“Recovered Memories”

image courtesy Goodreads

A little background

I am a retired registered nurse. When I took my state board exam in 1969, I scored very high on the psych segment. It’s a subject I did well in, and it  interested me. I chose not work in a psych unit after graduation for various reasons, but I’ve remained interested all my life. I am well aware that my training was a very long time ago. I do know how to read, though.

Several years ago, not long after I entered Facebook Land, a friend who knew I’d attended Bob Jones Academy sent me a link to a group called “BJU Survivors.” It was the old original group, I think, and had the old Facebook forum format. I went over there, out of curiosity, and joined. I then posted an account of my experience with the school and Dr. Bob Jones III.

I was unprepared for the reaction.

While I knew that some people would believe my story and others not so much, I wasn’t prepared for a couple of the people on there going over to my profile and snooping about. One of them asked me if I “liked” atheist pages because I was an atheist, or if it was so I could follow them and comment and perhaps witness to them.

What commenced was a rather lengthy debate on the merits of religion vs. atheism.

As a result, I got a few friend requests, without realizing that I was opening myself up to a “community” and would come to regret doing so. One of those new “friends” was Camille K. Lewis.

One day, Camille posted something on her wall about sexual abuse “survivors,” and I commented. I had no idea at the time about so-called “recovered memories” nor did I know much about the current “survivor” fad that has permeated much of the nation. I just made an offhand comment about an incident that had occurred in our family when my father died. A caretaker came forward at the last possible minute and filed a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment.

The claim was totally ridiculous, and was simply an attempt to get some money from his estate, but we had to deal with it. And we ultimately decided, for a number of reasons, including concern for the health of my uncle, to settle with her. Ultimately, it was a whole lot cheaper than going to court. Even if we’d won, and the court made her pay our costs, she had no money, and we’d never have seen a dime. The settlement was for a very tiny fraction of the amount she’d demanded, and her lawyers very likely walked away with most of it.

My point was that the woman was simply lying. We knew she was. She knew she was. All the lawyers on both sides knew she was. My dad couldn’t have sexually harassed anyone. The worst he could possibly have done during the time she was there was tell a dirty joke. She remained in his employ as long as she was needed, and she did not initiate her termination. She wasn’t fired. She was just no longer needed.

I was unprepared for the vehement reaction that I got to my comment. I was told by both Camille and another person that no one ever lies about sexual abuse and that if this woman said my father harassed her, then he did. No exceptions. No arguing about it. That was it. And I was further told that if I did not agree, I could leave, but that there would be no discussion of the subject on Camille’s wall.

That was my introduction to the bizarre world of “survivors of sexual abuse.” That day, not knowing what the hell they were talking about, I simply left.

And because I didn’t know much about it, I said nothing for a long time, like years. Until now. But I quietly watched and educated myself. I read. Not just web sites, but books. This is what I do when I don’t know about something and want to know. I ask questions when I can, but when I can’t even ask a question without getting bashed over the head for daring to think something heretical, I just quietly read.

What is a “recovered memory”?

It’s a widely spread idea, although hotly contested in the medical community. Supposedly, when something really horrible happens to a person, she can be so traumatized by it that she cannot bear to remember it, so her mind just buries the memory, often for many years. Only, the mind doesn’t do such a hot job at it, because the memory manifests itself in other ways — she has difficulties small and great. She might have physical problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or obesity. (Yeah, obesity.) She might have various types of relationship problems, or emotional issues like substance abuse or eating disorders or depression.

The list of supposed symptoms of these repressed memories omits almost nothing apart from the common cold. Nearly anyone could find something in the list to point to if she wanted to do so. And a great many women seem to want to do that. Or their therapists want them to.

Anyway, the memory is suppressed. And years, decades, later, the woman (and it’s almost always a woman) begins to remember stuff. Well, not actually remember, the way you remember what you did on your trip to Europe after high school. No. She has nightmares, or she gets “flashbacks” (episodes where she’s just sure she’s remembering something), or she undergoes hypnosis and relives the memory, or she does a sort of mindless journaling and the memory pops out, or the therapist puts her through “guided imagery” (therapist asks her to imagine stuff and keeps asking suggestive questions until she “remembers”) – and slowly these buried memories rise to the surface like dead fish.

Once the client has properly dredged up these memories, she is often urged by her therapist to confront her supposed abuser(s). This is the point when very astonished family members find themselves on the receiving end of a shotgun blast of accusations. The usual story is that Dad did the molesting, Mom gave tacit assent or ignored it, and the siblings were either also molested or knew about it. The fact that absolutely none of these family members remembers a single thing about any of this simply means that they are all “in denial.”

And at this point, the nightmare can take on epic proportions. In many cases, the woman cuts off all contact with any family members who do not believe her every word. In other cases, supposed victims have tried to sue their parents for living expenses and/or therapy expenses for life, on the grounds that they are “disabled” and it’s all the parents’ fault. Occasionally, the alleged victim will for some reason lose contact with her therapist and this is sometimes the catalyst for her recanting. Without the constant flow of encouragement from the therapist, some women start to realize they’ve been programmed and that the so-called abuse didn’t happen. In one case, a woman realized she’d had some very false “memories” when, after accusing her father of impregnating her and sacrificing the baby in a satanic ritual, she was shown medical records proving that her father had had a vasectomy when she was very young, and a medical exam by a gynocologist showed that she had never been pregnant.

Therapy can go on for many years and bankrupt everyone involved.

The controversy

The summary above (and it is a very brief summary) is written from a fairly negative perspective. I’m doing that on purpose. I had to look pretty hard to find anything on this subject that wasn’t extremely biased in support of “survivors.”

I also had trouble finding much in the way of hard evidence in support of this stuff as well, which is why red flags went up all around me. Here are some of the problems.

Recovered memories are supposedly almost always accurate. Depending on who you talk to, it’s claimed that they are always accurate to nearly always accurate. As Camille and her friend informed me in no uncertain terms, “survivors” are not mistaken about their abuse stories.

This is why Linda Fossen could state, without even being slightly embarrassed by it, that she thought that all accused abusers should be publicly identified and declared “wrong” even without evidence or a conviction or any charges brought. They’re all guilty. They have to be. “Victims” are never wrong.

But folks have recovered “memories” of abuse that occurred in a past life. They have recovered “memories” of having been abducted by aliens. And during the peak of the hysteria surrounding all this, a common accusation involved recovered “memories” of satanic ritual torture and often murder, all completely without any evidence of any kind.

They can’t have it both ways. If these “survivors” are almost never wrong, then the people who recovered memories of a past life, or alien abduction or satanic rituals are almost never wrong, too.

It is impossible to tell the difference between a recovered false memory and a recovered true memory. There is no way to determine it. When you cannot falsify something, it cannot be examined scientifically. How would you go about testing such a thing?

This means that if Susie recovers a memory that her father abused her when she was five years old, absent any concrete evidence (and migraine headaches and promiscuity are not evidence) and/or a confession from her father, nobody can ever tell (including Susie) if her memory is true or false. Simply saying “I remember this” isn’t enough. Dave and I often tell stories about stuff that happened years ago and discover that we have different memories about what actually happened. The older we get, the more memories we have, and the more muddled they get.

Accusing your father of having abused you is one thing. If he admits it, perhaps some sort of reconciliation can occur. Doing so with no evidence of any kind, basing the claim on these dubious memory recovery techniques, and making it public, thus destroying an entire family in the process, is criminal.

And thankfully, the courts seem to agree that it is. In a case about three years ago, parents of an alleged victim sued the therapist and won. This is good news indeed, as it might put a little caution into the hearts of “therapists” regarding the techniques they are using and the recommendations they are making to their clients.

In a YouTuble video, Linda made the assertion that one out of three women would be sexually abused before the age of 18 to 20. While I’ve read some pretty amazing claims about this, that is the most bizarre.

In part, it illustrates something that is happening with all this, and that is a redefinition of the word “abuse.” It’s come to mean almost anything, to the point that the slightly drunk guy nearby who gets a bit carried away with the holiday spirit and plants a big kiss on you at a New Year’s Eve party at midnight is guilty of sexual assault.

When it comes to these “recovered memories,” though, either we have the biggest epidemic in history of this sort of thing, a national crisis that should have us all hysterical, or there’s something wrong here. I see nothing at all that convinces me that a large percentage of men are molesting children.

It also hurts the actual victims. It even hurts some of the alleged victims, who might well be right in some of their accusations, but not all. But their stories become so extreme that they are unbelievable, and so they are not believed about anything.

In looking about on a few Facebook pages devoted to “survivors,” I noticed that a whole lot of the people posting (mostly women) are so-called “victim’s advocates.” Many of them offer materials for sale, have web sites, offer “counseling” and all sorts of advice, and have written books. It seems Linda Fossen has a lot of competition. How many of these people are qualified to do what they are doing? How many are charlatans out to make a quick buck? How many are well-meaning, but still out to make a quick buck? How many are taking advantage of wounded people? I have to wonder.

Anyone who doesn’t believe a “victim” is considered to be “in denial” or even worse, either a molester or covering up for a molester. There are no other categories. That means that I will inevitably be accused of something like that.

Simple disagreement is not an option, not a possibility. You’re either with them or you’re with the molesters.

When this kind of position is taken—subscribe to our theories or else we’ll try to ruin you—something is very, very wrong. My bullshit meter goes off big time.

The bottom line

So, why is this an issue requiring a whole page here? Why do I care?

My entire crime – the reason that I was lumped in as a member of the so-called “evil cabal” or whatever name they’re using for it now – is that I dared to make a couple of comments in a private message with Dan Keller. One was that I do not believe some of Cathy’s stories. The other comment was about Carl McIntire and Bob Jones Jr.

I dared to not believe that. And I dared to say so in a private message. Dan Keller took the entire thing public within a few hours, and I’m to blame. How dare I not believe a victim?

Keep in mind that I did not post this on my wall (until after Dan went public with it). It was said in private. Yet, supposedly this remark upset Cathy so much that she decided to kill herself (I’ll address all that later), and it’s my fault. Mine.

Why isn’t it Dan’s fault? After all, he ran to her with the comment, thereby upsetting her. I didn’t.

It’s very simple. I have some real doubts about this whole “recovered memory” thing. I have other doubts about the details of certain victims’ stories. I can have those doubts. I can even express them.

And Cathy Harris, Camille Lewis, Linda Fossen, Dan Keller, and all the other people who are frothing at the mouth with anger at me about this can just get over it. There would be no web site in existence right now if Dan Keller had kept private messages private.

I simply will not be bullied into silence by these people, no matter how loudly they yell. These people are not “victims” nor are they “survivors.” They are accusers.

Some resources

Here are some web sites and articles. There are many more, of course. The few I’m listing here are from the “anti” side of the argument. If you want information from the “pro” side, it’s easy to find.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation – The “pros” pitch fits about this group and insist that it’s a group of people who are all abusers or those who would support abusers. I don’t care who they are. I was looking for information and found some there. It’s actually an organization started by horrified parents who’d been accused by their children and had no idea how to handle it.

Reading list – This page is at the site listed above, and is just a short bibliography. I have read several of these books. I also have ordered and will read The Courage to Heal, which is the bible of recovered memory movement. [Update: Have the book and have read it. I will review it. Coming. ]

Religious Tolerance.org – This is a pretty good quick easy summary of the basic situation. There’s a pretty decent set of references there as well, some online and some books.

The Reality of Repressed Memories – a lengthy article by Elizabeth Loftus about the nature of memory and how it relates to the whole issue.

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5 thoughts on ““Recovered Memories””

  1. Sally

    I usually have very little to say in response to your writing as you are concise and well written with facts.

    As someone who works with traumatized children and who teaches the effects of said trauma, there are actual cases of repressed memory without coercion by therapy. And it is not rare. It is estimated that one in five children will be the victims of an assault in their lifetime.

    There are clinical patterns of behavior that will present when a child has a trauma even if they can not remember what happened. Or even if they have scrambled bits and pieces.

    There was a case of a woman who hated Christmas lights her whole life. The colored C9 lights. No explanation to why. Not just hated them, was repulsed by them and they actually caused anxiety. Weird right?

    She presented with almost every statistical behavior of a child who had been sexually abused.

    She didn’t know she was doing this growing up. Even into her 20s and 30s, she didn’t know. The analysis of behavior came well into her 40s. When she started having nightmares post the death of her father. No therapy, not even mention of it to family.

    She was going through photos after his death and found one of them by a large Christmas tree when she was a child. Guess what was on that tree. She doesn’t remember the abuse in detail. She remembers flashes of things.

    Taking that and her clinically calculated behavior growing up, the safe assumption would be that she was sexually abused at some point.

    I did say assumption. It doesn’t matter, at this point, except that now she has at least one explanation of her life and why she was compelled to do certain things.

    She is not in a survivor group and she doesn’t post about it. She doesn’t feel she has to. That doesn’t mean that it did not happen.

    Look up the class “Trauma informed care”. There is also a great class called Darkness to Light. You might find it interesting. I also love the ACE studies. Trauma focused therapy is changing the landscape of how we work with the survivors of abuse.

    I am not stating that people don’t make up stories. People have the right to believe or not to believe. I am in your court. I don’t think Cathy had nearly the amount of trauma that she proposes. Not enough clinical behavior. She is also not presenting with the physical health problems of compound or complex trauma.

    It has nothing to do with being a survivor or being strong. You can be the strongest person on the planet. You will still present with key physical and emotional issues that are a direct result of the brain coping with trauma.

    And there is a huge difference between being called a derogatory sexual name and being raped. I assume that most people know this. Not ever victim is an actual victim. The landscape is changing though. There are many ways to determine the validity of a statement.

    Clinically. Most victims don’t speak. Most victims don’t want a platform on public forum. Most victims don’t boast. Silence hides violence. So speaking out is brave and courageous. Those who do speak rarely remember every detail. That is how the brain protects us. They can acutely remember smells, sounds, and moments. There is always a fog with some of it.

    Your average narcissist will thrive on this though. The more trauma, the more detail, the most attention. It is sad and does take away from the validity of those who have been traumatized.

    Sorry to ramble. Have a great day.

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  2. there are actual cases of repressed memory without coercion by therapy.

    Not true. Sorry, but it’s simply not true. Repressed memory is not a thing. It’s just NOT. A. THING.

    Elizabeth Loftus is probably the foremost authority on memory who is an actual real scientist doing actual real science and it’s not a thing.

    Let me give you one example – children who survived the concentration camps. There aren’t very many of them, as you might imagine, but there are some. And they witnessed and experienced the most traumatic, horrible shit anyone can. They remember it all. There are no “repressed memories” among concentration camp victims.

    “She doesn’t remember the abuse in detail. She remembers flashes of things.

    Taking that and her clinically calculated behavior growing up, the safe assumption would be that she was sexually abused at some point.”

    This is typical bullshit crap that therapists come up with. It’s an ASSUMPTION. Then that woman accuses her father and everyone simply assumes he’s guilty. He has no defense whatever. I get almost physically sick when I read this stuff. “Remembering” flashes of things isn’t remembering. Memory simply doesn’t work the way you describe.

    Read Loftus.

    Yes, I know she is demonized by the repressed memory, supposed survivor folks, but she’s a real, actual scientist and I put my money on her, not on so-called “therapists.”

    I’m sorry, I don’t mean to get testy about this, but it irritates the absolute shit out of me. I know women have had a long hard slog with issues about sexual abuse and harassment. I am a woman. I know what it’s like being a woman. However, accusing people of stuff they didn’t do especially when they cannot defend themselves just gets me furious. Please tell me what the father’s defense would be in the case you cited. How could he ever prove his innocence? He’s guilty just because she has some “flashes” that some therapist decided to ASSUME was indicative of sexual abuse. And the men that are typically accused are old when they are accused, into their retirement years.

    Not only does the brain not “protect” you from trauma, the truth is that traumatic events are remembered in more detail, more vividly than ordinary events. That’s why people have vivid memories of where they were when they heard that JFK was assassinated, or when 9/11 happened, or when they got the phone call that their only son was dead. Time sort of slows down and the memory gets implanted. People sometimes gets it wrong, and conflate memories, yes, but for the most part, unless you’re knocked unconscious, you remember bad shit and forget what you had for breakfast last Thursday.

    This is the reason that an innocent person often has trouble providing an alibi for the time when a murder occurred, especially if they are questioned a week or so later. Can you recount exactly what you did and where you were every hour of October 3 of this year? I can’t. We don’t remember because it’s not meaningful or significant.

    In order to make the repressed memory shit have any validity at all, you have to explain why it’s that way for everything except sexual abuse, former lives and alien abduction.

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  3. Thank you for your response and I will answer it in a bit post coffee and waking up. However I do want to say this. The woman I spoke of never accused her father nor would she have if he had been alive. Because there was no actual “proof”, she simply moves forward working on her own issues.

    Working with traumatized children, they might not even know that the abuse they suffer is wrong. If that is their way of life, they don’t know to know it is even abuse. Until they get out of it.

    There are absolutely clinical signs of people who have been abused. And there are “repressed” memories if these events happened before the age of comprehension. A two year old might discuss how her daddy touched her genitals while the unicorn watched. Her story has some issues because of the insertion of a fantasy element. Until you find out there was a unicorn poster on her wall next to her bed and she would stare at it while being hurt. The mind protects in moments of complex trauma

    Your example of JFK is on point because it is an acute trauma. I wa speaking about complex and compounded trauma. Those types of lasting trauma have different reactions. They can be muddled especially to a child who doesn’t even know what abuse is.

    A three year can not comprehend what is happening but may remember sights and sounds or Christmas lights.

    In addition most victims of long term abuse, physical or sexual, have been groomed in ways that they learn to block the abuse just a way to survive.

    If a child presents with sexually acting behavior like open masturbation, sexual play with toys and animals or inappropriate touching of peers, this is a pretty good indicator that something happened. That child may not even understand why they do what they do but they have been groomed and taught, at a young age, that this is how you show or receive affection.

    When the brain experiences a trauma, it halts or reroute development. What happens when that trauma goes on for years? Multiple compounded traumas do get muddled. One acute trauma like 9/11 is a different story.

    Give me a bit to wake up. I would love to continue this discussion especially with why and how the brains of children who are victims of compounded and complex trauma repress a good amount. Or simply why their stories are never complete.

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  4. And there are “repressed” memories if these events happened before the age of comprehension.

    NO THERE AREN’T. There is no mechanism in the brain to do such a thing. You’re spouting pseudo-science.

    The mind protects in moments of complex trauma

    And you know this. . . how? Why did the children in the concentration camps remember everything that happened to them and most of what they witnessed? WHY? Explain WHY. Why did this supposed BS phenomenon not exhibit itself until the satanic abuse scares of the eighties? WHY? Nobody back in the days right after WWII knew that children would “repress memories,” so they just asked the kids and you know what? The kids remembered it all. In fact, it’s their accounts that helped confirm what happened to children in the camps.

    I would love to continue this discussion

    I wouldn’t. You aren’t qualified. You don’t know what you are talking about and you quite obviously did not go read any of Elizabeth Loftus’ work. So forget it.

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  5. I’m curious now, you mentioned the time period right after WWII no one knew kids could “repress” memories. That was about the time that Project MKUltra began operation, or shortly thereafter according to recovered documents. I’m not actually sure if this is common knowledge, as I was homeschooled and isolated, and just discovered this myself. In case it’s not well known, here’s the history and contents of the recovered files:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Project_MKULTRA

    According to the documents, the doctors were allegedly able to create within one person, more than one consciousness, where one “alter” would not know or remember another.

    In 1957, with funding from a CIA front organization, Donald Ewen Cameron of the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, Canada began MKULTRA Subproject 68.[131] His experiments were designed to first “depattern” individuals, erasing their minds and memories—reducing them to the mental level of an infant—and then to “rebuild” their personality in a manner of his choosing.

    As the article continues, physical and even sexual abuse was used to force patient’s “split”. They claimed it was successful, although due to not getting consent, the studies were never considered legally medically studied.

    If that is true, then could there be some form of that which could naturally occur? I am not anywhere near am expert and I know this isn’t your field, but it came to mind as a possible link. Personally, any trauma I suffered repetitively, I still remember much of it. I purposely try to forget it, and it seems to have dulled so it isn’t as prominent, but certainly the most vivid memories of my early years all involve trauma. So my inclination is to agree with the solid research already proven, NOT illegally.

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