Chapter V - MEMORY
    back to menu

I now want to focus on memory. In particular, three important types of memories: the selective memory, the minimizing memory, and the rationalizing memory. We all have a need to make our memories tolerable, so when something as horrible as sexual abuse happens, it is put away in a memory where it does not seem so bad. The abused person finds excuses and they rationalize the abusive behavior. After all, it is not their fault the abuser was drunk or they were going though a lot of pain. The memory in fact has to become less threatening to the victim. To try to remember what really happened could lead to depression and the victim wants to avoid this feeling.

The memory at this time becomes crippling and the feeling of depression brings with it so much sadness that the abused feels apathetic. This is very dangerous because when nothing matters it can lead to addiction and compulsive behavior. The addiction creates something so important in the victim’s life that the victim develops “A specialness” to the drug, alcohol, sex, money, food, or other addiction. The memories are so tricky that the victim is lost and wonders did it really happen? Yes or no, ok then let my addiction become real and give me a reason to feel, to exist and not stay numb. The problem is the victim is not aware that this is not solving the problem, but perpetuating it through the addiction. This creates a feeling of denial with reality and behind it there is a lot of fear. As a result, the person splits, cuts off relationships with work, family, friends and any kind of responsibility and the people around them suffer as well.

Years can be lost because it has been shown that sexually abused children do not have the same sense of time that normal people have. They feel too old or too mature. They never had a childhood. This can explain why some people of sexual abuse remain in a childish state during different periods of their lives. One of the most terrible aspects is the psychic death that you can feel through some victims, a part of them seems to hibernate and when they are depressed they are unresponsive. It is almost like a schizoid state. What is more important to them is the fear to look crazy or to be wrong this is a paranoid state. It is difficult for them to accept incest and they create a web of illusions and delusions, yet still seem to be seeking a miracle. It is important to understand that depression is considered like “anger turned inward, against the self”.

I would like to explore the meaning behind anger against the self. When one experiences anger against themselves, it represents a type of hate for the self. It is a way of expressing that the person was not able to release their anger. As a result, they can feel robbed of their life. They are robbed from anger just as they were robbed from their childhood.

I have written the following poem, which totally encapsulates what I have just written about. It is called:

“Little Girl”

It is the story of a little girl
different from the others,
she always understood that silence
was made of words never pronounced
and the most important
was rarely confessed.
This little girl
different from the others,
knew the deterioration of time
was only an illusion,
…. her dreams were carrying her
where she wanted…
This little girl
different from the others,
wanted always to go faster,
traveling over new lands,
looking for perfection,
ephemeral, seriousness,
fascination and the elusive.
This little girl
different from the others,
was exuding innocence
mingled with tenderness, cruelty
beyond any logic
In one word,
it’s the story of a little girl
different from the others,
who has never been a little girl.

Because the memory is not clear, the person does not have a real knowledge about what it is they are angry about. They have difficulty facing their anger and even to expressing it. It is much easier to numb it with food, alcohol, drugs, money, or sex. With this behavior they are acting masochist. Their anger is turned against themselves and they start to hate everything that has been done or not done to them. Their hate creates feelings of terror and despair. They also feel that they have to face too many losses, including the death of their innocence. In order to become healthy the person has to put him or herself in a state of anger and has to complain in order to maintain their balance and the sense of injustice.

But when they face their problem, they are not totally conscious of the fact that they have been sexually abused and therefore they cannot go through the steps of shock and denial. They then experience guilt, anger and sadness. This is why it is so important that they mourn the right away. It is not only a way to avoid depression, but also because the memories of the trauma are not released until the survivor has found some support. It is important even when there is only partial awareness or a fragment of the memory. It can be very frustrating because the person does not remember enough. They are fearful they might not be able to handle the horror of what could have happened. It is physically and mentally stressful, draining and exhausting to them to have to relive one more time something so distressful and painful.

These cases can be extremely delicate to handle. The after effects of their trauma can cause some people to become catatonic in their depression, some to be obsessive compulsive and in the worse case scenario some want to kill themselves, unfortunately, some succeed. It is often very difficult of the victims of sexual abuse to find their way toward hope or control. They are not seeking enough help, remembering incest and working on recovery do not occur in logical stages. We have to expect splitting, shutdowns, denials and minimizing which can sometimes keep the process of recovery through their sleeps with dreams. The trauma reappears and some very sensitive victims experience image flashback and sensory flashes, like water running, bright lights, or noises. Or flashbacks with images, with smells, colors, specific places or faces that are often accompanied by nausea, pain, numbness, and chills or excessive heat. They experience again the trauma that happened the very first time. With a trauma as murderous and devastating as incest, we must not impose abstract standards of “health” on those people who have been affected. They are survivors and the goal is to reduce their pain and help them to discover joy and peace and love the best they can.

I wrote about the knowing or not knowing and the issue of memories, the debate between professionals and incest survivors is whether and how much memories of the abuse must be uncovered for recovery to be considered “successful”. Recovery is a process; each flashback or dream does not seem to cleanse something in the survivor but something inside him or her finds better order.

They are less confused. Their pain is made clearer and centered. The person experiences a definite lightening of the emotional load after the flashback is over or the dream explored. There is no way to know what is left of course because one can not know what is not remembered and the survivor is left with pains to heal, new skills to learn and a new life to discover. Even though the survivor is not responsible for what has been done to them, the survivor is responsible for their recovery and to accept this horrible injustice is the beginning of their empowerment. To take responsibility is to have full control over the recovery and discover undestroyed strengths and use them to the fullest.