Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Unrecovering Memory

September 22nd, 2010 by G.

Read this interesting interview with a woman who realized that her recovered memories of child abuse were false.

This is interesting for more than what it tells us about the child abuse overreach of the late 80s and early 90s. It tells us something about human memory and identity. Our authenticity is always manufactured.

It tells us that our past is in play. Lately the Church’s journal-keeping counsel has been in my meditations and I’ve begun to see it as more than just advice for daily living, like toothbrushing. I see it as saying something very important about ourselves. The immediacy of life that allows us to develop and repent also allows us to fall off a cliff of memory–to have massive spiritual experience and blazes of romance and later to simply forget it, to decide that all along we never really believed and we never really loved, and to really believe it. I see much of the quotidian advice of the apostles that we keep journals and write down blessings and go date on Fridays to be part of a profound attempt to circumscribe our past and present and future into one great whole. I have come to believe that exaltation partly means becoming a being who is in some sense *present* throughout time and therefore exaltation necessarily requires incorporating all the events of one’s life into a story and a direction.

It tells us that we have a need to know secrets. We can accommodate that need in the Temple and in private revelation or we can accommodate it in conspiracy and recovered memory.

Comments (23)
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September 22nd, 2010 08:22:01

Servant @ Dothan
September 22, 2010

Fascinating idea about journaling.

Jacob F
September 22, 2010

This is how I view journal-keeping. I kept one every day from high school through my mission and a couple years of college. Going back and reading brings back vivid (and real) memories–literally brings them back, as some of the events I’m sure I would never recall otherwise. It’s an enriching experience. This year (after an 8-year hiatus) I started writing every day again. It’s like an investment in my emotional future.

September 22, 2010

One need but consider of the case of Martha Beck, whose “recovered memories” are so implausible that one questions her sanity.

We have discussed before the notion that those who are saved inherit God’s awareness, in which all things are present before them.

I need to repent. I haven’t written in my journal in months. For that matter, I have seriously considered burning my mission journals, because I squirm at the mere thought of recalling the intense spiritual struggles of that time. I think I need to repent of that thought.

September 22, 2010

That’s why I write every day in my journal something along the lines of “Today my dad continued his no-molestation streak which goes at least as far back as my birth.” Insurance against faulty recovered memories.

Adam G.
September 22, 2010

I just use one of those wall flipcharts, GST.

“Today is 12000 days molestation free.”

September 22, 2010

My mother claimed I had no father. I have no recollection of one, anyway.

September 23, 2010

Adam. Thank you for your thoughts. I friend of mine in high school was very good at keeping her journals, and recording spiritual experiences. She went apostate (over “recovered memories” of abuse) and one of the first things she did was burn her journals.

Could you clarify the link between journals and the “need for secrets”? I couldn’t bridge the gap and find the connection.

Adam G.
September 23, 2010

No connection, Lyle. The antecedent to ‘it’ in the last paragraph is the woman’s interview mentioned in the first paragraph.

That’s a horrible story.

September 23, 2010

I agree, that is a horrible story.

I really like this, Adam. As an avid journal writer (no back patting, just stating the facts), I’ve been so grateful for the chance to read over them and relive those experiences. The feelings, which cover a wide spectrum of emotions, always surprise me with their immediacy.

It’s also an incredibly humbling experience to realize when rereading my journals what a dork I was ten years ago. And how ten years from now, my present state of perceived normality will likely again appear to be shockingly dorky.

Cynthia L.
September 24, 2010

Wow, this is a profound and beautiful post, Mr. G.

September 24, 2010

Wow. I have been greatly frustrated with how selective my memory has been; I don’t trust it. However, I was able to verify my childhood rape and molestation memories with someone else who I remembered as present. She was able to corroborate every memory I have. I’m grateful for that at least, and glad to have long since forgiven and let it go from my “present”. Jesus can bear that burden far better than I can 🙂

Lupita’s comment about discovering how dorky she is was something I also discovered as an avid journal writer. It’s part of why I haven’t journalled in years. Your post prompts me to repent. My children even feel hurt that I did not record my memories of them as they were growing up. They don’t realize I was in survivalist mode when they were small, and did the best I could to just keep their needs met in the present. That’s not true, now, though so it is no excuse for not starting to write again. Today. 🙂

About burning one’s journals. I joined the church in my late teens. One of the first things I did was go through my journals and rip out and burn the pages that talked about my wild, sin-filled days prior to meeting the missionaries. I decided since my repentance was real and complete, I was baptized for the remission of sins, and that Heavenly Father remembers them no more, I didn’t need to keep a record of them either. So I burned them. I have no regrets.

Adam G.
September 24, 2010

Ironically, what a relief that someone could corroborate your memory of abuse. Just as false accusations of rape harm real rape victims, ‘recovered’ memories damage real victims of childhood abuse.

The Only True and Living Nathan
September 24, 2010

“One need but consider of the case of Martha Beck, whose “recovered memories” are so implausible that one questions her sanity.”

I don’t question it, I consider it utterly refuted.

I found it disheartening that, in the excerpted introduction that Slate published, she couldn’t keep from making it political:

“The George W. Bush “victory” in the 2000 election. The list of books that Sarah Palin allegedly banned from the Wasilla Public Library. The persistent rumor that her youngest son was actually her daughter’s child. The allegations of Barack Obama’s foreign birth, terrorist associations, reverse racism, and socialist tendencies — first promulgated to prevent his presidency, later used to derail it.”

While I appreciate her attempts to be bi-partisan, not only does her laundry list of political issues du jour nail this book as a product of its time of its composition as surely as the events it chronicles, but at least two of the four things she cites relating to President Obama are demonstrable facts.

And in closing… Jeez, is there any way to get a larger comment composition box?!

September 24, 2010

The sticky wicket is that there are no absolutes. There have long been, and long will be, children who are molested. There are people who do suppress memories of actual traumatic events. There are those who have flashbacks of traumatic events throughout their lives.

Since the main thesis of outside influence convincing the mind of something opposite of what it knew has been illustrated, let’s not forget that the other side is equally plausible, and has been documented: adults convincing a child that they were _not_ molested when in fact they were. Example: the many centuries where children were branded as liars in the past, and whipped/beaten when they made accusations against Catholic priests.

Therefore, I would conclude that not all cases of recovered memories are false. Maybe some day psychiatry and other branches of medicine will be sophisticated enough to tell the difference. But for the time being, it seems that when the human mind is convinced of something, all metrics of measurement and observation from the outside are unable to distinguish fact from a non-factual belief.

Adam G.
September 24, 2010

your argument is that if we are capable of falsely ‘remembering’ abuse that didn’t happen, we are also capable of falsely ‘remembering’ a lack of abuse when abuse happened? You are probably right, but I’m not sure that the conclusion follows.

September 24, 2010

While there is still disagreement in the psychological profession, I sense a growing belief that repressed memories are actually rather uncommon. The usual thing is to not be able to forget trauma that one rather would.

September 25, 2010

Vad: sex abuse is not always physically traumatic. But may still be supressed, or not. I realize I’m drifting off topic, but anyway…

When started young enough, or done gradually enough (ie, “grooming”), the victim may not know that what is going on is a bad thing. It may not be until years later that the child realizes that the “special secret” is a bad thing or that not all other children have that “special secret” with daddy or grandpa.

That’s a tactic: get the victim accustomed to it before they realize it’s a bad thing, then, when the victim finally realizes it’s wrong, they’re ashamed for not having said anything to anyone while it was going on, so they keep the secret.

Nambla’s “sex before 8 or it’s too late” is a summary of that idea.

What Kinsey found out from his interviews of child-molesters is that children can have a sexual response, and that child abusers generally knew it, and used it to their advantage.

That is one reason why child sex abuse victims go on to be very promiscuous in their teens. Not only do they (falsely) see it as a way of being loved and valued, they may already be addicted to the endorphins from sex.

This point was driven home by a story a friend told me. He married a divorcee who was physically beaten by her previous husband. Her previous husband had also sexually abused their daughter from an early age. I don’t remember how old the girl was when my friend married this woman, but he told me that at one point, the little girl climbed on his lap, cuddled up to him, and asked him to do what her father had previously done to her.

Next point: crafty adult abusers don’t abuse all the children who are available to them. They cultivate and build proper relationships with the majority so that they have character witnesses. So the case where only one of a man’s daughters claims to be sexually abused by the father should not be disregarded merely because the other daughters don’t make accusations.

A related item I would like to point out: whether or not something is of rare occurance generally has no bearing on whether or not it actually happened in a particular case.

September 26, 2010


I would be very careful citing Kinsey. His conclusions about the sexual response of children may be correct, but remember that those he was interviewing were criminals with every reason to give a self-serving spin to their stories (“The kid liked it!”) and Kinsey did not generally interview the victims to get their side of the story.

That said, I once spent an exceedingly uncomfortable evening as a young Jedi-in-training eating dinner with a rather creepy family and then helping them prepare to move to a different state. You know how Jedi are always being called on to help ward members move. Among other things, the very young daughter … gosh, how does one say this in polite company? There isn’t a way. Suffice to say that her actions towards one of my fellow Padawans strongly suggested the creepy father was abusing his daughter. But we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, connect the dots. This was many decades ago and it was a different world then.

Not all victims of abuse go on to be promiscuous. Some become prudes. A few do both at the same time. I wish I could elaborate without violating confidentiality.

Don’t know if this was what you were alluding to, but the reason why Beck is not at all credible is not that her sisters are certain they were not themselves abused. It has to do with the family living arrangements, which made it physically impossible for the abuse Beck described to have taken place, and equally impossible for it to have gone unnoticed by others if it somehow had anyway.

A further complication in her case is that she was apparently molested by a neighbor boy, an occurrence the family became aware of very shortly afterwards, and not as a “recovered memory.” In real time, so to speak. Given what I know about the pliability of memory — it’s discussed in the original article — I find it easy to believe that Beck’s memories of the real incident with the neighbor boy were transferred onto her father, with some nudging from her therapist. The parallels with the case in the article are, in fact, quite striking. Except that Beck is still profiting from her allegations, and has not yet moved on to profiting from repudiating them.

September 26, 2010

Vad: Thanks for pointing out some of the problems with Kinsey’s work. Yes, there can be much confusion in the child’s mind, thinking that a physical response equates to “liking it”. That’s part of the shame felt by the victim. And in cases of same-sex abuse, that is one of the unspoken horrors of how it’s possible to “make” someone a homosexual; maybe not a true homosexual, but someone who thinks they are.

It’s a sad topic all around. Whether allegations are true or false, someone’s life is changed for the worse.

September 26, 2010

“And in cases of same-sex abuse, that is one of the unspoken horrors of how it’s possible to “make” someone a homosexual; maybe not a true homosexual, but someone who thinks they are.”

Have seen a situation that may fall into this category.

Certainly the man has every incentive to implant such an idea in the boy. I hasten to add that, while I consider all homosexual acts sinful, I do not make the mistake of thinking most homosexuals are pedophiles or of equating what goes on between consenting adults (however disordered) with child molestation.

I can disagree respectfully with ordinary homosexuals about the appropriateness of their sexual practices. I don’t think I could be respectful in a discussion with, say, a member of NAMBLA.

Adam G.
September 27, 2010

And how ten years from now, my present state of perceived normality will likely again appear to be shockingly dorky.

They tell me that eventually one’s charity becomes so great that it extends even to one’s past self. President Holland is one example:

Forgive me for a personal conclusion, which does not represent the terrible burdens so many of you carry but it is meant to be encouraging. Thirty years ago last month, a little family set out to cross the United States to attend graduate school—no money, an old car, every earthly possession they owned packed into less than half the space of the smallest U-Haul trailer available. Bidding their apprehensive parents farewell, they drove exactly 34 miles up the highway, at which point their beleaguered car erupted.

Pulling off the freeway onto a frontage road, the young father surveyed the steam, matched it with his own, then left his trusting wife and two innocent children—the youngest just three months old—to wait in the car while he walked the three miles or so to the southern Utah metropolis of Kanarraville, population then, I suppose, 65. Some water was secured at the edge of town, and a very kind citizen offered a drive back to the stranded family. The car was attended to and slowly—very slowly—driven back to St. George for inspection—U-Haul trailer and all.

After more than two hours of checking and rechecking, no immediate problem could be detected, so once again the journey was begun. In exactly the same amount of elapsed time at exactly the same location on that highway with exactly the same pyrotechnics from under the hood, the car exploded again. It could not have been 15 feet from the earlier collapse, probably not 5 feet from it! Obviously the most precise laws of automotive physics were at work.

Now feeling more foolish than angry, the chagrined young father once more left his trusting loved ones and started the long walk for help once again. This time the man providing the water said, “Either you or that fellow who looks just like you ought to get a new radiator for that car.” For the second time a kind neighbor offered a lift back to the same automobile and its anxious little occupants. He didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the plight of this young family.

“How far have you come?” he said. “Thirty-four miles,” I answered. “How much farther do you have to go?” “Twenty-six hundred miles,” I said. “Well, you might make that trip, and your wife and those two little kiddies might make that trip, but none of you are going to make it in that car.” He proved to be prophetic on all counts.

Just two weeks ago this weekend, I drove by that exact spot where the freeway turnoff leads to a frontage road, just three miles or so west of Kanarraville, Utah. That same beautiful and loyal wife, my dearest friend and greatest supporter for all these years, was curled up asleep in the seat beside me. The two children in the story, and the little brother who later joined them, have long since grown up and served missions, married perfectly, and are now raising children of their own. The automobile we were driving this time was modest but very pleasant and very safe. In fact, except for me and my lovely Pat situated so peacefully at my side, nothing of that moment two weeks ago was even remotely like the distressing circumstances of three decades earlier.

Yet in my mind’s eye, for just an instant, I thought perhaps I saw on that side road an old car with a devoted young wife and two little children making the best of a bad situation there. Just ahead of them I imagined that I saw a young fellow walking toward Kanarraville, with plenty of distance still ahead of him. His shoulders seemed to be slumping a little, the weight of a young father’s fear evident in his pace. In the scriptural phrase his hands did seem to “hang down.” 15 In that imaginary instant, I couldn’t help calling out to him: “Don’t give up, boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead—a lot of it—30 years of it now, and still counting. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

September 27, 2010

Asking me to be charitable towards my past self is asking an awful lot. That name no longer has any meaning for me.

Adam G.
May 1, 2012

Dorky journal writing is a symptom of trying to hard and maybe being too introspective.

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