Making Truth a Priority

Limbic System

After writing publicly for more than a year, I received the first blog comment that attempted to deny the truth of my story. I have never received these comments because I am telling the truth. Truth is easy to spot. Survivors know it. Clinicians know it. Everyone knows it. And honestly, why would I make this up. Why would I leave my entire extended family, raise my children without any familial support and write for hours each week for no pay? If I wanted attention, there are millions of more pleasant approaches I could take. I am a good writer. I could write a parenting book. And I have always wanted to work on my singing voice. I would love to win a Nobel Peace Prize too. If I wanted revenge, what would I want revenge for? Abuse?

When I first read the comment, I was a little confused. The commenter claimed to have a Ph.D, but they were making uneducated statements. And why would they care enough to take the time to write a comment denying my understanding of my abuse? Why would they care? And if they cared so much, why did they leave an email address that was fake? And why would they make up a name like Georgia England? And why do their comments sound exactly like my own family’s denial of my abuse?

Word for word …

Oh … wait …

Because it IS my family.

I cannot believe that took me longer than five minutes to figure out. I’m a little ashamed.

My next question was more important. What do I do with the comment? If I approve the comment on the ABOUT page, not everyone will have the opportunity to read it. And that is not good. So, I decided to post it here, so that all of my followers could get a close look at the words that incestuous families use to invalidate the abused. My readers can get first-hand knowledge of what perpetrator denial looks like. And this stuff is good.

Here’s the comment:

“There is very little evidence that people ever forget their trauma actually and in fact more often than not what happens is that in intense therapy memories are created.

I am so sorry that you believe this happened to you but as a social worker you need to be aware that the way the brain works is that you would not only remember the trauma but it would dominate your thoughts and feelings and you wouldn’t “forget” something that intense.

It sounds like you did have anxiety and you were clearly were “abused” but it was probably at the hands of an unskilled therapist

Check out the various articles on “repressed memories” http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/scientists-and-practitioners-dont-see-eye-to-eye-on-repressed-memory.html

I would like to address these statements, so that the next time you hear them, you can tell that individual to step out of their denial and support the abuse survivor.

First, there is a ton of evidence that people forget their trauma. It is known as dissociative amnesia.  WebMD describes dissociative amnesia.  And an official government site focusing on Complex PTSD specifically lists traumatic memory loss as a symptom.  Yes folks. It is a real thing. It is listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It has been researched and studied countless times by reputable researchers in many fields. It has been discovered in childhood abuse survivors, rape survivors and war veterans. Most reputable trauma researchers agree that traumatic memory loss happens and is even common.

Second, let’s talk about how the brain works. There are two key structures in the limbic system that impact memory during traumatic stress. The amygdala responds to the trauma by sending adrenaline to the hippocampus to suppress thought. This is helpful in acute traumatic experiences because it eliminates the decision-making process and allows the individual to respond quickly to threats.

When a child experiences prolonged trauma, the hippocampus, which is supposed to store memories among other functions, will start to malfunction because it has been flooded with cortisol for an extended period of time. The hippocampus may actually shrink in size or not grow to the correct size. It may hold a memory, but it may not be accessible to the cortex or conscious mind. However, the fear and other emotions related to the experience may be stored in the amygdala separately. This explains why some trauma survivors don’t have conscious memory of their trauma, but deal with daily fear and anxiety … anxiety that the commenter curiously has witnessed in me.

Here are links to further information about the brain on trauma:

Childhood Trauma and Hippocampus Study

Childhood Sexual Abuse Impact on Developing Brain

At the end, the commenter inevitably mentions the widely overused false memory syndrome and blames it on my therapist. This is the standard approach taken by perpetrators who are denying abuse. The commenter references an ambiguous article about repressed memories primarily authored by Elizabeth Loftus. Elizabeth has helped free countless pedophiles using her research regarding memory. She claims that memory is suggestible and malleable. She claims that therapists can put ideas in the heads of their clients. She has proven this theory by showing that a memory can be suggested … a memory about going to the mall.

Most trauma experts will agree that memory can be suggested and that it is not always accurate. Ironically, it is the constant suggestions by my family that I was making up my abuse that eventually led me to agree with them. (Of course, these suggestions were accompanied with death threats, so that helped.) I would not rely on 30-year-old repressed memories to tell me the time of day, what I was wearing or the eye color of the person who raped me. But I can tell you what happened to me. That is unmistakable.

The idea of suggestible memory has been used to blame countless therapists, so it is extremely important to note that I never retrieved a memory while in a therapist’s office. I was never hypnotized or used any other controversial therapeutic method. My memories came to me, by myself, in my own time. And as I recovered my memories, my body healed. All of my physical challenges with my body greatly lessened … challenges that had been described by doctors as incurable with no real cause.

I do want to get back to Elizabeth Loftus, a woman who was sexually abused by a babysitter, but said “It was not that big a deal”, a psychologist who does not work with trauma survivors in her memory research, a researcher whose primary goal is to prove that a memory COULD be false.

Pedophiles and abuse-deniers latch on to Loftus because she is the only chance they have to avoid jail, but her research is unrelated and incomplete when it comes to traumatic memory.

Here is what some of the most prominent trauma experts say about her:

“I have nothing good to say about Elizabeth Loftus,” says Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

“She doesn’t study traumatic memory, she studies normal memory,” asserts Judith Herman, M.D.

Here is what Elizabeth Loftus has said:

“You know, I’ve seen so many of these cases there’s a cookie-cutter quality to them now. But I do wonder,” she admits. “I have these moments when I think, What if I’m wrong about memory? What if people really do shove this collection of experience into the subconscious and bury them there, and they leak and you can recover them in some accurate form and rely on it? I’m not saying it’s impossible. Even the Hungerford case–where the daughter claimed her father raped her from the age of five until 23, including just days before her wedding, and then repressed all the memories until a few years later, when she entered therapy–even that I wouldn’t say was impossible.”

Don’t allow perpetrators to point to incomplete memory research to convince others that they are innocent.

Don’t allow them to blame therapists who listen to their clients.

Don’t allow them to continue to intimidate their victims with arguments which have no basis in reality.

If you do, then the perpetrators win … again.

Educate yourself on repressed memories and the affects of trauma on the brain, so you can protect our world from the nonsense forced on us by perpetrators.

I have created a new page with trauma resources to help build our knowledge and make the truth a priority.

 

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40 thoughts on “Making Truth a Priority

  1. I know this to be truth.This person who wrote that comment is uneducated and lacks any understanding about repressed memories.Some people want to rewrite history,but facts are not on their side.

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  2. It’s possible that this person commenting is just looking for attention. Possibly once abused themselves (maybe by the family you walked away from) but they’re hiding behind the reality of all, living their life pointing fingers, seeking reaction to learn\heal verses admitting the truth because they’ve yet to gain courage. Or perhaps, like you said, it’s someone in your family, just stirring the pot, like a coward.

    One more thing I will say before I close is that no one walks away from their entire family and starts over, by themselves, without good reason. A when they do, a traumatic childhood is most always the reason.

    Whether rape or physical abuse, this is most times why a person would leave. They leave with the intension to get their lives together and sometimes find themselves so lost in their struggle they end up living on the streets and feel even that is better than living with a family or person and suffering daily rapes or even abuse.

    I, like you, am one of those people that walked away. I was blessed enough to not end up on the streets but it was only by the grace of God and a lot of hard work. So anyone that comes calling, doubting you, just remember that some things cannot be taught simply by studying them in school or reading about them in a book. Wisdom in life is gained more so by experienced and you, my friend, having suffered help others in a way that few can because most do not have your courage. So keep talking, keep typing and simply pray for those that don’t live in truth because the rest of us see you for exactly who you are. A Blessing.

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    • Thank you for your beautiful words. I have struggled with some ghosts the past few days and your support is incredibly helpful. I know I am courageous. I know I have wisdom. It is just a shame I had to come to the internet to be validated in that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You my friend are more than a survivor! You’re an overcomer! It takes courage to start a new life. Words, (their words) let them fall to the gound, then walk over them and keep it moving

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  4. Keep standing! Keep telling the truth. It’s so hard when the past wants to barge in on you and try to take you down but stand strong! You are an overcomer and that person is a sad, sick person in denial or in ignorance. Either way, they are not who you are. You are a courageous survivor who has pushed through hell itself to find truth and sanity. I am grateful for your courage and tenacity. Someone once told me she thought I was the most persevering person she knew. 🙂 I didn’t tell her why I am that way but that’s what it takes from us. Perseverance that doesn’t quit. Ever. THAT is who you are. Let the hater blow into the past like yesterdays wind. And take a deep breath. Smell that? It’s the sweet smell of truth and freedom and you earned very moment of it.
    God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I, too, had to make the painful decision to leave my family. To raise my children without grandparents. Without aunts, uncles and cousins. But more painful than that has been that my family would LET me. That they would not do a simple thing like acknowledge their wrong-doing. They they would follow through with their threat of “keep your mouth shut or you’re not welcome here.” Your commenter was more than likely a family member. A cowardly one. Hoping to shake you up, shut you down, shut you up. But you are strong. You have a voice! Imagine that! you don’t have false memories. My memories of abuse are etched into my mind permanently. Who would make up our kind of stories and stick to it? There is no pay off to lie!!! Life is hell. Fighting back is what keeps us alive. So, you stay strong, Elisabeth. Keep helping others overcome their fear of family members who threaten to quiet them.

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  6. I know about repressed memories. I have them! I get these little “clips” of what happened. Sometimes I get more but I’m quick to back away. I’m not sure what’s still in there but it scares me enough I stop the “clip”. And no one is suggesting anything its all me. So sorry your family isn’t willing to acknowledge what happened to you.

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    • Thank you Aurora. I’m glad to meet you here. My experiences are similar with my memories. I find that writing them down is the best way to let the memories come forward. Speaking them or internalizing them is just too challenging most of the time.

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      • True. I have a very difficult time speaking them. And when I do get the courage I’m detached, like I’m telling someone else’s story. Thank you again for sharing a journey.

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  7. It is hard for people who have never experienced trauma to wrap their heads around such things, especially as grotesque as yours and a lot of peoples abuse was/is. I find this daily in watching people around me interact with each other. You can see the ignorance and judgment.

    I come from a very, very long line of abusers and victims, I being a victim of said abuse. When abuse is so deeply ingrained in a family’s DNA and history, even they have issues with recognizing it as abuse themselves.

    The saddest part is, they are most likely repeating the abuse that was inflicted on them by someone whom was probably abused as well. Through my own abuse and recovery I have witnessed that the mentality towards it operates on different levels as well, some abusers have a “wouldn’t go there” line that they will not cross and as long as they feel that they have not crossed that line then it doesn’t count as abuse for them. This is how they sleep at night.

    Thank you for sharing, your post have helped me tremendously.

    Liked by 1 person

      • This is only coming from my own personal experiences, observations, and research. Over analyzing is a coping method for me. If I can gain some kind of understanding about what makes people behave the way that they do then it helps me cope with what they have done. I am in no way excusing the behavior or actions. I have to find reason behind it or I drive myself into a bad place every time I have a memory or experience. I am sorry if I sounded arrogant at all.

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  8. One other point about “false”memories to add to your arsenal: research has shown that early and severe traumatic experiences are encoded as somatic states, not narrative memories (which is why we get “clips” or “flashbacks”). In addition, when a human is stressed intolerably, the first areas of the brain to shut down are those responsible for speech production. Bottom line: your body remembers, but you don’t have the speech to articulate the memories.

    Whomever the author of that comment, they are woefully ignorant of trauma research, the neurobiology of trauma, and the process of human development. Know that the research is on your side, and more accumulates every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I was going to go down the somatic road, but figured my article was already pretty long. 🙂 I have experienced all of that myself. I hinted at it by discussing the body healing. I love how many fantastically intelligent people I have connected with through the blogging. I wish there had been some in my immediate family.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I actually shuddered when I read that comment coming in from those you walked away from. Because I have walked away from my abusers and those sneaky little comments have been snuck into emails and stuff to me. I don’t know what I’d do if they ever found my blog. Run away probably..! So glad you have been able to share the comment and share your truth. I can imagine that would feel relieving in a lot of ways xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great points, that comment makes my skin crawl, and I’m glad you called out just how sick and arrogant it is. My abusive, incestuous family also claimed that a therapist “must have gotten to me” and put all these ideas in my head. But no such thing happened, and I have never worked with any therapist on my memories nor met one who encouraged me to see my childhood as worse then I had admitted to them. Recovering our memories is a very difficult, painful and time consuming process, but in the end, after all the shame, fear, and self-doubt, the truth does heal. Lies, denial, and condescension don’t. I’m glad your family has reason to be jealous of what you’ve achieved.

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  11. The article refers to Lawrence Patihis – who is a Masters student (or was in 2013 according to a paper he wrote then). Interestingly one of the study’s authors Elizabeth Loftus is frequently quoted for her very dubious research. She was the “expert” defense witness at many famous trials, including Ted Bundy – who she thought seemed like a nice guy. She’s never testified for the prosecution of any case, but has been successfully sued by survivors of abuse for example Lynn Crook and Jennifer Hoult.

    Loftus is a board memory of the discredited False Memory Syndrome Foundation and has been subject to a number of reports of Ethical issues with her so-called “research” – which is sometimes carried out by her university students, she also contradicts herself often. Some background on her work –
    http://www.dissociative-identity-disorder.net/wiki/Societydenial#Elizabeth_F._Loftus
    http://ritualabuse.us/research/memory-fms/the-alleged-ethical-violations-of-elizabeth-loftus-in-the-case-of-jane-doe/

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  12. Thank you for publicly addressing something that I am sure many adult survivors of child abuse are confronted with, whether on their blog or off. While my sister did endure sexual abuse as a child, my mother did try the same tactics with my older sister years ago when she was still in high school. Except my sister actually confronted her about it. The response my mother gave my sister did something to her inside that day, and she has never been the same since.

    Many of us (I was abused physically by a stepparent as a child and also by a man in an abusive relationship as an adult) I am sure have had worries that the person or people we are writing about as we share our experiences would have this happen to us. As of late, I have been pondering putting up a post identifying the person who abused me but have not yet only because I am unsure of the legal ramifications this might have. Someone very close to me reminded me of this, so I need to call someone to get some legal advice.

    But I came across a quote today on another blog I have been following that says exactly how I feel. My wording about my abuser was a little more blunt… along the lines of “If he didn’t want people to know what he did, he shouldn’t be a woman beater.” But I thought you would appreciate me sharing it with you, because YOU own what was done to you, and you have a right to talk about it as freely as you need to. You doing so has not only helped unload some of your burden, but you have also touched the lives of many people and helped encourage them as well. This is an act of love.

    The quote is from Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

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    • Thank you so much for this comment. It is so funny that you quoted Anne Lamott to me. She is one of my favorite authors. Her books have certainly pulled me out of some darkness. And I agree. The stories belong to me. And I can tell them.

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  13. Elisabeth, I thought you might be interested in a book about dissociation and dissociated memories that Elizabeth Loftus attacked: Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation, the Hidden Epidemic, with a web site at http://www.strangerinthemirror.com. Loftus is woefully misinformed, as there are ample cases of trauma-induced dissociative amnesia with complete loss of biographical memory, and also for the the more usual partial memory gaps for childhood experiences and the trauma itself, which you can see from the studies referenced at the Recovered Memory Project from Brown University: https://blogs.brown.edu/recoveredmemory/

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    • Thank you so much. I will take a look at these links. I love that I have so much help in collecting information on this topic, which is near and dear to my heart obviously.

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      • You are welcome. I’ve recently have come up to speed on the topic of dissociative experience and trauma, including dissociative amnesia. Another impediment to gaining traction on recognition and treatment of dissociative experiences surprisingly comes from the PTSD field itself, which has been slow to relate dissociative experiences to issues of identity. Complex PTSD is edging toward this concept, but the dissociative disorders field, with its DDNOS (now called Other Specified Dissociative Disorders in DSM5) and the more extreme case of DID , is already there so far as conceptualizing and treating chronic childhood trauma.

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  14. I’m sorry you received such a horrendous comment, and I applaud your bravey and courage for writing so honestly and eloquently about surviving abuse.

    I thought you might be interested in this fantastic talk by Rebecca Campbell about the neurobiology of sexual assault- she very thoroughly goes into how the the brain and body responds to sexual assault in such a way that represses memories and impairs the victim’s ability to respond at the time of the assault. It has an accompanying transcript too. Note that at the end of the talk there is a Q&A session and a woman very emotionally recounts her sexual assault, fair warning: http://nij.gov/multimedia/presenter/presenter-campbell/Pages/welcome.aspx

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  15. A great piece, and I love all the comments of encouragement and support — comments that are so clear-minded — and so accurate — you are well beyond a survivor. You are, as one commentator said, an “over-comer.” The first clue that the comment was from a place of non-truth is that there is no genuine sympathy in the post. The first thing any NORMAL brain would do, in reaction, even if they questioned your accuracy, is say oh my gosh this is so terrible. I ache for you that you live with such anguish — in other words, it’s obvious that you are a person wrestling with horrible pain, period … This poster was so hyper-defensive — the entire pre-occupation is with shutting you down, and with no good reason offered either. M. Scott Peck posits that Truth = Love = God (which to me can be conceived of as “Better / Purer Energy, does not have to be “God” in a constricted religious framework); Lying = Sin = Evil. There are good people and bad people, end of story. Bad people spend a LOT of time trying to make good people think they are crazy and sick. It’s one of their ways of manipulating good people — along with bullying. And while we’re at it, the one thing you’ll notice is that bad people never take responsibility for their actions. They’re so disconnected from the truth they can’t even acknowledge that they might have accidentally left the toaster on.

    You truly are amazing. Don’t let anyone slow you down. 🙂

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  16. Thanks so much for this very insightful, informative post, and I couldn’t agree more about dissociative amnesia.

    As I wrote in a recent post about the tragic early death of my sister, who, I suspect, may have been, as I was, sexually abused as a child by our father although she had no memories of such abuse:
    “Forgetting severely traumatic events, such as being sexually abused as a child by one’s parent, is a by no means unusual occurrence. (For footnoted references to this phenomenon, see, for example, “Blind to Betrayal” by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell, professors of psychology at the University of Oregon: ‘Sometimes [sexual assault] victims forget all or part of their assault experience. . . . Rates of forgetting were higher for certain interpersonal victimization experiences (such as childhood abuse and completed rape) and lower for other noninterpersonal traumas (such as motor vehicle accidents). Forgetting is apparently more likely in cases involving a betrayal trauma, such as when the victim trusted, was very close to, and/or was dependent on the perpetrator.’)

    “(Of course, the opposite of forgetting can occur, as well—intrusive memories, or flashbacks, of traumatic events—for trauma survivors who never forget their traumatic experiences or who later recover their memories after a period of forgetting. However, in light of the abundant academic literature documenting the commonness of suppression of memories of trauma, the use sometimes made of the occurrence this opposite phenomenon—of intrusive memories—in an effort to undermine the validity of the idea that memories of trauma can be suppressed, and to insist upon some sort of either-or choice between these two phenomena, can seem quite baffling unless one considers the possibility that the person so insisting may have had their views on this matter skewed, to detrimental effect, by some sort of personal agenda whose legitimacy depends upon such a choice.)”

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    • Absolutely John. In my case, I had full dissociative amnesia, but still suffered from flashbacks. I just continually convinced myself that the flashbacks were not based in reality. Funny that it was the rest of my life that was not based in reality. Now, I get flashbacks as a part of my memory recovery. Instead of invalidating the flashback, I stay curious about it, so it can further develop.

      This is definitely not a straight-forward process. And I agree that anyone who is adamant about invalidating a defense mechanism has an agenda.

      And I am sorry for what you and your sister went through. I thought your interview with you mother was beautiful. I loved that you were both willing to be open with each other and have that discussion. It so rarely happens.

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