Why are memories of abuse so hidden?

This has been one of the hardest questions for me in my recovery process. How could such a big betrayal remain hidden in the back corners of my psyche for years and years? Can I really believe it if it has been hidden so long?

Over time, I’ve come to believe my inner child more and more firmly. When I don’t believe her, I feel crazy and torn up. When I do believe that the abuse happened then I feel pain but I don’t feel nuts. I can sit with my inner girl and soothe her.

For some people, the actual memories are not hidden, but the feelings may be covered over or disappeared.

The book that helped me the most with the question of recovered memories was Betrayal Trauma, by Jennifer Freyd. Freyd explains that forgetting is useful to the child because it enables her to remain in contact with the family that is essential for her survival. The closer the relationship with the abuser, the more important it is to forget the abuse in order to keep that relationship working, problematic though it is. Freyd even found data showing that kids whose abuse was reported to authorities often forgot it for years, and the closer the relationship to the abuser (father vs. cousin, for example), the more likely the forgetting.

Isn’t that stunning? Yet it makes total sense. I had to keep eating cornflakes every morning opposite my father and relying on him for food, learning, and yes, love. I could not allow myself to remember the abuse in the night.

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1 comment:

missmudpie said...

It struck me when you said that the closer the abuser is to the victim, the more likely they are to forget the abuse. Thank you for that insight.