Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Truth About False Memories

I was outraged that this week another support worker basically accused me of trying to plant false memories into one of the clients that I support - can you believe that??

My colleague's accusation floundered me. I mean, how would you even go about doing such a thing?! Creating a false memory? Let's try creating a relatively nice memory - how might that go?

* * *

"Remember that rose garden where we sat together, sipping lemonade and eating jam tarts?"

"Uh, no."

"Sure you do, the sun was setting and you told me how much you loved my company."

"No, really. That didn't happen."

"The wind was just tickling the leaves of the pear tree and we laughed at how there was only one strawberry jam tart left and that was your favourite."

"That's a fantasy you just made up. Anyway, I prefer raspberry."

"Remember how I dropped the strawberry tart as I was passing it to you and you cried and I said not to worry, it had landed jam side up."

"Stop it. You're annoying me. Leave me alone."

"I dried your tears and you ate the tart and you smiled. Such a lovely smile."

"If you speak to me again, I'll punch you, I swear."


Sure, see how easy it is??

I can't respond to this without pointing out with all seriousness that so-called 'False Memory Syndrome' was invented by people accused of sexual abuse and in particular, abusing children. Check out this interview made by one of the founders, Ralph Underwager. And then try to work out why this man, who sees paedophilia as a 'responsible choice' for individuals who have that inclination, might also be a proponent of False Memory Syndrome? It is so dodgy! And there is something very disturbing about the idea that he is also a priest.

Two of the other founders are a couple. Their daughter claimed that her father abused her when she was a child. The daughter's therapist was accused of somehow implanting these false memories into their daughter's mind.

This woman at work has got me rather worked up, because the whole idea of 'False Memory Syndrome' is a weapon to be used to cloud and manipulate people who have had real memories of abuse, which they may have not been able to fully remember in an unconscious attempt to protect themselves from pain. This is known as disassociative amnesia, which is a real phenomenon.

I'd like to add a quote from an article, about why False Memory Syndrome is appealing to some people even those who are not abusers seeking a plausible-sounding defence:

"The notion that therapists can implant scenarios of horror in the minds of their patients is easily accepted because it appeals to common prejudices. It resonates with popular fears of manipulation by therapists and popular stereotypes of women as irrational, suggestible, or vengeful. It appeals to the common wish to deny or minimize the reality of sexual violence. In actuality, false claims of childhood sexual abuse are demonstrably rare, and false memories of childhood trauma are no doubt equally so. The evidence comes from epidemiological research, investigations of sexual abuse reports, and studies on the nature of traumatic memory."

From The False Memory Debate: Social Science or Social Backlash? by Judith L. Herman and Mary R. Harvey, The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 9, No. 10, April, 1993.