Memories of Abuse Essay

This essay has a total of 3200 words and 16 pages.


Memories of Abuse





Memory is the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experiences. A
repressed memory is one that is retained in the sub conscious mind, where
one is not aware of it but where it can still affect both conscious thoughts
and behavior.

When memory is distorted or confabulated, the result can be what has been
called the False Memory Syndrome: a condition in which a person's identity
and interpersonal relationships are entered around a memory of traumatic
experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly
believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as
such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be
diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the
individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts
of other adaptive behaviors. The analogy to personality disorder is
intentional. False memory syndrome is especially destructive because the
person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might
challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and
resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on the memory that
he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with real problems in
his or her life.

-- John F. Kihlstrom, Ph.D.

There are many models which try to explain how memory works. Nevertheless,
we do not know exactly how memory works. One of the most questionable models
of memory is the one which assumes that every experience a person has had is
'recorded' in memory and that some of these memories are of traumatic events
too terrible to want to remember. These terrible memories are locked away in
the sub conscious mind, i.e. repressed, only to be remembered in adulthood
when some triggering event opens the door to the unconscious. And, both
before and after the repressed memory is remembered, it causes physical and
mental disorders in a person.

Some people have made an effort to explain their pain, even cancer, as
coming from repressed memories of incest in the body. Scientists have
studied related phenomenon such as people whose hands bleed in certain
religious settings. Presumably such people, called stigmatics, "are not
revealing unconscious memories of being crucified as young children, but
rather are demonstrating a fascinating psychogenic anomaly that springs from
their conscious fixation on the suffering of Christ. Similarly, it is
possible that conscious fixation on the idea that one was sexually abused
might increase the frequency of some physical symptoms, regardless of
whether or not the abuse really occurred."(Lindsay & Read, 1994)

This view of memory has two elements: (1) the accuracy element and (2) the
causal element. The reason this model is questionable is not because people
don't have unpleasant or painful experiences they would rather forget, nor
is it claiming that children often experience both wonderful and brutal
things for which they have no conceptual or linguistic framework and hence
are incapable of understanding them, much less relating it to others. It is
questionable because this model maintains that because (a) one is having
problems of functioning as a healthy human being and (b) one remembers being
abused as a child that therefore (A) one was abused as a child and (B) the
childhood abuse is the cause of one's adulthood problems.

There is no evidence that supports the claim that we remember everything
that we experience. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to support the
claim that it is impossible for us to even attend to all the perceptual
elements of any given experience, much less to recall them all. There is no
evidence to support the claim that all memories of experiences happened as
they remembered to have happened or that they have even happened at all. And
there is no evidence to support the claim that subjective certainty about
the accuracy of memories or the vividness of memories significantly
correlates with accuracy. Finally, the claim of a causal connection between
abuse and health or behavior does not warrant concluding that ill health,
mental or physical, is a 'sign' of having been abused.

This model is the basis for a number of pseudoscientific works on child
abuse by self-proclaimed experts such as Ellen Bass, E. Sue Blum, Laura
Davis, Beverly Engel, Beverly Holman, Wendy Maltz and Mary Jane Williams.
Through communal reinforcement many empirically unsupported notions,
including the claim that about half of all women have been sexually abused,
get treated as a 'fact' by many people. Psychologist Carol Tavris writes

In what can only be called an incestuous arrangement, the authors of these
books all rely on one another's work as supporting evidence for their own;
they all recommend one another's books to their readers. If one of them
comes up with a concocted statistic--such as "more than half of all women
survivors of childhood sexual trauma "-- the numbers are traded like
baseball cards, reprinted in every book and eventually enshrined as fact.
Thus the cycle of misinformation, faulty statistics and unvalidated
assertions maintains itself. (Tavris, 1993)

The only difference between this group of experts and say, a group of
physicists is that the child abuse experts have achieved their status as
authorities not by scientific training but by either (a) experience [they
were victims themselves or they have treated victims of abuse in their
capacity as social workers] or (b) they wrote a book on child abuse. The
child abuse experts are not trained in scientific research which is not a
comment on their ability to write or to do therapy, but which does seem to
be one reason for their scientific illiteracy. (Tavris, 1993)

Here are a few of the unproved, unscientifically researched notions that
are being bandied around by these child abuse experts: One, if you doubt
that you were abused as a child or think that it might be your imagination,
this is a sign of 'post-incest syndrome'. Two, if you can not remember any
specific instances of being abused, but still have a feeling that something
abusive happened to you, 'it probably did'. Three, when a person can not
remember his or her childhood or have very fuzzy memories, 'incest must
always be considered as a possibility'. And four, 'If you have any suspicion
at all, if you have any memory, no matter how vague, it probably really
happened. It is far more likely that you are blocking the memories, denying
it happened'.
There have been many symptoms suggested as indicators of past abuse. These
symptoms range from headaches to irritable bowls. In fact, one psychologist
compiled a list of over 900 different symptoms that had been presented as
proof of a history of abuse. When he reviewed the professional literature,
he found that not one of the symptoms could be shown to be an inclusive
indication of a history of abuse. Given the lack of consistent scientific
evidence, therapists must be careful in declaring that abuse has infact
occurred. (London, 1995)

Whole industries have been built up out of the hysteria that inevitably
accompanies charges of the sexual abuse of children. Therapists who are
supposed to help children recover from the trauma of the abuse are hired to
interrogate the child, in order to find out if they have been abused. But
all too often the therapist suggests the abuse to the child and the child
has 'memories' of being abused, but no rational person should find a parent
or caretaker guilty on the basis of such tainted testimony. [note 1]

Increasingly throughout the continent, grown children under going
therapeutic programs have come to believe that they suffer from "repressed
memories" of incest and sexual abuse. While some reports of incest and
sexual abuse are surely true, these decade delayed memories are too often
the result of False Memory Syndrome caused by a disastrous "therapeutic"
program. False Memory Syndrome has a devastating effect on the victim and
typically produces a continuing dependency on the very program that creates
the syndrome. False Memory Syndrome proceeds to destroy the psychological
well being not only of the primary victim but through false accusations of
incest and sexual abuse other members of the primary victim's family. The
American Medical Association considers recovered memories of childhood
sexual abuse to be of uncertain authenticity, which should be subject to
external verification. The use of recovered memories is fraught with
problems of potential misapplication.[note 2]

The dangers of this model are apparent: not only are false memories treated
as real memories, but real memories of real abuse may be treated as false
memories and may provide real abusers with a believable defense. In the end,
no one benefits from encouraging a belief in memory which is unfounded.
Whatever the theory of memory one advocates, if it does not entail examining
corroborating evidence and attempting to independently verify claims of
recollected abuse, it is a theory which will cause more harm than good.

Carl Jung, an early Freudian disciple and later heretic, extended this
model of memory by adding another area of repressed memories to the
unconscious mind, an area that was not based on individual past experiences
at all: the "collective" unconscious. The collective unconscious is the
repository for acts and mental patterns shared either by members of a
culture or universally by all humans. Under certain conditions these
manifest themselves as archetype: images, patterns and symbols, that are
often seen in dreams or fantasies and that appear as themes in mythology,
religion and fairy tales. The Archetype of the Archetype Model can be traced
back to Plato's various beliefs about the eidos. (Forms of reality which
were variously described by Plato but always were held up as 'more real'
than the world of sense experience which, in some way, was always held up as
inferior to and dependant on the eidos.)


The Platonic Model avoids the problem of determining whether or not a
memory is accurate by claiming that the memory is not of a personal
experience at all. It also confuses several types of mental states. It
completely blurs the distinction between dream states and conscious states
by eliminating the difference between remembering a sense experience one
actually had and remembering a sense experience one never actually had. This
model gives validity to every fantasy and desire. If one is clever, though,
one can destroy the first model with the second one. For example, a Jungian
could claim that the repressed memories of all those who are now blaming
their current troubles on forgotten and repressed memories of child abuse,
are not memories of actual abuse but of an Archetype, the Abused Child
Archetype. The story of Hansel and Gretel might be pulled in for
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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