual abuse at age 19.  As a child, I didn't have the strength to survive and think about what was being done to me, so repressed it.  I pushed it deep down and pretended it was someone else who it happened to.
 Someone very bad.
This is a common response of traumatized children.

I haven't heard about FMSF in a long time.
But I hear about incest, dissociation, and trauma disorders, often.  I hear about court cases that were won on the basis of recovered memories.   The false memory movement seems to have petered out, as we learn more and more about traumatic memory and how it is processed. Traumatic memory is processed differently and more accurately then regular memory.

There are several famous memory studies claiming to prove that false memories can be easily implanted.
I have looked at this research and, although interesting, I, along with trauma experts, do not believe the results apply to memories of childhood sexual abuse.

 One study involved adults who were convinced that they had been lost in a shopping mall as  children. A "memory" was planted. Many of them actually believed that they had been lost in a mall when in fact, according to their parents, they hadn’t been.

Feeling lost, being lost, is a common childhood experience.

Comparing being lost in a mall, to being sexually violated by someone you trust and depend on for survival, is like comparing a distant cousin’s death, with a parent’s death.

Most children have no concept of what it feels like to be sexually violated by a trusted family member, or friend. It is not an experience easily contrived or imagined.
There is simply nothing else quite as shameful and terrifying.
It is mind shattering.

There is another study on memory that, in my opinion, is also wrongly applied to child sexual abuse.

Witnesses were shown a clip of a real car accident. They were asked many questions. 
What was the direction the cars slid in? 
What were the colors of the cars involved? 
Where were the bystanders?

One witness swore the car was blue, another said it was red.
One said the car slid to the right, one said to the left. One witness believed blood was pouring from the victim's head. Another said, no, it was actually coming from the victim's mouth.
The researchers agenda was to prove that traumatic memory can be faulty. 
The conclusion to this study was that traumatic memory is not necessarily credible.

A vitally significant detail about this study was glossed over.
This important detail actually validates traumatic memory.

None of the witnesses claimed that they witnessed an earthquake or an armed robbery.
All agreed that it was a car accident.
All agreed that victims were hurt and there was blood. The important details were remembered accurately.
The details that were insignificant to them were forgotten.

I was very a young victim, and I doubt if every detail of what I remember is objectively accurate.  
But I know that I was molested repeatedly by my father and grandfather, and others. 
Everything about my life, and my healing process validates these experiences.
No one in my family is willing to try to help me sort out my memories. 
I did the best I could to get as close to the truth as I can on my own.

I have an aunt who stayed in touch with me over the years, although she doesn’t believe me that I was sexually abused.
When I told this aunt that I was molested by her father, my grandfather. She asked, “Where?”
“In his office.” I replied.
“That’s impossible.” She said. “Do you remember what the door looked like?”
“No.” I really didn’t.
“The door was transparent glass. Someone could have seen it from the dining room. If you can’t remember the door how can you trust your memory of being abused?”

How can I trust my memories of being abused?!

Because the door’s significance paled, next to the experience of my trusted grandfather’s fingers in my underwear.
Perhaps the glass door became entirely insignificant when it didn’t protect me.

It was early in the morning, right after shacharis (morning prayers) and no one was in the dining room at the time.
I don’t remember the date, or what I was wearing either.
Does that mean it didn’t  happen?
Does my aunt think I WANT to remember this?

No matter what I say, my family will find a way to discount, minimize, rationalize, and deny my experience.
That is what they need to do in order to survive.

This is what families of incest do, with barely a single exception.

My family can not go to a place where they can consider the possibility of their trusted father and grandfather, their rebbe, a talmid chacham, molesting someone they love.

I get it. 
I really do.
 But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

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