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Repressed Memories: Causes And Effects

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Repression affects the decisions we make in many aspects of life. For instance, a memory that is so revolting it can be retrieved in the subconscious and maybe after a few years later the memory may appear again into the consciousness. Furthermore, many legal scholars test the validity of repressed memories for evidence. They gained support for repressed memory theory, different factors offer examples of horrific experiences of little children whose minds cannot handle severe trauma and who, in turn, repress the memories of these experiences. Opponents of the theory likewise produce images of families torn apart by false accusations of child molestation and sexual abuse. The truth appears to lie somewhere in between these two extreme views. Repressed memories commonly occurs to a childhood sexual abuse memory that has been repressed for many years back. This may trigger “recovery”. For example, “recovery” may occur through supplementation of the patient’s memory. While issues of reliability are not completely settled in the case of stimulus-triggered, spontaneous resurfacing of repressed memories, this type of memory recovery more easily avoids the potential problems of improper influence. However, when a memory is “recovered” through therapy, outside influences can create room for greater error. “Modern cognitive psychology examines the Human Information Processing System. This model of cognition is similar to the different forms of information storage on a computer. Humans perceive stimuli through their sensory memory.” The five senses of touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste allow the brain to take in data from the outside world. Sensory memory is extremely brief and automatic. “Next, information passes into the short-term memory, which bridges sensory memory and long-term memory by encoding sensory memory, thereby holding the data for a relatively brief amount of time. The data, or memory, is then learned or forgotten. The long-term memory represents data that has been learned. Long-term memory involves the storage of information on a relatively permanent basis. Thus, the “forgetting” of information substantially differs from the repression of a memory, which in turn differs from.”

The ordinary human response to atrocities is to banish them from awareness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to know about or to utter aloud. This is the meaning of the word 'unspeakable.' Violence, however, refuse to be buried. As powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the belief that denial does not work. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are essential tasks, both for the healing of individuals and for the restoration of the social order. The conflict between the will to deny horrible events-the will to forget them-and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.' In the abstract, it is relatively easy for many people to accept the concept of traumatic amnesia. (8) The idea that someone might bury the functioning is not beyond the realm of possibility to the average person. Stranger things have happened. And there is still so much to be learned about how the human mind works yet the scenario of an adult recovering long-repressed memories of child sexual abuse can strike fear into the hearts of parents and others in constant contact with children. Visions of being hauled into court to defend against charges of child molestation scare those who are guilty, of course. But these visions are also threatening to the innocent who hear of psychotherapists brainwashing patients into believing they were abused as children and who shudder to think they could be accused of such an unspeakable atrocity. The fear is understandable; the mere passage of time makes it extremely difficult to disprove the charges.

The term 'repression' was coined by psychologist Sigmund Freud. He believed that many of his patients were sexually abused as children and that their repressed memories of those events had caused them to develop psychological problems. But four years later, Freud changed his mind and stated that the patients' memories were their own fantasies. The term 'repression' was forgotten--at least for a little while.

Seeking therapy for various problems such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, or marital difficulties, unhappy adults (specifically white, middle and upper middle class women in their thirties and forties) report memories of abuse that usually surface during the course of therapy. “Recovery groups, self-help conferences, and books on the subject of repressed 80 memories may also trigger these memories as well.” (6) These memories typically appear as terrifying images or flashbacks that proponents believe are genuine, if not precise, memories of earlier abuse.

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In most cases, the accusations are brought by adult daughters against fathers long after the alleged incest. Fully one quarter of the charges involve both parents. Other abusers may include religious leaders, teachers, or other relatives. In any case, the abuser is usually someone a child trusts--all the knowing that this child will hide the abuse from others. For example, Ross Cheit, a law professor, who was molested by his camp counselor as a child, remarked, 'These were not just perverse acts, but the most profound betrayals possible for a kid'

While there has been much support of the existence of Repressed Memories, there is also much criticism against it. Many researchers doubt its existence because of the many claims of repressed memories that were actually false memories. In fact, an organization called “the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, founded in 1992, helps families get back together after the pain from these false accusations.” But there are reasons for the false claims of repressed memories. One reason for these false accusations is the lack of experience on the therapist's part. (7) Psychiatrist Herbert Spiegal warns, 'We have a large number of poorly trained, inept therapists who are propagating a cottage industry of discovering child abuse in their patients . . . a good hypnotic will vomit up just what the therapist wants to hear' Unfortunately, there are too many of these inexperienced therapists.

“These unskilled therapists usually use methods such as sodium amytal ('truth serum') or hypnosis to find these memories in clients. These situations have been prone to controversy and abuse. In 1991, in Ohio, an appeals court supported an abuse award to a woman whose psychiatrist injected her with truth serum more than 140 times to help her uncover buried memories of alleged sexual abuse by her mother.”(5) Hypnosis is not always the best method either. If anything, hypnosis makes the patient more gullible to the therapist's suggestions of possible abuse. While under hypnosis, the patient's mind becomes productive ground for the therapist to plant false memories. Also, “Harvard psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman states that hypnosis may heighten a person's tendency to create remembrances in order to please a therapist. The therapist may be probing so deeply into the patient's unconscious that the helpless patient may surrender to their unyielding therapist.” (1)

The mind has been a mystery to researchers for years, so it is no doubt that they question the theory of Repressed Memories. Again, they argue that because there is not enough study done to determine exactly how or why we remember things, there is definitely nothing to support repressed memories. Memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus confirms this, stating, 'Memory is not a computer or videotape recording. We do not just pop in a tape or call it up in perfect condition. Memory is not objective, but suggestive and malleable' (2) True, memory is malleable. The false claims of abuse through faulty methods have proven this. Most people do recover their repressed memories through flashbacks or images. Of course it will not be a 'perfect' picture as Loftus claims it to be, but the pieces of memory will still be there. Also, advocates of the wonder claim that Loftus' work simply does not apply to abuse.

In researching Repressed Memories, researchers have used dozens of studies, many which prove its existence for instance, “It has been estimated that 18-59 percent of sexual abuse victims repress memories for a period of time. In one follow-up study of 200 children who had been treated for sexual abuse, Linda Williams of the Family Violence Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire found that 1 in 3 did not recall the experience of abuse that had been documented in their hospital records 20 years before them.” (U.S. News and World Report, 1990) (4)

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Repressed Memories: Causes And Effects. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Repressed Memories: Causes And Effects.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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Repressed Memories: Causes And Effects [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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