Are Repressed Memories Real? The Debate Flares Up Again
    By News Staff | July 7th 2009 01:00 AM | 31 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    In the 1980s, a popular hypothesis was that any number of people were suffering from trauma they knew nothing about; dissociative amnesia, or repressed memories.

    At issue is how to prove whether memories of trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, could be repressed and then resurface later in life.  Overzealous therapists and willing victims led to any number of false allegations and the resulting damage to families can't be overstated.  Even a hint of child abuse is guilt in the minds of many.

    In 2006, a contest by Harvard University psychiatrists Harrison G. Pope and James Hudson, both well-known skeptics of repressed memory, was the latest salvo in what had been a fading controversy and something the psychology community would have preferred forgotten; they argued that if repressed memory were a genuine natural phenomenon that has always affected people, "then someone, somewhere, in the thousands of years prior to 1800, would have witnessed it and portrayed it in a nonfictional work or in a fictional character." They launched a contest, known as the Repression Challenge, offering a $1,000 prize to anyone who could identify a pre-1800 literary example of traumatic memory that has been repressed by an otherwise healthy individual, and then recovered.

    In 2007, Pope and Hudson published their results in the journal Psychological Medicine, claiming that after reviewing more than 100 responses, none of them met the contest criteria, leading Pope and Hudson to conclude that "dissociative amnesia is not a natural neuropsychological phenomenon, but instead a culture-bound syndrome, dating from the nineteenth century." Their findings drew national media attention.

    Now a Brown political scientist says they were wrong.  Ross Cheit said he repeatedly contacted Pope and the journal editors shortly after the article was published, requesting the data from Pope and raising questions about the contest methodology. Several months later, Pope and his team acknowledged on their Web site that the submitted example of Nina, a 1786 opera by the French composer Nicolas Dalayrac, fulfilled the contest criteria and that the $1,000 prize had been awarded. However, Cheit said, they never published a correction, addendum, or retraction of their original article and its conclusions.

    So what?

    "The entire situation is remarkable to me. It's clearly a 'heads I win, tails you lose' situation," Cheit said. "Pope takes an extreme position in saying there's no such thing as recovered memory and I'm stunned that a scientist would be such an extremist. I'm also stunned that a scientist would be so willing to ignore evidence that contradicts him."

    In a current Journal of Trauma&Dissociation article co-authored by Rachel E. Goldsmith of Reed College and Mary E. Wood of University of Oregon, Cheit calls Pope's entire contest "a sham," accusing Pope's team of failing to provide a thorough account of all submissions and the process by which they were rejected, offering highly questionable literary analysis, and including several misrepresentations of the state of the science regarding memory for trauma. Cheit and his team offer additional literary examples and summarize some data that Pope and his team did not consider.

    Does that mean they firmly believe that repressed memories are as prevalent as once claimed, or exist at all?   No, they just don't believe literature examples can disprove amnesia.

    They conclude, "Literature can provide important information about human experience, but it cannot prove or disprove traumatic amnesia any more than it can prove or disprove the existence of bacteria or dragons. Literary passages and modern scientific data do reveal descriptions and data, respectively, that depict dissociative amnesia as a naturally occurring traumatic sequela."

    The issue of Journal of Trauma & Dissociation includes a response from Pope and his team and a rebuttal by Cheit, Goldsmith, and Wood. Original submissions and other Repression Challenge information are available at Pope’s Web site:

    In addition to Goldsmith and Wood, Cheit enlisted two Brown undergraduate students for research assistance: Hee Kyung Chung and Hannah Schafer.


    Fred Pauser
    I studied the Recovered Memory situation rather thoroughly in the mid 90’s and came to know some of the involved families in Seattle. The evidence indicated that in very rare cases repressed memories of childhood abuse may occur. But the evidence also indicated that it is NOT rare at all for trusting clients to be led by well-intentioned therapists to recover “memories” of events that never happened. Therapists of that period were accutely aware of the prevalence of childhood abuse (memories of which are usually not repressed). And they were aware of the repressed memories hypothesis (which came to be accepted as factual although lacking scientific validation). So when a client presented unexplained symptoms such as “free floating anxiety,” many therapists were already prepared to suspect repressed memories of abuse and set to work with that in mind.

    The longer a client stayed in therapy after recovering repressed memories, the more bizarre the memories became. Many apparently had parents who were supposedly members of a national satanic cult that practiced rituals that included eating infants. Many clients were eventually found to suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder). In the 80’s such individuals had one or two alternate personalities. By the mid 90’s some clients were found to have *hundreds* of “alters.”

    In short, anyone who studies both sides of this situation and emerges believing in a high occurance of repressed recovered actual memories, that person is also apt to believe the Noah’s Arc story and that Jonah lived inside of a “big fish.”
    Repressed memories are unprocessed events, and almost everyone has experienced at least one. Ever done something so embarrassing that you won't take time to process it? Ever get a flash of it in the future and dispel it quickly again, so fast you don't even think of it? Why did that happen? Most likely it was a threat to your social standing among friends, a small trauma. Later in life, when much older, you allow it to process. You may even laugh about it. You see, you can now handle it. In the meanwhile the subconscious kept it in check. It came forward, but with unpleasant emotions.

    Now imagine a small child whose life was threatened? Who experienced the worst taboo. This event now gets tucked away, however the more traumatic - the longer it takes your brains willingness to process. As long as the event was not consciously processed, as in the embarrassment, it really hasn't gone through our conscious process to call it a memory. Kinda like in a que. Maybe we should have a name for that, maybe they do.

    Can we compare an event from one child who was found to be in a trauma in an earlier stage in life with one who as an adult was never counseled? Nope, two different effects. 'cause the damn unprocessed stuff is pretty scary and more chaos causing complexities set in. The poor older guy, the false memory hooting freaks will hate you when you wake from your trauma.

    Can we compare the holocaust or John McCain's concentration camp to a small child's trauma of violent rape? Nope, completely different. You see the holocaust and John had others around them who knew about it, they could encourage each other, they where adults who could understand life better and they could decide how to process it. Guess what? In 2002 when the Catholic Church clergy abuse broke out, the children now were not alone. Many could now process it, 'cause others were around now. No wonder they all came out, they finally reached the point that John and the holocaust group had all along - other people who know about it and they can talk. In other words they could finally process the information in their que and determine how to handle it, it just became processed memory. They can now act on it, because it has been processed!

    Of course those even more severely abused didn't wake in 2002. Some will never awaken. Except for a few who have children reaching the age they were when abused. Why? Because the need to protect your loved ones requires that experience and it gets processed and becomes a memory. A real honest one.

    Have these children thought about it during their life? They just couldn't. After all if adults can't imagine the thought of a small 9 year old getting sodomized, how is the undeveloped mind of a child suppose to? In fact most children won't even cry, because crying will require them to think about it, or touch upon it. See now!

    Even better, if an adult is trained on how to handle a terrorist act; they handle it with less trauma. What experience doe the child have?

    The Repression Challenge, a joke at the very best. Now that is unimaginable, a bunch of "Scholastic Achievers in What field?" could actually come up with such a ridiculous baseless and pointless challenge. Let's see now, based on this challenge I would have to say that cancer never existed before the year 100 AD. Come'on at least give science the benefit of allowing those to interpret a condition that many times severely hampers someone’s lives. Then again I'd bet that the challenge didn't even consider the fact that you'd be burnt at the stake if you said Father Joe raped me. Or the very fact that, even though sex orgies existed, people just didn't write about such taboo in accusatory fashion.

    I expect the foolish educationalist who claimed repressed memories are false have done a wonderful job at re-victimizing victims. Great Job guys! After all, just maybe you have something to hide. Makes sense to me.

    Repressed memories are not real, get off your twisted topics. Unprocessed events only become memories once they have been processed and until we consciously decide what to do with them. Bet this que sits in a different part of the brain that doesn't get destroyed. In fact maybe the connectors to it aren't always there. They get accessed based on other criteria.

    After all, when there is collaboration it was probably real. Then just maybe based on the Pope fools, we should let everyone get out of jail. After all, many were convicted based upon witness memory. And did the police help them remember? You bet they did, 'cause much of it was traumatic.

    I am not an advocate of getting assistance with processing events through hypnosis; after all it just is not a natural and normal progression. I do believe when we are ready, we let it happen. But don't run around calling it false memories because it is you who are now dishonest.

    One more thing. Ever break an arm or leg as a child? Bet you can remember no able to ride your bike and how about those signatures? Or did you forget about that? See, there are events around the trauma that qualify it. In other words you know it is true. Likewise when an abused processes the que's event, there are lots of other stuff.

    False memories sure give pedophiles a place to hide. Another one is "I'm cured", great hiding place.

    Gerhard Adam
    How about providing real evidence?  This is precisely the mentality around the Salem Witch trials.  There are absolutely no procedures to ensure that "repressed memories" are truly being processed rather than being suggested.  There is no way to objectively determine the validity of any event being recalled.  There is nothing except the hysteria of "we must be right"!

    Until something more objective can be determined, it is the height of arrogance and ignorance to accuse and potentially harm individuals that are innocent.  How does one defend against an accusation that even the accuser isn't sure of?

    The world isn't filled with pedophiles.  There are enough real cases out there that need to be addressed without fishing for problems where there is no reliable method for ascertaining the truth.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It is not possible for you to prove to me anything either regarding any memories you have, from trauma experience or otherwise. Why should I believe you (just making a point).

    You miss the point, we need to stop referring to repressed and recovered memories as a result of trauma. It is as if, an analogy, we discuss what causes gravity. Is it dark matter, matter acceleration.... Yet gravity exists. The entire field of false memory is simply attempting on one side to call the victim a liar? According to the discussions, in the end, either the perpetrator or the victim is a liar. Finally, trauma when shared with others is much different than trauma handled alone with threats added to it. The victim acts out differently.

    With matter of law, any definition is meaningless except did it happen and prove it happened. Outside of that - the crazy "false memory" does not belong in court. Who are they hiding?????

    I understand trauma and memory processing far better than most.

    BTW I would be happy to send Pope a document I put together describing my abuse and the details. I would also challenge him to find any inconsistencies.

    Trauma: I was raped from ages 8 to 10, once sodomized by 4 and once one attempted to suffocate me. I played dead and slept in the woods. I have severe PTSD and OCD, wake up some nights several times with night terrors. I take no medication. I know what a hard sentence those gave me. I come from a family of high scholastic achievers. I read books at age 4 in two languages. Following the abuses I could never concentrate again. Could not stay focused to pass classes. As a single parent I struggle more than imaginable. Not only do I have to work twice as hard. I find a way to fail, only to start all over again.

    Yet all these discussions stops me from justice in NY. Judges will not hear cases because of the psychobabble of those that have little concept. "False memory" has caused more harm on top of harm.

    It would have been great to have lost an arm. leg or site, instead of this. At least I could have adjusted, a long time ago. My awakening was my son turning the age I was.

    Gerhard Adam
    I would also challenge him to find any inconsistencies.
    ... and you would rightfully be challenged to provide evidence.  I don't want to downplay any trauma real or imagined that someone has experienced, but there are people here that would swear just as seriously that they just returned on a alien spacecraft from Venus.

    Are they to be given less credence than any other claims?  Why?  The point remains, without corroborating evidence it is simply an unfounded allegation.

    Just so you know that I"m not making fun ... I had a 16 year old kid tell me in tears how no one in his family would believe him that he had been abducted by aliens that conducted all sorts of experiments on him.  They had taken him to the doctor, but he felt that they didn't take him seriously and thought there was something wrong with him psychologically.

    In truth, when he was questioned about the nature of the "tests", he didn't want to talk about it, and he could offer no evidence.  Therefore in the end, regardless of how emotional his appeal, I had to write it off as a fantasy that either he was intentionally perpetrating, or that he had come to believe.  What was clear, is that it wasn't true.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    According to the discussions, in the end, either the perpetrator or the victim is a liar.
    Therein lies the first problem.  You cannot claim being a victim until there is some proof beyond mere memory or recollection.  Even eyewitnesses to direct events are uniformly unreliable.  In the absence of any corroborating evidence a "repressed memory" could just as readily come from a movie or a book, as from a real-life event.

    When many years have lapsed it is unreasonable and unfair to accuse someone of some "crime" when there is nothing to support the charge.  While I can appreciate the trauma if the event is being truthfully reported, the problem is that it is equally traumatic (and probably more so) for an innocent individual who has no idea what he's having to defend against.

    Until something more substantive than a mere memory is available, then it is merely an unfortunate circumstance.  People's recollections are simply not reliable enough to be evidence.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Another point. They were all catholic priests, one a beloved bishop today. In fact the bishop has stated in the media and in parishes that he is angry that priests could do such a thing. How many do you think he protects?

    You defined the perfect crime.

    As I stated, I would be glad to send a 23 page document to pope and have him talk with me afterwards. I can prove unquestionably.

    Ask someone where they were when Kennedy died over the age of 58. That was a long time ago. It was a mild trauma to the country. Trauma caries with it lots of surrounding events that substantiate it. More so in my case there were two witnesses, one at seperate events. Another validation which I can not discuss on line proves beyond a doubt.

    Gerhard Adam
    If you have proof then by all means pursue it.  If not, then I'm sorry.  I don't know what you want, but I cannot support the idea of leveling accusations simply because of someone's recollections or memories alone.

    I do not accept the notion of recovered or repressed memories.  In fact, most evidence suggests that the problem is getting rid of the memory for someone that was traumatized.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    As I stated, I would be glad to send a 23 page document to pope and have him talk with me afterwards. I can prove unquestionably.
    Actually statements like this make me suspicious.  Why would you think or care about approaching the pope if your interest is obtaining justice.  I would think that you would be concentrating on the legal system in the U.S. and not the internal workings of the Church of Rome.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I have a detailed sequence from the moment it began happening, including pushing away thoughts once at age 19.

    There is no question that some may fabricate, however proof is required. And as I stated, I have proof..

    Another note, at age 10 I went to the doctors with an inflamed and irritated rectum, with VD following the gang rape. Now you might want to know why no one did anything? The Dr was the father of one that abused me. My father was friends with the priests and the doctors. I have proof of this too. On top of what I am unable to state over the Internet. There is much more...

    I and others are getting raped again by "False Memory" flamers.

    Gerhard Adam
    If you actually have proof, then why argue that the courts don't give credence to repressed memories?  This isn't a repressed memory if there is real evidence. 

    Where are your medical records that would substantiate your claim? 

    In truth, this has nothing to do with repressed memories, but it does make me wonder why you're so anxious to send documentation to the pope and none to the District Attorney.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Because I want to show pope who he is harming with his nonsense.

    Courts will NOT allow me to pursue because of the False Memory controversy. You see, the judges feel that ALL memory from abuse is likely wrong in NY. They are convinced that there is NO SUCH THING as recovered memories and everyone had their chance. Statutes passed. The only hopes were killed by those as Pope.

    Gerhard Adam
    You're talking in circles.  False memory has nothing to do with anything.  If you have corroborating evidence and medical records, then they speak for themselves.  There is no need to pursue memories real or otherwise.

    You claim proof, but you don't want to present it to the proper authorities.  You keep saying that they won't listen because of repressed memories, but why bring up memory at all.  If there's medical documentation, then that is sufficient.  The pope has nothing to do with this case.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Not to the pope in the Vatican, he is a liar. I mean Pope, the psychiatrist who is causing problems for us with his repressed memories.

    (In fact the Pope, before his position, in the Vatican had a conversation with John Vancamp, former senator when VanCamp was investigating Boys Town. He told the small group that in the US there was a serious problem with priests abusing. Then in 2001 wrote a letter to bishops to enforce the document of 1962 to keep it secret. And now says he is so sorry.)

    You act as I haven't done a thing. I've been to the FBI, the DA's office and Judges will not hear cases past statutes of limitations in NY. They will not because they believe it is not possible to recall past event, They do not believe in recovered/repressed/ or other. Show me a single case in NY they allowed forward past statutes. I'll help you, NONE.

    This is what Pope and group has done. The RCC throws all the False Memory advocates at the judges.

    Another point. Can you imagine waking from the trauma much later in life realizing the unbelievable? You never lived your life. Your life was full of escape. That realization is worse than the original trauma.

    Gerhard Adam
    Once again though, your point is not about repressed memories, but rather that the statute of limitations as run out.  I can understand that that could be extremely frustrating, but once again, it has little or nothing to do with repressed memories.  If the statute of limitations has expired, then there is no evidence that can be introduced to bring a case.

    What has your family done regarding your father?
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Once again though, your point is not about repressed memories, but rather that the statute of limitations as run out. "
    It was not even possible to have come forward in time, I was still traumatized well into life past the statutes. What don't you get?

    This is the confusion those as Pope and Hudson cause. I was still in a trauma, memories were not processed yet. It took my son reaching the age I was in order for memories to begin processing. Even at 19, the flash was so fast and I knew I could not go there. Know I understand the flash, then I went into isolation running away from all thoughts. never knew why. meanwhile a life of chaos was my life. A life where I would be an an OCD trance working hard and then run away from all my accomplishments. I simply could not act on the flash, my mind wouldn't let me.

    I understand you have difficulty with that, but that is what they misrepresent with recovered memories with. Most have it wrong. The mind works in auto-pilot, even though you get a glimpse, you can not act on it.

    Gerhard Adam
    It was not even possible to have come forward in time, I was still traumatized well into life past the statutes. What don't you get?
    There's nothing to get.  If the law has a statute of limitations, then it doesn't matter what the attitude is on repressed memories.  As I said before, while I can appreciate the frustration of such a situation, the law isn't going to be changed based on memories (recovered or otherwise).

    I can certainly agree that some crimes shouldn't have a statute of limitations, but that's the battle you need to engage in. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    "What has your family done regarding your father?" I no longer have anything to do with my family, I want nothing to do with them.

    You mean processed memories, not recovered memories. You see, memories that are not processed yet haven't been tainted. yet either. Additionally you might be interested that the number of false memories, that is people that will fabricate, are near non existent when dealing with severely traumatized children. In fact most men will not admit to being sexually abused, it is far more difficult for a male. We have discovery rules that are not exercised that would otherwise enable tolling. The judges won't hear those because of the bad science of those as Pope and Hudson.

    More so, most pedophiles have many more witnesses/victims than murderers, yet there are no statutes of limitations on murder and the primary witness is dead.

    Another point, the most violent pedophile can and have killed children, whether intentional or not. Tolling should begin when the victim wakes from their trauma and has processed the memories. Even to today we hunt down those in the Hitler regime, those that did not directly kil <-- no statutes there.

    You are defining the Perfect Crime. The reason is the most violently abused child is traumatized well into late life, able to traumatize more children. You would never be able to prosecute them based on statutes.

    Compare apples to apples too when you make reference to trauma. Pope and Hudson can only guess False Memory. It is not legal to traumatize a child to perform a study correctly. If anyone practices junk science, it is not those claim MOST victims are correct and accurate years into the future. What we do have though, are many victims who never knew of each other or even the other identified the pedo, yet stories similar stories of abuse. Proof is on the side of the victims who later in life recall accurately. In fact this happens overwhelmingly.

    Let me tell you one more fact, processed memories as an adult are very clear and carry with them other reminders that validate it. However they MUST come out naturally, without assistance.

    The biggest joke is comparing holocaust victims who had each other and could talk about it, with children whose minds have not developed yet and lived it alone in silence. It is not very good science to measure the two as the same, because the "environments were different. And and anyone who practices psychiatry should know that "Environment" means everything.

    Reverting back to your statement of the 16 year old who was abducted by aliens; By all means you should understand that this is likely a child seeking attention for some other problem unable or scared to face. This by all means has zero to do with an ADULT who now is able to process past experiences into memories.

    Now if this child is an adult claiming alien abductions, you might now consider them with the same stigma of those who practice ritualistic behaviors. By ritualistic behaviors I specifically mean those who go to their weekly "dog training" to sit kneel and pray by command. The alien believer is no different than a bunch of people herded with similar beliefs of delusional gods and saints handed down to them by primitive man. I did say primitive man. If you believe this is normal behavior because they have been doing it for two thousand years and there seems to be many of them, consider that in history "sheeple" have always been around looking for direction. After all, the belief in Zeus was around for 7,000 years. No difference.

    Next consider a group of celibate's who are likely only celibate in the sense they do not engage with women but rather children and fellow men, you have a society of lunatics here. Playing a game with human natural instincts can only cause psychological harm. Better said is you have a bunch of priests, bishops and popes who act no different than juvenile delinquents that never grew up. the psychosis. This group by all means will lie, cheat and deceive as they need to, to preserve the groups odd behaviors and to somehow justify it is far more important to them not understanding why in normal terms. They lack maturity gained by producing families, yet offer family guidance? Such delusional behaviors are destructive to society and their sheeple will ignore doing what is right to please their masters. <--- A much bigger problem than "False Memeory", it's false reality. "False Memory" does no more than destroy those whoo have already been destroyed. Experiences processed as adults have a greater chance of accuracy than those processed as abused children and carried through life. You miss that point.

    It amazes me at how ignorant society has become on this issue. Repressed memories do exist. You want proof? Look at soldiers who suffer from PTSD when they undergo a shock in battle. They frequently repress memories of the event. Why is it so hard to believe that a child, whose mind is still underdeveloped, can focus their attention somewhere else so strongly that they retain no memory of the event because their brain wasn't processing it? It's like when you're not paying attention and you walk into a room and don't remember walking in there in the first place.

    It's not the validity of repressed memories that should be taken into account - it's the validity of the methods used to encourage or prompt memories in therapy, especially since the only people who know what really goes on in a session is the patient and the therapist, and the patient can't be a reliable witness because they're in a high emotional state at the control of the therapist.

    One argument is that many victims of sexual abuse try to forget their abuse but can't. People's minds reacts to things differently. It's the same as the nature vs. nurture debate: some people in loving homes turn out to be upstanding citizens while some turn out to be serial killers. In psychology, there's no official guidelines that hold true for everyone. What holds true for one person doesn't harbor the same results for another.

    Gerhard Adam
    You want proof? Look at soldiers who suffer from PTSD when they undergo a shock in battle.
    That's not proof, since, by definition, a memory that is repressed cannot be determined by anyone other than the individual that experienced it.  However, since they've already demonstrated that their memory may be faulty, any attempts to retrieve it would automatically be suspect.

    The only potential way a repressed memory could be validated is if there were an unbiased version or witness of events that could corroborate what transpired, but in the absence of such evidence it is strictly hearsay.  It has been amply demonstrated that even direct witnesses are unreliable to accurately recall events without any such "repression" occurring.  Memory is incredibly unreliable.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It's accepted by the scientific community more than repressed memories of sexual abuse. I've heard less doubts about the validity of a soldier not remembering certain aspects of an experience overseas than about the former.

    My own proof comes from direct experience. I care not that some people doubt the existence of repressed memories. There are always doubters, who simply haven't reached that deeply into their own past. It cannot be done by anyone else, you have to have a reason for looking, but not have an expectancy as to the result. In order for a repressed memory to surface, the multiple layers of covering have to be removed, like peeling the skins on an onion. It can be an emotionally traumatic experience, which is why not many people go there All I will say is, that by allowing these memories to surface, I was able to move past an oft-repeated bad life decision that I found myself making....I no longer try to commit was that deep... Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    My own proof comes from direct experience. I care not that some people doubt the existence of repressed memories.
    There is doubt for good reason.  In many cases it's because of the irresponsible and irreparable harm that is done by fostering delusions.  People's memory is always suspect, even if it's something they directly witnessed even moments before.

    Therefore, it would be nothing short of miraculous to recover a memory under circumstances that could not be verified beyond the satisfaction of the individual making the claim that it was "recovered".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Professor Cheit claims that because an example of fictional repressed memory was found in at text written just a few years before Professor Pope's suggested starting date of 1800, the Pope hypothesis is thereby discredited.
    As the person who won the cash by directing Professor Pope's attention to the opera Nina, first performed in 1789, I should like to say that in my opinion Nina does nothing to invalidate his thesis, though it allows an interesting insight into how the romantic myth of traumatic amnesia originated.
    I have dealt with the subject briefly in a paper that is available online at:

    I hope to return to the subject shortly, to give a fuller account of how (and why) Nina set the fashion for romantic amnesia.