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Repressed Memories: Causes, Mechanisms, & Coping Strategies

In some cases, individuals may experience a traumatic event that triggers such a potent stress response via the sympathetic nervous system, that memory of the event becomes repressed.  The potency of the stress-response exceeds their innate ability to cope and other coping resources.  Emotions associated with the traumatic event are often overpowering, leading to intense sensations of: anger, depression, fear, guilt, hopelessness, or shame – all negative emotions.

For some individuals, these negative emotions seem to hit like a ton of bricks; so hard that they interfere with our cognitive function and memory processing.  The interference of the stress response with memory consolidation is what often leads to repression of memories or repression of details regarding traumatic experiences.  Some individuals may forget significant details surrounding the traumatic event, while others may forget the entire experience.

In this case, there is a “gap” or lapse in memory surrounding the time of the trauma.  The individual knows that they endured the traumatic event, but they are so emotionally overwhelmed and physiologically “fried” that memory of the traumatic event is submerged beneath conscious perception.  The submerging of a memory beneath conscious perception is referred to as “repression” of a memory and is thought to serve as an innate psychological coping mechanism during times of overwhelming distress.

What are repressed memories?

Repressed memories are memories that have been blocked from conscious perception as a result of significant stress or trauma.  When we experience a significant degree of stress or trauma, our sympathetic nervous system becomes hyperactivated and overwhelms our brain.  The brain is overwhelmed with surges of intense emotions and stimulation via the sympathetic nervous system.

The stimulation is designed to help keep us alive in the event of an emergency.  It provides us with superhuman strength, focus, and our body surges with adrenaline.  It is this surging of intense emotion that may overwhelm some individuals and ultimately interfere with their ability to recall a traumatic event.  While repressed memories are more likely to occur among those without fully developed brains, they may occur in anyone that endures a traumatic experience.

Causes of Repressed Memories

It is thought that the cause of repressed memories is subject to significant individual variation.  The common theme associated with repression of memories is that of intense stress and/or trauma.  When the trauma and/or stress becomes severe, it is thought that neurological adaptations (resulting in repression) take place to help ensure survival.

Abuse: Those that have experienced abuse whether it be physical, psychological, or sexual – are prone to repressed memories.  Abuse can be ongoing such as that dished out by a parent or an isolated occurrence.  In any regard, the abuse experienced often exceeds a person’s psychological coping ability, and one of the only ways to cope involves pushing the memory out of conscious perception.

  • Physical abuse: Those that are violently beaten or “hit” by others may block all memory of the event from consciousness. Physical abuse often leaves psychological marks, but permanent psychological scars.  The physical abuse may be ongoing or an isolated event that leads to repression of memories of the attacks.
  • Psychological abuse: Anyone that has been verbally abused or repeatedly bullied is at increased risk for nearly every mental illness. It is important to note that verbal abuse in the form of bullying or harassment may not affect one person to the same extent as another.  Some individuals literally “shut down” emotionally and their brains re-wire in attempt to repress memories of these psychological attacks.
  • Sexual abuse: Victims of sexual abuse, particularly children often forget aspects of what they experience. Sexual abuse (e.g. rape) often leads the victim to feel so stressed and overwhelmed, that all thoughts of the trauma are repressed.  This repression occurs because they cannot cope with their experience and essentially bury memories of the trauma beneath their consciousness.

Grief: It is possible to experience repressed memories as a result of intense grief.  For example, someone who loses a family member or significant other may end up feeling so traumatized, that they cannot function.  Eventually the memories surrounding the grief get buried below conscious perception and they are “repressed.”

Stress: Those that have endured significant amounts of stress may find that it accumulates, reaches a pinnacle, and eventually results in a nervous breakdown.  There may be a few stressful events that trigger the breakdown, but in other cases it may be a result of poor self-care.  Regardless of the cause of your high stress and/or nervous breakdown, you may notice that memories may become repressed as a result of the fight-or-flight response.

Trauma: Anyone that has endured a traumatic event may experience memory repression.  For some people, remembering any details of the trauma is extremely difficult.  Other individuals may be able to remember “bits and pieces” of the experience, but may have no recollection of other notable details.

There are many things that can cause trauma including: war, abuse (particularly during childhood), rape, violence, crime, medical diagnoses, and natural disasters.  After the trauma is experienced, a person remains in a perpetual state of fear, often unable to cope with their emotions.  If the person’s ability to cope and/or coping resources are exceeded by the psychological impact of the trauma, they may repress certain memories.

Possible Mechanisms of Repressed Memories (Neural & Physiological)

Due to individual differences, it is difficult to pinpoint the specific underlying neural and physiological mechanisms responsible for repression of memories in every case.  That said, some commonalities may be apparent among individuals with repressed memories.  Below is a list of speculative contributing mechanisms responsible for repressed memories.

Brain regions: During or following a traumatic experience, activation of brain regions often becomes altered.  Certain regions become overactivated, while others become underactivated.  It is the simultaneous overactivation and underactivation of various regions that represses our memories and/or our ability to recall our traumatic experience.

  • Hippocampus: Research demonstrates that following a traumatic event, a morphological change occurs in the hippocampus. If this trauma is endured at a young age, it can disrupt hippocampal development and ultimately its functionality throughout adulthood.  It is the hippocampus that is responsible for helping consolidate memory.  Following trauma, the hippocampus may become underactivated, thus resulting in poor memory retrieval.
  • Prefrontal cortex: Among those experiencing retrograde amnesia (loss of memory leading up to a traumatic event), it has been found that activity in the prefrontal cortex increases. That said, it is also thought that there may be a hypometabolism in the right inferolateral prefrontal cortex following traumatic events.

Brain waves: It has been suggested that brain waves may be part of a complex mechanism responsible for repressing memories.  Those that endure significant amounts of stress often experience changes in brain wave rhythms.  Individuals with repressed memories may have an abnormal EEG (electroencephalograph) characterized by excess fast wave activity (e.g. beta waves) in regions that aren’t associated with this activity.

Others may experience excess slow wave activity (e.g. theta waves) in regions associated with conscious perception.  Brain wave abnormalities may contribute to an inability to access repressed memories. By altering an individual’s brain wave pattern, repressed memories may resurface.

Hormones: The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for manufacturing stimulatory hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.  When these hormones are manufactured in large quantities, they are capable of affecting the brain and its ability to function.  Excess levels of these hormones may alter brain waves, regional activation, neurotransmission, and may result in memory repression.

Neurotransmission: In addition to our hormones being thrown out of homeostatic balance as a result of trauma or stress, our neurotransmission is also altered.  This altered neurotransmission may result in abnormally low serotonin, low dopamine, or in some cases – high dopamine.  It is certainly plausible that the neurotransmitter alterations play a significant role in the repression of memories.

Sympathetic nervous system: The root cause of the stress response is the sympathetic nervous system.  It is the sympathetic nervous system that produces the “fight-or-flight” response, an unconscious survival mechanism for dealing with dangerous situations.  When the sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes underactive and we cannot relax.  This inability to relax leads to greater production of hormones, neurotransmitters, brain waves, and regional changes that keep our memories repressed.

How to Recover Repressed Memories & Heal from the Trauma

Those that have repressed memories may be cognizant of the fact that they’ve endured a particular trauma, but their memory of the experience may be blocked.  In this case, a person may want to recover their repressed memories.  Recovery is often difficult and should be attempted only when the individual is prepared to cope with the memories and emotions that accompany those memories.

Recovery should only be attempted under the supervision of a highly-skilled psychotherapist.  Though you may be able to recover repressed memories on your own, you may not be able to cope with the emotional upheavals that may simultaneously surface.  In most cases, repressed memories will trigger significant emotional responses.

1. Assess whether you are ready

Assuming you want to recover your repressed memories, you should determine whether you’re really ready. Is your lifestyle low stress, healthy, and do you have social support? If you’re dealing with a significant amount of stress, don’t have any social support, and are coping with other psychological problems – you may not be ready to deal with the repressed memories.

2. Psychotherapy

If you’re going to attempt to recover repressed memories, you’ll want to work with a professional. This could be a psychotherapist and/or psychologist that you connect with and that understands your situation. You may want to take some time to build up a connection with a healthy rapport before getting straight to facing your trauma and repressed memories.

3. Chose recovery method(s)

Once you’ve determined that you’re ready to deal with the repressed memory, and you’ve established a relationship with a competent psychotherapist, you can choose a method of recovery. Your therapist may suggest a particular method based on their particular training. It is up to you to work with them to agree on a method by which you’re going to uncover the repressed memory and associated trauma.

  • EMDR: Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing is a technique employed to cope with trauma and can be used to uncover repressed memories. When a traumatic event is experienced, it overwhelms neural coping mechanisms.  EMDR is an 8-phase treatment that helps a person reprocess a traumatic event and cope with their repressed memories.
  • Internal Family Systems Therapy: This is a specific type of psychotherapy that targets traumatic experiences that occur in individual, couple, and family scenarios. The practice combines various elements of the “mind” with “systems thinking.”  Those trained in IFST help others heal on their own without a sense of urgency or persuasion.
  • Neurofeedback: Addressing faulty electrical activity (i.e. brain waves) within the cortex can be an effective way to cope with repressed memories. Neurofeedback involves analyzing areas of the brain in which certain brain waves are abnormal, and self-correcting them via a feedback loop.  By correcting abnormal brain waves, an individual may recover repressed memories.
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy: This is a body-centered form of psychotherapy that can be effective in uncovering repressed memories and coping with any associated trauma. It involves increasing awareness of bodily sensations to help buried memories and emotions resurface.
  • Somatic experiencing: This is a form of therapy that focuses on reliving symptoms of PTSD by focusing on somatic experiences and [perceived] bodily sensations. It is based on the idea that trauma and repressed memories stem from autonomic nervous system dysfunction.  This therapy allows individuals to work towards correcting this dysfunction and “healing.”

Keep in mind that some individuals may respond better to a multi-faceted recovery approach (e.g. EMDR and neurofeedback) compared to using just one recovery technique.  Also understand that individual responses may vary significantly between the techniques.  One individual may find “somatic experiencing” as most beneficial for uncovering repressed memories, while another may benefit most from “neurofeedback.”

4. Additional support

Assuming you’re on the path to uncovering repressed memories and healing from a traumatic experience, you may want some additional support and coping tools.

  • Biofeedback: One of the best tools for managing all stress associated with repressed memories is a device called the emWave2. This device helps you balance your autonomic nervous system functioning, teaching you how to consciously regulate your stress response and turn it off when necessary.
  • Journaling: To get the maximum benefit from processing repressed memories, you may want to maintain a journal. I recommend the software “The Journal” – but you can use anything including a physical notebook if it works better for you.  Journaling about your recovery experience, the repressed memories, and associated emotions is invaluable in that it allows you to review your experience at a future date.
  • Social support: If you have any close friends, family, or a significant other that you can trust, you may need a bit of extra social support during this time. It helps if you can talk to them about the repressed memories you experienced without them judging.  While social support should never replace a competent psychotherapist, it can serve as a helpful adjunct.

5. Time heals all wounds

Understand that the first day you uncover repressed memories may be unsettling and emotionally unpleasant.  You may end up crying for nearly a full therapy session and end up feeling extremely depressed.  During this time, you need to make sure you take good care of yourself including: getting proper sleep, eating healthy, socializing, exercising, and staying busy.

As time continues to pass, you’ll continue to make progress in healing from your past trauma.  The healing process may seem impossible at first, but over time, you’ll realize that the repressed memories have been processed and are a thing of the past.  They can no longer hold you back because you’ve successfully dealt with them, and learned how to cope with the past.

FAQs: Repressed Memories

Below are a few frequently asked questions associated with repressed memories.  If you have another question that you’d like answered, feel free to add it in the comments section below.

Do repressed memories really exist?

It really depends who you ask, as well as their definition of “repressed memory.”  Some experts and trauma survivors believe that repressed memories most definitely exist; I happen to fit within this camp.  Those that believe they exist suggest that they are a natural response to a traumatic event or high degree of stress.

Other experts believe repressed memories do not exist and that they are often nothing more than pseudo-memories generated via therapeutic suggestion.  Another theory is that they are really a “blending” of false and factual memories.  A third hypothesis is that repressed memories cannot exist due to the fact that there’s no objective evidence to verify their existence.

Will everyone be able to recover repressed memories?

I don’t believe that everyone will be able to recover repressed memories.  In some cases, a traumatic experience may have occurred so long ago, that even with optimal recovery efforts, the repressed memories stay forever buried.  This may not be the answer that everyone’s hoping for, but it’s the reality for some individuals.

Most people will be able to recover their repressed memories with the proper strategy, timing, and interventions.  That said, some people may not want to ever recover them and may see no value in doing so.  Those that experienced a particular trauma at a very young age may have a more difficult time recovering the repressed memory due to the fact that certain memory processing and retrieval mechanisms may have been underdeveloped.

Is recovering repressed memories always a good idea?

I would argue that recovery of repressed memories is a neutral act in itself.  However, the consequences associated with doing so may be either detrimental or positive, depending on how well-equipped an individual is to cope.  Those that are ready to face their repressed memories and their associated emotions may find significant peace and healing from the act of recovery.

Individuals that aren’t ready to face their memories and/or don’t have any coping strategies in place, may fall victim to significant negative emotions associated with the repressed memory.  This may lead to intense feelings of depression, hopelessness, and anxiety – further compromising their ability to function.

How can I tell if the memories were real or fake?

Many people question whether repressed memories are real or just pseudo memories generated from the subconscious.  Some experts believe that in trying to unveil these repressed memories, a person ends up creating a false memory of the event or what they believe happened  – rather than uncovering the actual memory.  In my experience, repressed memories aren’t something that you’re 25%, 50% or 75% sure happened.

When a repressed memory emerges into your consciousness, you remember it fully and are 100% sure that it happened.  In other words, you most likely won’t be second guessing the details of the experience, rather you’ll know that the memory was accurate.  You won’t need to mentally strain your brain in attempt to recall the details – they will likely appear automatically.

Personal experience with repressed memories

In my past, I’ve dealt with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  The PTSD that I experienced revved up my sympathetic nervous system, flooded my body with adrenaline, and my thoughts sped up (almost as if I was high on endogenous stimulants).  The overwhelming stimulation would repress memories related to the events that triggered my PTSD.

My adrenaline levels continued to skyrocket, and eventually adrenaline was my main source of fuel.  I was high on an endogenous supply of adrenaline that served to block out all traumatic memories and all of the emotional pain of the past.  After approximately 1 year of psychotherapy, I felt as if I was ready to deal with some of the trauma.

To overcome PTSD and all associated repressed memories, my recovery spanned across a period of approximately 6 years.  My journey started with EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) which was somewhat effective.  A few memories related to the trauma emerged following my EMDR, and I had some difficulty dealing with them, but it wasn’t too bad compared to what I would face in the future.

As I continued to reduce my adrenaline levels via therapy, meditation, self-hypnosis, exercise, brainwave entrainment (with Neuro Programmer 3), and using the emWave2 – uncomfortable emotions and repressed memories emerged.  These memories popped out of nowhere, were generally unexpected, and emotionally-charged.  They were usually details surrounding a past trauma that had been buried beneath my conscious perception – along with my emotions.

Uncomfortable repressed memories continued to surface along with emotions; the two went hand-in-hand.  This lead to many therapy sessions of me walking in and crying for the full allotted time.  When the memories and emotions are repressed, it’s difficult to cry because you don’t perceive them.  When they resurface to the forefront of consciousness – it’s nearly impossible not to cry.

By processing these repressed memories, I initially felt significantly worse, followed by some degree of peace and healing.  I cannot guarantee that everyone will have the same experience as me.  Some individuals may end up feeling significantly better than me, while others may want to drown out the memories with alcohol, drugs, etc. due to the associated emotional pain.

Have you ever experienced repressed memories?

If you’ve experienced significant past trauma or abuse, did you end up with repressed memories?  Did the memories later surface in therapy with conscious effort or unexpectedly?  Or do you believe that many of your memories are still repressed, buried beneath conscious perception?  Share your experience with repressed memories in the comments section below.

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29 thoughts on “Repressed Memories: Causes, Mechanisms, & Coping Strategies”

  1. I have never commented on a website of any kind before but feel the need to share what has just been uncovered. I am not sure what to do with this information going forward. I had a memory surface tonight along with a physical reaction of deep shame and dread, knowing it was true.

    It was actually a familiar feeling I think that I had after the sexual molestation I experienced. What came up for me was a very detailed glimpse of ejaculation through a mans white underwear and me feeling it now smooth and wet with cum. This was in my childhood room. I know it happened.

    I have a few disturbing memories that have always bugged me and acted I very strange sexually as a young child now I am sure as a result of this molestation. My problem though is that although the WHO of this memory wasn’t included in the glimpse, I have a strong feeling it was my dad.

    My family is what you may call a perfect American family I am the oldest of five my dad went to Harvard and is a successful business man. My dad is my hero and a good man or so I thought. I grew up trusting him completely. I hope against all hope it wasn’t him and I am just making the part up that I feel it was my dad.

    My parents are still married don’t want to ruin their relationship or tear my family that is still very “normal” by most standards apart. I have been in a loving marriage for 6 Months now and just learned I am expecting a baby. We have told anyone yet.

    I am thinking this change in brain chemistry while pregnant may be the cause of this memory coming to light. I was diagnosed with depression at 14 years old and have struggled with it ever since so this article makes sense to me in the description of an early cause of brain chemistry being thrown off.

    I don’t know what to do next. If I confront my dad he will deny it. I don’t know who would readily admit to something so shameful especially a man of his position. Please help! What do I do? -KOC

  2. My Grandpa died when I was 6, he took care of me because my parents couldn’t… my whole life I couldn’t remember what he looked like… he was like a shadow. Only thing I could remember was seeing the coffin going under ground and how it felt.

    I knew he was gone forever, I can remember it vividly. Well Now 32, I got a picture of him. Seeing him was very emotional. I cried for 6 hrs. I suddenly knew how much he loved me. I suddenly missed him.

    It was like I blocked out the feeling and connection to him. My mom always thought it was weird I never talked about him or brought him up growing up. It’s still confusing.

  3. Thanks for you article. I wonder how different my life would be if not for the constant abuse… mental and physical as a child. Years after I still don’t recall many things… but as I am older I realize that the poor health, chronic illnesses, abrupt changes in behavior and forgetfulness are probably related.

    At 65 years I still wake at times to a dream of some horrid memory about me or my siblings… and I cry. I would have thought the memories would have faded but they’re still there… waiting for a reason to pop out. I feel sad some days… and yes, most therapists think you make it up.

    What would be the point to waste money and time like that? I managed to have a decent life in spite of the trauma and abuse… but I think my sadness is because I feel I could have done more if I had been able to better cope with the chronic illnesses and heightened anxiety that were caused by the abuse.

  4. Hi! Great article, thank you. Comprehensive and no-nonsense, but also personal, and that gives what you’ve said even more impact. Thank you. I am not sure where to start. Something awful happened to me, and I still can’t remember. I’m just at the start of this journey, and it’s taking so long.

    I have pieces. One glimpse or two of actual scenes – still frames of possible moments and nothing more visual than that. I cover my eyes in therapy during the worst of it, and when I’m home and having a physical experience. I break down when I say I’ve got to face it. And I don’t know in my conscious mind what I need to face.

    I shake all the time, and it seems to get better, then seems to get worse. It gets really bad when I start getting close to a physical flashback. It’s directional. With my therapist I have reacted to the left (non-life threatening, seems like abuse by a family member), and to the right (life threatening) – I scream and hold my hand up and say ‘I died’ / ‘I’m dead’ when we get near that direction.

    And finally below. I look at the floor and realize I’m looking at myself and that I’m out of body, and then I travel – but I don’t have anything but a wonderful feeling for where. I keep trying to give myself the courage to look. I keep telling myself I’m safe.

    I have an image of men, I have words that I speak – ‘he keeps doing this to me, he keeps hurting me’, but these men don’t have faces. I have stuff that has come up about dad, but it makes no sense because I was closer to my dad than anyone and never felt weird around him. He was my hero. It breaks my heart.

    So I’m lost, and looking for answers, which is how I tripped over your article. I am trying hard to let it come up at a speed that my little one is dictating. But it’s so hard. I don’t really know who I am. If anyone had suggested this to me two years ago I would have laughed. I am no longer laughing. Thanks for writing.

  5. I’ve never gone on a forum before, and I’m a little nervous about it, but I don’t know how to handle this. I come from a dysfunctional family, full of verbal abuse and mental illness. The vast majority of my childhood is blurry at best, more of a long river of fear, discomfort, and feeling deeply troubled about my sexuality and value.

    I knew I had been molested (not raped) at 8 by a teenager, around the same time my dad went into a mental hospital, and we ended up losing our home. I know that throughout my entire life I at times experience waves of such profound shame, and guilt that it physically sickens me, but I never knew what that feeling meant.

    I was very close to an older male cousin, who also lived through a traumatic childhood. We spent a weekend house sitting for a friend, just he and I. I was 10, he was 24. I didn’t remember anything but mundane, half second moments from that weekend, except for one detail that always bothered me. My aunt later said that I had shut down emotionally, and acted strangely when we got home.

    I said I had seen my cousin shirtless, and it made me panic for some reason. Now I’m 31, in a very healthy marriage with a thriving 10 year old daughter, and felt like I had left my childhood safely behind me. But two days ago I visited my aunt and cousin, who I have had very little contact with over the years.

    It left me feeling strange, my body was in a state of adrenaline for no obvious reason, but I felt maybe I was over tired from the trip. When I got home my best friend asked me what had happened, because it was clear I wasn’t myself. I told her about the visit, when suddenly I had an involuntary explosion of emotions, and fragments of what feel like memories from that weekend when I was 10 came flying into my head.

    It took 2 hours to stop wailing and shaking like a leaf, I was completely out of control. It was awful, and terrifying. My husband has told me for years that I need counseling, as he himself was a victim of sexual abuse, and knew the signs. I am afraid to move forward, what if my memories aren’t true?

    There are such conflicted theories about repression, and disassociation, but I can’t explain why my body would react so violently, and why these fragments would even exist if not based on something real. I was hoping someone out there may have some advice on what to do next.

    • Dear Em, I can only reflect on what you’ve shared. The shaking has happened spontaneously to me as well. Have you read up on neurogenic tremors or Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger? Animals in the wild who survive an attack shake to release the excess energy and stimulation in their nervous system.

      It helps them to return to a state of inner balance. But often as humans, we don’t allow ourselves to do this. And as kids, if we feel unsafe in our family and have no one to talk to about our experience or to protect us. We can repress the memory as well to survive and get by in that family.

      Your body remembers what happened. I don’t know. But whatever you know deep down inside in your body, it wants to release. I know that being in a loving partnership has allowed my repressed memories to surface from four years old when I was raped by a family member but forgot.

      The body is always looking for the right time to heal itself. I would recommend reading that book and seeing someone who does TRE, traumatic release exercises to help the body discharge the energy, and trying IFS, internal family systems work to help with the mind part.

      This has helped me in the moments of freaking out for no reason, being emotionally on edge bc it helped me understand these reactions are just the old protector parts of myself trying to help me survive.

      And after you shake that s**t out of your system, you’ll feel so much freer and lighter. But it takes time and it can be frightening and tough. I hope you have the support you need and I hope that helps!

  6. Repressed memories are a very real thing. In my case there is physical evidence. I am thinking of writing a book on the subject. It actually took several years of coming in contact with the physical evidence over and over, with a combination of another traumatic event (my Mother’s bone cancer), and visual stimulation of additional physical evidence via the web. It was a case study that just recently happened starting on my Mama’s birthday. Although there might be more memories to un-repress, I can handle it now, now that I know it is past history and can’t hurt me any more.

  7. I believe I have repressed memories and have thought that most of my life. Any extremely stressful event is followed by a measure of memory loss regarding the event. Lately I have been more intrigued with my past and the person I believe did something to me almost 30 years ago. I searched the name online and eventually found an article about this man raping a child who was about the age I was when something would have happened to me. I’m not sure what to do next. Thank you for this informative article.

  8. It’s so strange. I don’t know how you can not know something – and then once you do, it’s like you’ve always known it in a way. And I don’t get making it until my 40’s – although I’ve had therapists say that’s pretty common – the brain decides life has slowed down a little, there’s time and ability to deal now.

    (Go away brain, you just might be wrong.) You asked about my experience with them resurfacing – I’d had a life situation that was stressful – and probably reminiscent and triggering – and I hit such a deep, dark depression it’s like I was in a hole and no one could reach me. And struggling around in that hole, memories were returning – things that I knew only in rough terms – like I always knew I was weird sexually – that I didn’t like it, wasn’t comfortable (yes, pity my poor husband), but I didn’t remember WHY or even WHO.

    But once I did… it’s like you said, it’s 100% certain, it’s just weird I didn’t always know it. And getting into therapy – had me digging around in some pretty dusty places and the first year or so, seems like a constant stream of this or that popping forward. Now, six years later I have a talk psychotherapist and go to another for adjunct EMDR every other week – and you’d think I was pretty much done with new memories – but EMDR seems to be bringing forth more nuances and details and events and I’m not sure yet if this is a good thing or not.

    Some things I’d prefer to un-know again. Not add to the things I can be stuck reliving. Not feel this bad or ashamed or dirty. Be unable to prevent things over and over and over again. I say that, but before therapy they all acted on me then, too, just in different ways.

  9. I have had an extreme abhorrence of any type of sexual activity all of my life. It has effected my life so negatively. I lived with relenting anxiety during my marriage knowing that I would have to engage in sex at times. My husband was a kind, loving man. It wasn’t him.

    After 29 years of marriage I divorced him because I could not deal with the horrible anxiety any longer. Once there was no “threat” of having to have sex, the anxiety went away, but I know unequivocally, that it does not matter who the other person may be, it is I who cannot stomach sexual activity. That I am aware of, I have never suffered any abuse, yet for me to have such a vehement aversion makes me wonder if something did happen that I have repressed.

    This one issue has affected almost all aspects of my life in one way or another. I have a long life yet to live, it would be helpful to me to perhaps figure why this is so. Any thoughts?

    • Sorry it’s that way for you. My husband also is so sweet and loving. And has tolerated a less than fulfilling sex life for our long marriage.

      I always knew there was “something” – but one day I woke up remembering what that something was. That was on my own, outside of therapy. However, therapy kickstarted a whole lot more, and might begin the process for you.

  10. I have trouble with all past memories both good and bad not just from 35 years ago but up to now. I think I blocked things for so long it’s natural for me and I need a trigger to help. Plus it’s usually y really good or bad I remember on my own. When my memories are triggered they are intense. A woman was telling a story from childhood about her mom and said you must remember her.

    We grew up in the same town. 3 days later I told her what Coker her stove was where her dad sat while watching TV and about a plant stand in the living room (which she forgot). The next day she’d checked with her sister and they did have the plants. When I remember it’s like I’m there again and this family and there house had nothing to do with the abuse.

  11. I have been through childhood abuse as well as rape and psychological abuse as an adult. I left home at age 20. At the time I didn’t realize that I was running. I met a man in the military and he was being stationed overseas. We married after only two months of meeting and divorced not long after. I have been home for two years and I am now 41. I have both PTSD and ADHD.

    I am being treated for both. Before I came back home, I tried therapy but there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. My Dr. knew there was more and advised that it may not be in my best interest to come back to stay, maybe only for short visits as I usually would. I was never comfortable visiting. Well, I have had several memories come in the past two years. One of which was pretty hard to face.

    I always had these memories, not flashbacks, but would think that there was no possible way. It was of a sexual nature, but I just couldn’t place it. But ONLY a brief second of the memory. Meeting someone triggered these strange feelings that are hard to explain. They were mostly very good feelings, but at the same time I was a little fearful and sad.

    It was strange, because there were two separate memories that had surfaced from this one person. The first memory came very quickly and before I had met him. Although it was emotional, I was able to deal with rather quickly. The second was only two pieces and for two years there were gaps. I had told this to someone who was close to him, trying to figure out who he was. I’m not sure, but I think that the second memory may have been pulled but maybe not.

    There were a couple people that were also tied in somehow and after more than 20 years, one of my old classmates contacted me via social media just out of the blue. That is when the gaps started filling in. It was hard. This man from my memory didn’t hurt me, it was just the opposite. I felt somewhat ashamed, although it was a pleasurable experience due to my mother’s extreme and unfounded christian beliefs (she was mentally ill).

    Well when we arrived at my house my older brother was waiting and looked upset. I walked to the door and he ordered me inside, but I didn’t listen. I watched him beat the hell out of this guy (whoever he was) and I was extremely upset. I remember my mother ordering me to prove to her that I was still a virgin. I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe what she is asking, my mind was just confused with emotion.

    I refused to prove this to her. My final memory was an examination at my pediatricians office. I felt ashamed and stared at the ceiling. Again, a lot of emotion and had the thought of “why”. A tear rolled from my left eye as I was being examined. I was completely humiliated. I have been dealing with this memory for several months now and I am finally starting to feel better about it. At first, I was shocked. Almost immobilized.

    It just consumed me. What I find interesting in this article is the use of certain drugs can help in recovering memories, including stimulant ADHD medication. I don’t like having memories surfacing, but I am happy that I have learned to work through them and I am getting better in dealing with them. It sure beats having unfounded fears and emotions. Anyway, thank you so much for the information you have provided here.

  12. I went through a period that lasted about 18 months of recalling childhood abuse and dealing with it through EMDR. What triggered this chain of events was the death of a loved one who had helped me lead a somewhat normal life despite the insanity in my own home. For me I have always known I’ve suffered endless abuse of all types possible (I still do experience abuse in my life even today) but have chosen not to look at it directly as a coping mechanism.

    After my loved one’s death, in an attempt to deal with my overwhelming grief, I was forced to look at the big picture. In terms of recall, I am 100% certain of the abusive childhood events that took place. The recollections are general in nature and involve incidents which occurred over a number of years. I do recall other specific incidents but realize many others remain repressed.

    I don’t feel like it would be to my advantage to press myself to dig deeper at this point. My general recollections with a few specific incidents have been enough to allow the processes of psychotherapy and healing to take place. There’s a fine line between healing and re-traumatizing. Also, somethings I feel, can never be fully comprehended.

    For me my life has always been a process of management. As a child, and as a young adult, I repressed trauma as a coping mechanism. The abuse I grew up with has made me vulnerable to other forms of dysfunctionality in my adult life. I have learned to accept this and manage it even today. I have a lot of trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships because my life experiences are so different than those of others.

    I have zero expectations on this level. I do have three beautiful children who are my life and to whom I’ve given my all so they can have the best lives possible. This is where my joy lies. In a weird way I am proud of where I’ve gotten. I’m still alive (at times I have contemplated suicide and still do but I have too much to live for with my kids) and have held down a very good job for over 25 years now.

    I have zero expectations of what others think of me. (I actually kind of hardball lot of people but I am never mean to others). I dance to the beat of my own drum. Strangely enough this characteristic has allowed me to accomplish more than the average person might in my situation. And so it is.

  13. One thing I think this article should mention is how alarmingly sudden and complete the memories come back to you when they resurface. The sounds the smells, every detail. It wasn’t there for most of your life and then bam-its all you are going to think about for a while. Maybe my reaction was unique to me?

    I have read other accounts that describe how bizarre the feeling was to have the memories just pop into existence as if you had always been aware of them. I had vague and unhappy memories of the violence in my home growing up. My parents were always fighting, mainly this involved my dad yelling at and hitting or strangling mom and my sister and me. Lots of threats of violence and he made good on plenty of these threats.

    I hated my parents and still hate them both. They divorced when I was in middle school. Dad was married several times. He killed himself in 2008, he was a violent, angry and troubled man. I went out on my own when I was eighteen and have taken care of myself every since. I had a scan of my body (nuclear medicine bone scan) for a shoulder injury (2003). You are injected with a radioactive dye that attaches itself to the calcium in your bones.

    Fractures show up very bright as there are large deposits of calcium where bones have healed themselves. Its pretty amazing technology, you lay on a table and they slide a scanner over you and your whole skeleton is shown on a screen above the table. When the nurse was scanning me she asked if I had ever broken a bone, I said no. She obliviously had fun with patients showing them all the fractures and breaks they had that they were not aware of.

    When she reached my head she gasped and pulled the scanner back then left the room. Several doctors entered and approached me about my cranial damage. They had been in another room and saw my scans on a monitor. One of the doctors said “We saw your scan and wondered if you could settle an argument we are having? He thinks you were thrown out of a windshield, I think you were beaten with a baseball bat, but we both agree this trauma happened when you were very young and its clear that your skull fused back together without medical help we agree that your family was living somewhere in the third world at the time where there weren’t any hospitals… like your parents were hippies? probably worked with green peace or something?…”

    They had put the image of my skull on a large screen above the table and were showing me where the bridge of my nose had separated from my skull and had fused back together, and then they were arguing again about the two other rings where this had happened repeatedly. There was a network of cracks radiating out in every direction across my face. I felt like I was having tunnel vision and was short of breath, one doctor nudged the other and motioned towards me. They were surprised by my facial expression, then they exchanged a glance and walked away quickly.

    Worst bedside manners ever. All the memories of the night I tried to help mom came back instantly I had come to across the room covered in blood. In the morning I awoke and everything was black, I though I was blind. My eyes were swollen to the size of baseballs. I pleaded with mom to take me to the doctor and she said, “You’re not blind! you just have a broken nose, you’ll be able to see when the swelling goes down.”

    As she left she said “You’re just going to stay home for a while… you hate school anyways,” She was clearly worried, her voice was shrill “Don’t answer the door, don’t answer the phone, and stay away from the windows.” She left me, I crawled around the house for days sleeping under my bed for fear dad would come home and finish me off. I had was too small to reach the faucets and blind so I could find a cup.

    Out of desperation I was forced to drink from the toilet. The pain of dying of thirst was much worse than the pain of starving. She stayed away from the house for 4 or 5 days I think? It was hard to tell the passing of days. One day I tried to eat an apple out of the bottom drawer of the fridge and my top jaw moved up instead of biting into the apple.

    When I breathed the bridge of my nose would move in and out. The pain was terrible. I was in elementary school at the time probably 9-10 years old, the neighbors knew what was going on nobody wanted to get involved I guess. I didn’t remember any of it, not until I saw the fractures and the doctors were pointing out the amazing trauma on the giant screen. When the nurse returned she was short with me, there was a small fracture on my shoulder etc.

    None of the staff said anything to me, I was in a state of shock and just left. I started having awful panic attacks in the days that followed. I run a small business that was not doing very well at the time. I have always struggled with drugs and alcohol and I went over the edge drinking.

    I didn’t have a family to turn to and couldn’t really afford to get counseling, the bone scan and sort of tapped my financial resources for a while. I still haven’t gone to a therapist, just been going through rough patches and getting over it.

    • My heart breaks for you. Truly. I know I have the summer of my 6th year blocked …I disassociated for years. Finally had therapy a few years ago and it brought relief and forgiveness to me, from me… I’ve survived the best I could. At 16 I was stranger raped. A virgin. I don’t remember the act itself, I do remember all events leading up to it, then knife against my throat, my pants being pulled down..then nothing.

      I don’t know if I need to know what happened between my father and I that summer of being 6, but I stopped being a child for sure. I knew my job and that was to protect my Mom from that point out. Damn the Drs you saw, the woman that scanned you and damn them for representing a “healing” profession. We are SURVIVORS for a reason and I choose to believe that we are here to heal our Souls.

      If we weren’t strong enough to endure, we wouldn’t still be alive. Praying over your head and your heart <3

  14. I’ve been having repressed memories for the past year or so of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. I did not know about most of the abuse, especially the sexual abuse, until the memories started. I have them for the most part every day, and sometimes for hours a day. My emotions and PTSD symptoms got worse, and for the last month are starting to get better.

    I have done Lifespan Integration and am now doing CIMBS therapy to deal with my reintegration. I have had 18 abusers that I am aware of so far, mostly childhood abusers, but 7 as an adult as well. This has been a hard process for me but it explains a lot. I also have overall memory gaps of my life.

  15. I suffered sexual traumas from an early age up until I was about 10 or 11. Throughout my years of adolescence and early adulthood, I tossed these memories away somewhere very well hidden and have forgotten where I’ve put many of them. Some of the major events are still vivid in my memory, but there are many missing pieces that I have yet to uncover.

    As I continue to mature as an adult, I have put significant efforts on healing myself through forms such as therapy, meditation and reading about others’ experiences. With the traumas deeply buried inside for as long as they have been, recovering all of the facts has been difficult and sometimes show up in 1-second long clips that disappear just as soon as they arrive.

    Throughout my life, I have had depression, aggression, alcohol dependencies, and many, many issues with men. Most of my life has been spent distrusting them even to the point of hating them, without understanding why I always end up dating the ones that seem to be sexual deviants. I am tired of having my entire life be a negative force that will project my pain onto anything and everything that comes into my life. I want to heal from this. I want to be happy.

    I have considered therapies such as EMDR for some time now. My drawback is the question of exactly who my perpetrators were. My father is one of them. But because he passed 6 years ago, it has given me the chance to process the things that I know he did. I go through periods of missing him, hating him, loving him and doing everything I can to forget him.

    But I still constantly wonder if that’s it or if there is more. And were there other men who did the same to me? But the real problem is my mother. She is not only still alive, but is a big part of my life. And I know she was involved. I don’t know to what extent, whether she knew what was going on and was in denial (which is pretty damn awful) or if she was even more involved than I may realize.

    It has taken many years to get my relationship with her to the level it is now. I am terrified that if I dig in deep and find repressed memories, I might find something that will change everything about how I feel towards her. I’m scared that I will no longer love her or want her in my life. And as she gets older and I’m not sure how many years I still have with her on this planet, I don’t know if I’m prepared to spend the rest of her remaining years hating her.

    But I also don’t want to drag out the healing process. I want my happiness. I wonder what others have done to endure uncovering repressed memories of traumatic things that someone close to them has done. How do they cope? How do they continue to love the person after knowing the awful acts that person committed with them? I love my mother and I want to continue loving her. But if I uncover everything, I don’t know what will happen to that.

    • I have never posted on a forum like this, so I am not sure how to direct my statement? I am just beginning my exploration of the idea of repressed memories. I have been sober 2 1/2 years after a 20 year battle with alcohol and drugs. I am very thankful for AA and all of the work I have done, to get me to the point I am now.

      I feel that there is more to do, as I have been sick with an autoimmune issue (Hashimoto) most of the past year and I am thinking there is an emotional link to my illness. I have seen several alternative healers who have all commented that I appear to have abandonment and trauma from early in life. As far as I can remember, I had an idyllic childhood with wonderful parents.

      Several years ago my mother suggested to me that she thinks I may have been sexually abused. I have no recollection of this. I thought maybe something happened with my grandfather, who was extremely inappropriate, but I don’t have any actual memory of an occurrence. But in the past several days I realized that I don’t actually have much in the way of childhood memories at all.

      And none of my perfect mother, just no memory at all, no sense of her. I have been trying to self talk through all of the illness this year, allowing myself to open up and move through trapped emotions so that I can heal and recover. Sometimes it seems like I am close to something, but nothing comes of it and I set it aside.

      Other times I think I must be crazy. For example, last night I googled abandonment PTSD and attachment disorders to see what they implied. Everything I read resonated and it felt good to be able to identify with symptoms and a root cause, albeit unknown. But then I started feeling like maybe my mother is at the bottom of it.

      She is this seemingly perfect person, but I know there is something brewing beneath the surface. Our relationship is good, although I don’t like to hug her or hear her talk about sexual things, it makes me queasy. She has not wanted a relationship with my young daughter and I have not understood why. She is encouraging me to seek counseling and uncover my truths, but she out of the blue has decided to move away for the summer.

      I think I must be imagining things, but there is this sense of doom. And like the writer above, I am afraid of losing the love I have for her and security of our relationship. I would leave the whole thing alone, but for a lot of PTSD symptoms that I endure, envisioning worst case scenario death scenes of me or my children, they flash in my mind constantly when I am under any type of stress.

      I think I must on some level be terrified of losing them or them losing me, because my relationship with them is really the only one I feel emotionally engaged with, which also implies risk. Also I realize that I am incapable of having a romantic relationship. I have never been with a partner over three months, have never had anything like an intimate relationship. I hate kissing, staring into my partners eyes.

      I like affection but prefer to be facing another direction. But the real issue is that invariably, after 3 months, I suddenly find myself physically repulsed my my b-friend and just want to escape the relationship and be alone. I have tried to trick myself, to hang in there, but I just can’t. It is so strange that where a few weeks ago I was very attracted, suddenly I have physical revulsion.

      I need help so that someday I will hopefully be healed enough to fall in love with someone. I am 37 and it is a little discouraging to think I will always be alone because I shut off emotionally. I also hate hurting men, and here I am again, backing away from a really nice guy who is in my life. It seems strange to seek counseling when I can’t pinpoint what it is for.

      I think I must have some scary repressed memories, but I have no idea what they may be or if I am ready to uncover them. Is it necessary for healing? Or can I just assume something bad happened and try to figure out how to move past it. I just want to be able to give and receive love. And I have been sick for almost a year, it sure is discouraging. Any input would be very welcome. Thanks.

      • A lot of your symptoms sound like me. I am well, I want to say a survivor of sexual abuse starting at age 5 and continuing on till I was 16 at which point I began my self-abuse and continue today. So I guess I am not a survivor. I definitely think you have something buried. I don’t know about your mom, of course I am not a Dr or a therapist so anything I say is purely an opinion, but if she were the one who had abused you do you think she would tell you that she thought something had happened and you should seek help and try to recover the memories?

        I am getting ready to do EMDR. It is way to long a story for me to get into but I just recovered, I think, a memory or at least the knowledge that the memory exists, and then confirmed it with another girl who was with me and also abused at the same time, by the same man when I was 8… She told me things I didn’t remember and I am freaking out.

        I feel like I just want to die, to just put myself out of my misery, I am damaged goods. But I have no choice but to push on. I hope you find what is ailing you. Yes I believe you are ill for a reason connected to your mental health. It happens. Good luck.

    • May I ask you a couple of questions? I am very confused with my memories and don’t know if some of them are real. Is it possible that I vividly remember something awhile after some accident, but now forget it totally?

  16. I was very violated physically emotionally psychologically and sexually from the age of two. I am undergoing psychotherapy in the UK on our national health system. It was the emergence of very severe shock flashbacks and intrusive memories, emotional numbness and suicidal fantasies that made me seek help.

    It is almost a year now mostly the shock is stabilized but I now have ‘body memories’ and am bracing myself for the work I hopefully will be doing to recover just enough memories to deal with the body memories and various triggers. I am fully aware that the mild depression I sometimes feel will get worse, that my exhaustion will probably deepen but I have work I love, am not addicted to drugs or alcohol and a fairly good network of friends, though no family any more.

    I am determined to do what I know I must do even though it is a terrifying thought but not recovering these memories and processing the emotions I believe could eventually have far more devastating consequences… Each person is an individual and I believe there are no rules other than weighing up consequences.

    • You are so very brave, I hope and pray that you find peace and can move on with your life and happy and free and a stronger you. Well done you!

  17. I have a repressed memory from the age of 2. I remember the initial trauma and pain, but, not the treatments that followed for weeks. I was not yet 2 years old, had just started walking and was walking around the table. My mother said be careful Gina there is a hot cup of coffee on the table. Of course I knocked it over it spilled on my neck, chest and right arm.

    She pulled my clothes off and proceeded to put cold butter all over the burns which fried me from the inside out. She did not know any better. It held the heat in. The weeks that followed, I had to go daily she said for them to pull the scabs off, so as to not get an infection. I had scars, but in time as my body grew, all that is still left is a big one covering the inside of my arm.

    I remember every detail of the initial trauma, but, not the treatments at all. That was the beginning. Later on in life I had more trauma that I did remember fully. But, I have never been able to retrieve those memories. One Psychologist from years ago, said it was my minds way of protecting myself from the pain. My current Physiologist believes you can get over PTSD. I disagree.

    I have to be honest, if it was that painful physically, the recall would be excruciating, I am not sure I could do it. I have a high stress life, being a single Mom of 3 boys. I am partially disabled due to a accident at work, and, am having health issues and money issues. My family believes it is all in my head, I don’t have a partner or close friends for support.

    • Hi Gina, I too am a single-mother of three children, who are now teenagers. It has just been in these last couple of years that all the pain of past trauma has had room to come to the surface. I know how hard it can be carrying around an emotional mess and trying to spin all the plates of a mother.

      Be gentle with yourself. Make time for self-care no matter how small you start with. When the time comes, you will see where you can create more space for processing and healing. My heart goes out to you with warm wishes and lots of love ✨

  18. I have been dealing with the aftereffects of childhood trauma and repressed memories for some years now. Sometimes I wonder who I would have been if I had been allowed to be a child and simply grow up. I have used EFT, EMDR (a home based variation), Pstec, a light/sound device, Havening, and a few others techniques.

    I have worked on my own for the most part, financial reasons. I do work with an eft therapist now twice a month. She’s good about using other techniques like Havening, EMDR, and some Faster EFT. I have had repressed memories “reveal” themselves and been able to deal with the emotions to a greater or lesser extent. Funny, sometimes I have to purposely repress stuff – pack it in a box and put away for later – and my subconscious knows that I will come back.

    Sometimes I am successfully processing the crap but there is (always) more of it than me and my physical/emotional resources are used up. I do have some questions. When a brainwave associated with trauma is stimulated (light/sound device) is that enough for the brain to start to rewire itself? I realize that doing this leads to repressed memories/ emotions /bodily sensations come to the surface where they can be processed.

    And I am doing that. I was just hoping the brain could do some (or most) of the work without me having to work through every single thing. As this is what I’m doing, I guess I will find out. Any comments, anything you have read, any links to reading material will be greatly appreciated. I also appreciate not being alone in this. It’s hard for others to understand, don’t really try anymore.

    As to the benefits of doing this work, well, there were so many parts of me tied up that I could hardly function as a person. On top of that, it seems my mind learned repression as a way of life. I can’t go back to school because, after I regurgitate the information correctly and pass, it’s gone. And I do mean gone. Like I was never there. So that’s annoying.

    Every thing I work through releases more of me – it’s like getting pieces of my soul back. For all the bad, the work, the long nights, I am excited and hopeful about my future. I actually have a future and a good one. After years of just managing, just holding on, blaming myself because I couldn’t do better somehow – yeah, that feels good. And you know what? I deserve it. We all do.

  19. I know that there are events from several years of my adult life that are repressed. It is now imperative that I remember one event in particular that occurred during this time. I don’t know where to start to get help to remember. Any help would be appreciated.

  20. Of course there are legitimate cases of repressed memories. I’ve only had one real experience of remembering something though vague. I deal with triggers, problems involving food, night terrors and screaming, and a few things I slowly grew out of like painful shyness and the inability to take a shower. I learned later in life my suspicions where well founded. I still haven’t decided if reclaiming those memories will bring any benefit. I often wonder how long this will haunt me and how long that person who hurt me will continue to hurt me. It has changed my life and a very real and palpable way. There’s no way repressed memories and childhood amnesia are not real.

  21. Repressed memories can be very frightening. Personally, I have experienced this twice in the last few months. The first was when I reconnected with a childhood friend after almost 40 years. When we spoke, the first thing he did was apologize for “the betrayal”. When I asked him to elaborate, he described a time where he arranged for me to be publicly humiliated. I told him it was 40 years ago and I had forgotten the whole incident. However, a day later, the memory flooded my mind and I was devastated.

    I vividly recalled everything and went through the pain all over again. Initially I hated my former friend all over again but eventually, I wrote to him to explain the situation and he understood completely. Now we maintain a good but casual relationship. The next incident only recently returned to me. This involved a mugging while I was a teenager. When I watched an incident of police brutality I could not understand why it felt so real to me. A day later the memory of my own assault came back.

    While this did not involve police, it involved an incident that I told no one about at the time. I cried uncontrollably and the bad feeling remains now. Of course, the memory only returned 2 days ago which explains how I found this site in the first place. I am sure that I will eventually process this memory once again and begin healing but right now I wish it stayed repressed. My greatest feat right now is wondering what remains repressed. I don’t think I am ready to find out.


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