Trauma Memories, Real Or Not?

Let’s talk about memories, because that can be controversial and is a struggle for many trauma survivors.

…. I don’t know but you, but it just really hurts me when someone questions the validity of my memories or the accuracy of my memories from past traumatic trauma events.

On top of this I thought that it’s essential to know every detail of the trauma stories. So that I can talk that through in therapy, process, integrate and store those memories, for them to stop haunting me… and I can heal and move on.

When I read into the research on memory and how all this is happening… I came across a statement saying: “even if you have a very vivid and clear memory of something, this is no proof of its accuracy”.

I was fighting this statement initially, till I realised that own of my memories wasn’t all that accurate:

here’s my clear vivid memory:

… I was abused from the age of 4 – 18 by a paedophile ring organised by my parents in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s in Ireland organised by parents. I was kept in a room of my parents hotel and never went to primary school. I only started going to school when I turned fourteen and went to High School where I struggled academically the whole way due to lack of previous education. It was a nightmare.

Well, I’ve been living in Australia for the last 35 years. I remember nothing for 37 years because I had suppressed all my trauma and it didn’t resurface until the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse into Children held here in Australia in 2012. I had a breakdown listening to the testimony given by the witnesses. The response of the Catholic Church compounded my trauma.

That was the starting point of me shifting and spending a little less time on trying so hard to figure out what happened in detail in my childhood. Up to then I had always wondered why I could not remember hardly anything of my childhood and teenage years.

Do you too have lots of gaps or for some incidents it feels like two events moves/merged together?

Having complex PTSD essentially means, we had lots of trauma and often it’s very similar types of trauma multiple time over years.

This makes it really hard to distinguish exactly when, where, what and how things were accurately in detail… In fact, it’s impossible to do, so I had to stop wasting time in trying to do the impossible and shift my focus a little 😊

Personally, I try to focus on a more overall “theme” now. Like acknowledge that what happened was:

  • Horrible, unjust, criminal, unfair, undeserving…
  • Bad enough to affect the way my brain developed
  • Bad enough for me to have complex PTSD

Regardless of whether my memories are accurate or not, I just acknowledge that:

  • I didn’t do anything to deserve this
  • No child or human being should be treated this way
  • This was wrong and criminal

When a memory comes up, I acknowledge the unfairness of this and how this was wrong and should not happen to anyone, then bringing myself back into here & now. Tell myself that in this moment I’m actually safe and it’s safe for me to focus on my future and creating a better future for myself.

No amount of joy, happiness or success that I will have now and in the future is ever going to take away the fact that what happened to me was wrong unjust and criminal.

This is how I kind of dealt with the memory gaps that I have and the blurry memories and not so accurate ones. Most of all, I ignore people who question the accuracy of my trauma memories…

But I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on that, because our trauma memories (accurate or not) are painful and it brings up tons more unnecessary pain & hurt, when people question the validity of our trauma stories.

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  1. I have significant gaps in memory. I have complained about it for years and have researched the validity of memories. To no avail has any of this brought any events forward. Last week I decided to begin a timeline of my life according to me. I began making memory keeping journals/books in June of 2018 and turned 40 in December and what a perfect way to combine and create a timeline of my life. I am not sure if I have blocked things but it is possible. I am not sure I want to know but I hope that making this book will cease my constant need to know mentality. I’ve not questioned the memory of others, only my own.

    • Significant gaps in memory is a worry. That is a fantastic idea to do a timeline journal. It is entirely possible that you have blocked memories if they are traumatic in some way. I can understand you not wanting to know but not knowing is irksome too. Your timeline will be a very interesting exercise for you. Good luck with it. Photographs will be invaluable for jogging your memory so I hope you have access to some. All the best Erin.

      • I do have access to some but they are ones that I have seen my whole life. I am concerned that I may have some trauma that is being blocked. I have witnessed a thing or two I wish I hadn’t but in doing so, I did not have any memories evolve.

      • That’s tough that you witnessed things you wished you hadn’t. Obviously you are not ready for them to resurface at this stage. Perhaps if you did some EMDR they would come up. It’s a powerful therapy that can assist in recovering memories if you want and helps you process them. All the best Erin.

  2. I am like you in my memories. I question my memories a lot in counseling but my counselor points out how my body reacts to the memories at the time. It’s not just my mind sharing the memory but my body, voice, and emotions react just as if the event is happening real time. Since I sometimes question them, if anyone else (including a writer/researcher) question them I react in quite a huge way (negatively). I don’t know, maybe because I have to live out all the consequences of what was done to me, and because I have been silenced for so long, it feels like someone is trying to shut me down.

    • From what you have said I have no doubt your memories are true and real. You should not doubt them. You are the one as you say who has to live with the consequences. Don’t ever let anyone shut you down. Your story is yours and yours alone. You lived through your trauma and are now trying to heal. All the best Erin.

  3. I trust my memories. They may be a composite of many incidents of abuse in what seems to be one memory, but that does not undermine my trusting them implicitly. The proof is in the pudding, as it is often said. I didn’t develop complex PTSD and DID because my life was a bed of roses. I leave disbelief with those who cannot deal realistically with the horrors humans perpetrate on children. I have never been a liar and trust that my alters are not also.

  4. Before you read this, please not a trigger warning as I will be talking about the possible existing (or not so possible existence) of false memories.

    I also have DID and complex PTSD. I was in denial about the majority of my abuse up until June and July of 2015, which is when I started having repressed memories and became aware that I have “parts” that I was not previously aware of. In terms of the accuracy of my memories, I have been told by some counselors that my memories must be false, or that part of having recovered memories is accepting that you have false ones. Today I do not believe in these allegation. What I believe is that memory the encoding of memory can be distorted, but that there is always some truth behind a memory. I also believe that most of my repressed memories are true even if aspects of them are incorrect. I might have a memory of sexual abuse, for example, that show me when really I was 3 and at an entirely different place than it shows to be. This doesn’t mean, though, that the memory is false or semi-false; all this means is that the memory is distorted yet still true. I hate the term false memory, and when you actually look into the research on false memory I believe that the words manipulated or distorted memory is a better definition. That way, survivors are still being validated while researchers or counselors who plant memories are really just manipulating memories. The truth is that even planted memories by researchers or counselors could have truth that they are based on, arise from, or are associated with. Memory researchers who use common scenarios to plant memories face the possible confound of the planted or “false” memory really just being an existing memory that has been manipulated and has come forward as false or as a memory that the participant never had before.

    What does this have to do with repressed memories? It means that, in my opinion, each memory is based off some kind of truth and contains truth within it, and even a memory deemed totally false or manipulated may have an emotion or meaning behind it that is associated with trauma. All memory contains some type of meaning.

    I just started a blog which in which discuss such things and eventually will have a piece on false versus recovered memory theory. Check it out!

    • Thank you for such a detailed and informative response. I learned a lot. That is appalling that some therapists called your memories false. We know categorically that DID occurs with those that have been traumatised as children hence the alters are formed to protect the child and allow it to cope.

      I look forward to reading your blog and I would love to publish some of your articles on my blog for my readers to read as I think they would be of great interest to them. May have the same diagnosis as you and me. All credit would go to you and a link would lead directly back to your own blog. Let me know what you think??

      Looking forward to hearing from you.

      All the best Erin

      • Yes, you can publish some of my articles. I am happy to educate people about DID,share my experiences, and also to spread awareness about ritual abuse. Your story sounds very similar to mine, and I also have a Master’s Degree in Experimental Psychology. My blogs are a work in progress as my skills are slowly returning after leaving an abusive situation about a year and a half ago. Thanks for the email! I also sent you a friend request on Facebook if that’s okay.

      • Thanks. That’s great that I can publish some of your articles. Just been reading your site. Very interesting. We have very similiar backgrounds. Great to connect on Facebook. All the best Erin.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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