Dear Dr. Archer,
Recently I asked my family doctor to refer me to someone for therapy. He sent me to a registered nurse with some mental health training. It did not go well at all. Here is a brief synopsis of my problem.
When I was 5, Mom and Dad split. With a total of six children, Mom kept the two boys; twin girls were sent to an aunt, and my sister and I went to friends. I am the fifth born and youngest girl.
Fast forward to present day. I am 50 years old and have no recollection of my past from birth to 14 years old. I stayed with the so-called friends from age 5 to 12, and then I was returned to my single mom. Most of my relationships have been at best insincere, and I have always felt like the odd man out.
I have a good job, but no satisfaction in life. I have recurring nightmares, and while I'm not sure if I was sexually abused, I'm positive I was mentally and physically abused.
I would like to know if there is any way I could be brought to remember my past, in hopes that it would help me identify my present day issues. Everything that I know about my past has been relayed to me by my siblings. Any psychological advice would be welcome. Thank you so much.
There is a type of psychotherapy called Repressed Memory Therapy, or RMT. Methods of RMT include hypnosis, visualization, group therapy and trance writing, but they are not 100 percent effective. In other words, there are no guarantees. The theory is that many problems are caused by repressed memories of sexual abuse during childhood. Maybe….
The American Psychological Association's Working Group on the Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse issued their report about 7 years ago. In this report they say recovered memory is rare, and it is difficult to determine a true memory from a false one.
Here are some unscientific and unproven thoughts regarding repressed memories and how child abuse experts view them:
(1) If you think being abused may be just your imagination, it could be a sign of post-incest syndrome;
(2) If you can't remember any instance of abuse, but feel something may have happened, it most likely did;
(3) Whenever you can't remember your childhood, or have vague memories, incest "must be considered a possibility;"
(4) If you have a suspicion, or any memory no matter how vague it may be, it probably happened and you're blocking the memory.
I do NOT agree with most of this.
Skeptics believe that memory repression is weak, and believe even less that specific disorders or behaviors are caused by repressed memories. There are still others that think if memories are suppressed, there's a reason the brain has done so deliberately. The methods of RMT all have their drawbacks, and some consider it a dangerous practice which MAY create false memories.
There is actually a False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Corinne, which has helped patients in court. Therapists have been found liable by the harm that was caused by triggering false memories! And yet, some say that RMT has helped them tremendously. Bottom line is that you had a challenging childhood, to be sure. Children thrive on stability, love and routine, which you didn’t have.
I'm hoping you had the love, but you were lacking in the other two. I suggest you visit a therapist who specializes in childhood abuse, so you can explore your past. Call your local hospital ER for a referral; they should know who is excellent. After discussing your situation, you can decide if you want to continue your quest for RMT. Good luck, and I hope you find peace.