What is traumatic dissociation or amnesia? Is it real?
As I watch the news concerning Christine Blasey Ford and the accusation, it brings up the long pondered issue of traumatization and memory. If you can’t remember every single detail of being sexually raped, assaulted does it negate the abuse occuring. Is it possible to be traumatized to the point that the brain doesn’t connect every single detail. Yes. If you think that’s bad work with sexually abused men who cannot turn off or remember every single detail to the nth degree because their minds are wired with such mental prowess. It’s a little nightmare. One of my greatest fears stems from victims of sexual abuse, rape, being demonized and further victimized because their biological brain attempted to protect them.
Having a traumatic dissociation or childhood sexual abuse amnesia is very common and real. The human mind responds in various ways to trauma. People who’ve studied trauma and traumatic events have known for a long time that there are several kinds of amnesia that affect us. When something is overwhelming emotionally, some people block it out, separating the event from the rest of their memories. For instance, it’s very common for people in car accidents to forget parts of what happened. The psychological conclusion says that the stress of the moment was so traumatic that the person cannot relive the emotional content.
Let’s apply this to a 6-year-old being sexually abused by an intimate family member, let’s say, Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe has been very nice to the child up until then. He then steps across sexual boundaries, or even becomes physically harmful to the child. The child may have a hard time holding onto that experience and still function as a young child; playing and enjoying life. Children often protect themselves by blocking/repressing or dissociating these kinds of memories. Or, as a result of this experience, a child may develop depression or other kinds of symptoms like isolating themselves, or acting out with anger. These symptoms can continue into adulthood. Unless the memory is confronted, the person may continue acting out, not knowing the cause for their depression or anxiety. For some people, some- thing eventually triggers a memory of the event. It may happen spontaneously, or may surface if they get therapy. Once a memory surfaces, it can be dealt with and processed.
How accurate are my memories of the sexual abuse?
We must always keep in mind that sexual abuse can cause traumatization, and it can be one of the hardest things to allow ourselves to accept. Sexual abuse isn’t something we want to have; very few of us are going to think up sexual abuse stories that didn’t really happen. I have anecdotally found in working with male survivors that memories from early childhood, especially before ages 5 and 6, will usually be like Instagram snapshots and not a long drawn out 3D film.