The reemergence of repressed memories is a somewhat controversial subject, people don’t understand how you could possibly forget something you remember. It’s unnatural and incredibly difficult to describe while making sense tot he other party. But, I’m going to be one of the millions to give it a shot.
Memories are subjective and imperfect, your mind is not a video camera. This isn’t Black Mirror just yet. This fact makes it ineffably hard for people to even give a thought to believing someone who tells them about a “new memory,” one they had “remembered wrong” for most of their life. That sounds crazy.
I think a lot of the stigma is the result of glorifying fiction stories and accompanying vision of a silly hypnotherapist “taking you back” to your trauma with simple suggestion. Awakening you to a whole new world of traumatic memories. And that’s just not how it works. These memories have always been there. The topic of “recovered memories” bleeds into that of the resurfacing of “repressed” memories. These are two completely different things. It’s terribly challenging to believe that one can “get a memory back.”
According to the ever reliable Wikipedia; “Forgetting or disremembering is the apparent loss or modification of information already encoded and stored in an individual’s long-term memory. It is a spontaneous or gradual process in which old memories are unable to be recalled from memory storage.”
To me, this says “forgetting” isn’t always complete loss of a memory, but sometimes the changing of a memory.
We all compartmentalize our memories. They pop back up at the attention of a trigger, much like when you are spending time with an old friend. You find yourself laughing and saying, “Oh wow, I totally forgot that. How did you even remember that night?” It’s a fairly common situation we all find ourselves in. So, why is it that it is nearly impossible to understand that a person might talk to themselves about the past for long enough to remember something they had “totally” forgotten?
And even still, it’s not quite like that, it’s not even a memory you “forgot” it’s a memory you ignored. Throughout your daily endeavors with your memory, you have trained your mind to simply go past those memories, there’s no information there. None for you at least.
So, if you have always remembered these events, why now? Why is it that victims of child and sexual abuse don’t share their horrific lives, the treacherous events they endured until years after it’s all over?
Think about a war veteran for a moment. Soldiers are dropped into complete chaos where their lives are immediately on the line, literally. This danger doesn’t ebb. It’s loud and startling and does not stop. Constant pandemonium.
When they return, and people ask them about the events they witnessed during their time “on the line,” it’s understandable that they recall events in a cinematic way. That’s why everyone loves old war stories from Grandpa or whomever. They’re exciting and clean. The soldiers remember the landscape, the overview of situation, the comrades that made it all somewhat bare-able. But, when a car alarm goes off, internally they suddenly remember the part of that old story where a bomb went off and they found themselves disoriented and covered in blood, surrounded by limbs. Random limbs. Raining limbs is not a natural occurrence. It’s a natural self-preserving behavior to just strategically ignore that part.
Now imagine, that solider dropped into chaos, endless activity, fueled by danger everyday for years, is a literal baby. A conscious person with no basis of reality, only that same inherent and natural aversion to events and behaviors against nature. Much like a natural hesitation to jumping off a ledge even though all of your friends did it. It doesn’t feel natural.
I would have to say,(in my opinion of course) that since a child’s mind is still forming, and inherently seeks true nurturing. The absence of that nurture and the presence of unnatural treatment and abuse in its place will be naturally “modified.” We all adapt to our surroundings. Modifying and compartmentalizing memories is really just another form of adaptation. An animal instinct.
Rather than having many memories of the traumatic period of time, you have few very specific, vivid memories of “normal” events. This tricks your mind into believing that nothing is missing, nothing is awry.
Until one day, a car backfires. For survivors of child sexual abuse, the triggers are complex and unique to the individual. Sometimes, these “triggers” are ignored just the same as the memories themselves. You a see a popular movie with rape scene and become angry or distant, rather than sad. You have desensitized your reaction to the abuse. Your reaction is the true trigger. Analyzing your own reactions to traumatic triggers for things that you don’t think you have experienced or rather, don’t even contemplate in general…that is what you have to do or have probably done (completely by accident) to receive the ever unpleasant “unveiling” of memories you have felt but never thought about. Looked at.
This is what I believe to be one of the big reasons why this reemergence occurs much later in life. As an adult, you want to get a firm handle on your identity. You’re own your own in the world, getting married, going to school, and having children. Things that require commitment and solid views. So, you analyze yourself. You look back on your life for the origins of your strengths and weaknesses. The reasons for your morals.
That process, for the people whom have survived child sexual abuse, can become a bit of a rabbit hole. For instance, you may be contemplating having kids and what you will one day tell about sex and how to protect themselves. That contemplation could lead you to a hole. “What did my parents tell me,” you may try to recall and find yourself only recovering nausea. And as a stable adult trying to build a life, it is only natural to find that reaction perturbing and to want the answer as to why.
At this point, you may start that conversation with yourself, like the you would with an old friend in an attempt to attain a better understanding of yourself and your life. The whats and whys if you will. Only an adult does this type of self-evaluation. Some adults. And this “evaluation” that follows the “trigger,” (which could be a the death of a loved one, a major milestone like having a child or getting married, or simply wanting to understand your own behavior) is the catalyst to receiving this seemingly “new” information about yourself, your life.
When, in reality, you’re simply mature and stable enough to relax and look back. A certain door in your mind that you’ve always had an idea what was behind it, but never really looked, opens. Much like looking through an old photo album you’ve had forever but never really opened. You knew exactly where it was, you just never really had the desire or a reason to flip through it until you started moving (on).
And moving on takes years, if it ever even happens at all. Not everyone can open the photo album, and not everyone can ignore that they haven’t opened it.