We all have bad days. Last week we had a series of them as we, my roommates and myself, combated a nasty virus that virtually knocked us off our feet for the week.

Yesterday I met a patient at the hospital, helped him to be admitted, he saved his own life I think, but for him, it was a bad day.

When at the hospital I was called, to attend to a family that was too, having a horrible day, as they just lost their mother/wife, who was taken by cancer at a young age.

I also attended to the doctors and nurses, who watched, during surgery, this life fade and could not restore it.

So, for me, another bad day as well, as these days are hard.

We have bad days.

Some bad days create memories of course. This is where this post is going. The memories that were created, perhaps at a younger age, that torment us, unknowingly. Our minds conceal them, repress them.

They are known as repressed memories. dissociative amnesia.

Here lies controversy though.

Are these memories real.


Psychogenic amnesia, functional amnesia, dissociative amnesia. We have many names for memories that are repressed, concealed, hidden or lost. Often a part of P.T.S.D. this is the minds way of protecting itself. To prevent depression or anxiety that would be overwhelmingly difficult to cope with.

Sometimes with a traumatic event or highly stressful event, the mind may disassociate itself from reality, enter a fugue state of sorts.

Sometimes memories are created in this fugue state. They may also be concealed. They also may be memories that are of an event or action that did not occur. The mind is tricky.

Later, something may trigger a release of these memories, therapy or an event that awakens them, a smell can even do this. They are viewed as real memories, how can we separate them from what truly happened or if this is the way it did happen.

So repressed memories are tricky. Recovering them, more so.

In therapy, we often awaken memories. Sometimes deliberately. There are many techniques for this, even viewing blots of ink or hypnosis and playing in the sand or creating art. I am not going into this right now, these possible techniques to awaken emotions, possibly memories, true or false.

Acting on the memories must be done carefully, the memories/emotions can be causing torment, learning to cope with them, to release anger, overcome anxiety that they create is the goal. Acting on them further is not beneficial for the patient and becomes more tricky as the memories that perhaps are more emotion driven, may not be exactly as remembered. Severe stress in a battlefield or for a child can be overwhelming. The information that is being processed can be exorbitant, the minds disbelief at what it sees, processes can cause misfiling.

Because of this, the term repressed memories is often doubted. That any of these memories are factual, unclouded. How we recall these memories can be influenced by time, by what we see and learn. From movies and books, to life’s encounters. A child’s memory, is difficult to recall with clarity for fond memories, they are more bits and pieces, feelings, that sometimes change over the years as we revisit them and perhaps add too.

Repressed memories can be this way also. Court cases have been fought on these, some have been accused on a memory that may not be factual at all. This breaks families up, that perhaps should not be broken up.

This is not to say that some memories can not be recovered in clarity that are totally factual. 

Therapy, recovering these memories must be approached with care, the therapist must avoid colouring the memory, adjusting or influencing it in any way. When the memory is revealed, the action taken must also be with care, as it may still be, just a foggy glimpse, it may not even be real. The torment it creates though, needs to be dealt with, but not the memory.

If a patient visits a therapist, complaining of a sleep disorder, nightmares that are overwhelming, the therapist, in their “infinite” wisdom, recognizing, to them, signs or trends, asks the patient if she thinks she was possibly molested by her father, uncle… plants a seed. One that may not exist at all. Should not exist. The patient dwells on this and the memories reshape, solidify. The uncle or father becomes hated, accused, possibly completely unfounded too. 

On the battlefield, when horrible things are happening all around you, things you see and do, maybe be a composite of what happened. A fuzzy recollection, that over time, becomes factual, to you. Perhaps you did not do the things you think you did, but we have to deal with how it torments you.

You may wonder if the memory of being abused is real. It feels real. Recovering the memory, may not be all solving, the memory may be cloudy, part truths. The first step to healing is to allow you to cope now, to find methods to control anger, anxiety, depression. Then we can look at memories, it is possible that one, that is cloudy, can become more clear, then less disrupting, but recovering the memory may not help at all.

Therapy is often circular, in learning to control your anger, some memories may be released.   These memories will need to be discussed as they surface.  The goal is not to release all repressed memories, some may be best left where they are. The goal is to help the patient adjust, cope, to help them think clearly without having a torment cloud their process.

Hence, the accuracy of a memory is not what is truly important, but how it impacts and shapes the schema is. The therapist must never say “I doubt the accuracy of this memory”. The therapist is not there to judge.  The question must be, “and how does this memory make you feel?”. An incredibly annoying question I know. This is important though, how it truly makes the patient feel, the emotions it evokes. How the patient can cope with them.

Memories are not always verbal. Some can be stored in a disjointed fragmented fashion. Glimpses. Triggers can awaken one of these glimpses and bring on a panic attack, the patient not knowing why this is so. They also may cause the patient to suddenly defend themselves, lashing out, screaming, become violent. Trying to awaken these memories may not be possible, they may not be stored in a verbal format, they are not cohesive. Sometimes other identities are formed, to help cope with these memories. Identities can be formed long after the trauma, they can be formed with memories that have since been created of the event, this is not to say these memories are not factual to the patient. dissociative identities for dissociative memories. Sometimes a great many identities. Recovering a memory, or glimpse of one, or perceived memory, can bring on another identity.

Sexual trauma in childhood is often dealt with with dissociation.  The victim may enter a trance like state to disjoint reality from their mind. Memories of the event are not stored, as the mind does not view them. Possible fragments may escape the boundaries and enter the mind, stored in a dissociative format. This severe stress can damage the brain, causing dysfunction in recollection. Flashbacks of these glimpses that were stored, can cause panic attacks, day or night, they can cause night terrors as well.

Reviewing memories can be selective, we may filter responses. We may see that Billy stole our bike, we may not view the memory that we took Billy’s cat first. Even a lie detector test is not going to sort through some memories, we may view a memory as total fact, the detector reaffirms this, when it may not have happened at all.

So do we actively try to search for “repressed memories”? Should we? Or should we deal with the emotions and reactions to those memories instead.  Recalling, or attempting to recall these memories will often make the patient feel dissociative, because the memory recovered is so, clarity of the memory is not possible. Perhaps the mind did not store it correctly, protecting the patient, or perhaps the memory is a disjointed collection of memories or events, some factual or perhaps none are.

The bottom line though, is how this recollection is impacting the patient, and teaching the patient to cope and adjust to this. Not to try to make it clear, this may not be possible or helpful. The therapist must be very careful not to implant memories or seeds of memories, questions to the patient must not guide the restoration of the memory. Suggestive tracts by a careless therapist can cause a dissociative memory to become a distinctive perceived reality, one that can cause the patient much more trauma.

In patients with DID (multiple personalities) , the younger parts may be the ones storing dissociative memories that the stronger, older parts protect from being revealed. The younger parts often want to reveal these memories, to obtain help, comfort. This can cause infighting between the parts, furthering the disjointed memories, clouding them, masking them. Repeated trauma, as in repeated sexual violations, can cause memories to mix and muddy. These memories are also stored in brains that are immature, sorting them is impossible.

There are methods to explore the hidden memories, from EMDR through hypnosis and  dream interruption.  The question though, is why do you want to awaken them?




About sensuousamberville

I am a Practitioner, teacher and student. I think we should always be students, we should keep our minds open, to continue to learn. :-) Now a mother of two little ones.

16 responses »

  1. The mind is tricky business.I have lots of question marks next to a lot of my memories. I don’t doubt them enough to let them go but when I was 14 or 15 I had a therapist dismiss something and that still causes a lot of turmoil for me.

  2. There is so much here. I have often wondered on this topic, and now I can see…just wow. That is a lot. How the brain can juat play such tricks on us. Makes it hard to trust the mind in a way…like Descartes’ radical doubt, though applied perhaps a little differently.

    I do hope though, that you and your roommates have a better week next week, sans illness/virus stuff. I have heard this seasln has been a rough one.

  3. This is something I’ve been researching lately, not so much the dissociation from traumatic memories, but more about memories from childhood and how we can differentiate between the true and false ones. I appreciate it is more about how the memory makes us feel and respond in the present moment, but if the memory is false, it could be causing a lot of distress unnecessarily. On the other hand, if it were true, well, that would mean total devastation, in my case. And then there is the lost time, the years when there is no memory whatsoever… is that true or false…mmmm… the plot thickens 🙂

    • To differentiate between true and false, how can we? The brain doesn’t know which is which, they are just files now. We add and edit those memories, sometimes or often without knowing. We have a memory of visiting Santa, over the years, we watch Christmas shows, and our visit starts to change in our minds. Decorations are added that may not have been there, smells, the shape of his beard. Soon the visit or the memory of it has changed quite a bit. The initial memory, may have just been a remark that your mother made.. when you were three you sat on Santa’s lap. Soon we have a recorded experience.

      Have you ever had EMDR Cat?

      • It’s all very intriguing stuff, if a little baffling. I read somewhere that traumatic memories can become worse the more someone trawls through them inside their head, not only can the memory change, but the feelings intensify.

        I haven’t tried EMDR and would need to wait until I finish this programme. I have been wondering if I need trauma therapy to challenge the PTSD/agoraphobia, but I may well make progress in these areas during the current therapy, so I’ll wait until the end of summer before thinking further about it

        Thanks, Amber, this felt like a post written for me, it helps a lot. Hope you’re well and you don’t have too many of those bad days 🙂

      • Memories will often change when visited, subtle changes, adding scenery or smells, tone of voice hence meaning changing, more too. With traumatic memories, any changes will cause feelings to intensify, but just visiting the memory will do this as it refreshes the experience.

        You caught me 🙂 I knew you were struggling with this a bit, so yes, for you.

        CBT can help with your agoraphobia, EMDR to fill in the missing years possibly if you want to peek there. Perhaps they are best left as they are though?

  4. Pingback: Just thinking – Memory | My Travels with Depression

  5. I agree that the process of attaching present-day meaning to past-day memories is really the only reason why we should be trying to piece memory together. And we should be doing so under the care of someone who is supportive and qualified to help us contain such difficult memories. I also don’t necessarily believe it’s important to go through the complex and often futile task of determining if a memory is real. No memories are real. All memory is just an idea – an image of how we see something that used to exist. And all memories take new shape as we grow and develop.

    • Hello Andi

      Exactly 🙂 traumatic memories recorded during childhood can be fragments. Some though, can be viewed with horrible clarity. The memory can be accurate or false, it doesn’t really matter, it will feel real. There may be gains going through memories, to find missing pieces, missing time spans, perhaps to offer piece of mind. Dealing with the effects of the memories is what we want to do, not to judge them, they are all real to the person with them.


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