Friday, June 24, 2011


     This week I found a wonderful author, a person I resonated with and deeply respected in his field.  It was one of those rare times when you find someone who seems to have answers for questions you have had unanswered, that acts as a soothing balm on your brain.  Finally someone who understands what I am asking, and not only that, knows about it.  I was eagerly perusing his articles, sucking them up like a dry sponge.  Then I came across one that was out of his field of expertise but something he claimed to know about in which he claimed to offer advice and warn others.  It was about people with a certain brand of mental illness, which he claimed were often known to spread lies and sabotage good peoples' lives with horrendous accusations of childhood abuse or sexual assault, and with their devious manipulation rent families apart.  It was a warning to watch out for such people and be careful not to believe any of their lies.

      It definitely struck a nerve.  I was stunned.  Midway through the article I realized my mouth was hanging open in dis-belief.  That someone I had such respect for would suddenly and passionately denounce a group of people trying to seek justice in such a hateful way was a shock.  Especially since I was a part of that group.  Especially since every one of the many I have met in that group has shown courage far and beyond what anyone would reasonably expect.  I have not known one set out to hurt any person or family, not one that has been manipulative or a liar or deceitful. 

     This is not the first time I have been elated to find someone helpful and then felt let down to hear ignorance and hate pour out of them.  It sort of feels like having your car break down by the side of the road, with car after car passing by until one stops, a smiling maternal looking woman gets out that you think will help you and then she reaches down and slashes your tires.  Not helpful.  I realize that my own particular energy disruptions, mental scarring, or disorders, whatever you want to call them, can exaggerate the response to this.  Because I very likely have an attachment disorder, I am more likely to seek out a person willing to fill a parent/leader/guru role and cling to them with all my might, and fall like a rock when I realize they are not that role.  Because I have a dissociative disorder, I am more likely to space out, switch, or black out when faced with any kind of harsh confrontation, and have trouble remembering the truth.  I also know that when I admit this many people will dismiss my intelligence and moral character out of hand or ignore it completely (see "Crazy").   But there is nothing impaired about my intelligence, and having any disorder no more makes me prone to lying or deceit than drinking Red Bull would make me prone to shoot lightning out of my butt.  Yet many professional, well educated people spout this mental illness/bad character connection as if it were scientific fact.

     Because of my personal history, my hackles raise whenever I hear someone who claims to have been falsely accused of sexual abuse.  I do acknowledge that this can and does happen, but I believe it happens much less often than the public believes, and even in those rare cases such an accusation means that something serious is going on that needs to be addressed.  Society will hack you to pieces for such an accusation, whether or not you are right.  It is a desperate act to make such a claim, done only by desperate people.

     Perhaps the most emotionally charged phrase for survivors of sexual abuse is "False Memory Syndrome."  This is the idea that memories can be false, and can be easily influenced and altered by misleading therapists.  This does not say that people who claim to have been sexually abused are lying, it simply says that what they know has no validity, because of the possibility that what they know might be wrong.  It has become a national household phrase touted with authority, again, by professionals.  The truth is the memory IS tricky, and little is known about it by anyone.  I read about a case last year where a girl accused her parents of sexual abuse, and went to court.  The judge said she was in favor of the girl, but because her memories were not early enough or consistent, the judge dismissed the case and sent the girl back home to live with the people she had just accused.  Concerning memory, and the theories around it, I wish there were things that more people- especially those whose jobs involve it- were aware of;

1.  "False Memory Syndrome" is a theory, not a proved diagnosis.  It is not in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV).   Psychiatrist Judith Herman is quoted as saying; "The very name FMS is prejudicial and misleading: there is no such syndrome, and we have no evidence that the reported memories are false.  We know only that they are disputed."

2. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation is primarily made up of people who have themselves been accused of child abuse.  It's main function is as an advocacy group, not a scientific one.

3.  Traumatic memories are stored in the brain differently than regular memories.  During trauma the memory of sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, emotions - are stored in different areas of the brain, whereas a regular memory is stored intact.   For someone to remember a traumatic memory intact is much more unlikely than them remembering one sense of the memory without the rest.

4.  Traumatic events that occur in childhood are most commonly forgotten completely until adulthood.

5.  Doubting memories is a common stage for all survivors.  This by itself does not indicate it may be false, simply because of the nature of trauma and the way the mind works.  For example, if someone puts a pair of red sneakers in front of you and puts a loaded gun to your head telling you they are green, the tiny part of you that clings to the knowledge that they are red will most likely be overwhelmed by the rest of you suddenly saying they are green.  Sheer terror will control your mind to tell you what is and isn't, not knowledge itself.  Despite many survivors who may know for a fact that they were abused (red), the mind as a survival mechanism will continue to tell them that they were not (green).

6.  "As with every other crime, false denials are much more common than false accusations" (Courage to Heal, p497).

7.While the reality of memory and "False Memory Syndrome" is uncertain, the reality of overwhelming evidence for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect prevalent worldwide is not.

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