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How the ‘False Memory Syndrome Foundation’ Undermined My Healing From Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I recalled my childhood sexual abuse when I was in college (finally away from my abusers but abuse not completely over). I, like many victims, doubted my recollections and memories. I struggled with the fact that these persons who had some good qualities could not possibly be so cruel as well. We were the image of the perfect family, and who from my family and past would ever believe me?

• What is PTSD?

I wanted to believe nothing had happened to me and I heard in the news about “false memory syndrome,” and I knew that must be what I had. In graduate school, I wrote some of my friends and I apologized for lying to them — that I had made all the abuse accusations up, that I was sorry I had worried them and brought them into my lie. My friends were confused but seemed to understand. I then went and hired a therapist to help me get over all these bad thoughts I was having about my family and others that I had previously said abused me.

I found a nun who was a therapist. It was perfect. I felt if anyone would believe that I was a liar and had fabricated abuse, it would be her (because, you know, the whole Catholic Church scandals). The first session, I told her I did not want to pray with her and that I was a liar and I needed her to fix me. She said OK and we began working together. The sessions were in-depth and intense, and I talked a lot about all the memories I was having. The “false” ones. After six months or so she said, “I unequivocally believe that you were abused, and you are not a liar.” I thanked her for her time and left.

Now what was I supposed to do? I really had been abused. I went into a deep depression.

Two years later and after much more therapy in the new city I was living in, I decided to confront my mother and tell her about my abuse at the hands of my father. In the phone conversation after I told her, she said “I had no idea, I am so sorry, I am leaving him.” I hung up, stunned — that was not the response I was expecting.

A couple of days later, my mom called me to inform me that she had called our pastor and he assured her that my father was incapable of such abuse, and he did not do it. He also told her to investigate the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). He had just attended training with them, and he said I had just been brainwashed by a therapist and I could be saved. My mom was so excited to announce to me that I had not been abused and that our family was still perfect.

My parents went on to join the FMSF. They even had a membership card that my mom showed me.

I hated this organization. It was started by parents whose daughter accused them of sexual abuse. They claimed that doctors were bringing up false repressed memories and convincing their patients that they had been abused. This organization remained operational for 27 years. It did irreparable harm to victims and to their image in society. The prevailing attitude of the media was that all victims should be viewed as having false memories. Even though organizations like the American Psychological Association spoke out about this group and their harmful skewed messages they were drowned out by the influence of the foundation and their so-called experts.

As someone who was working to trust myself and my memories, it was a painful time. Lord knows, I did not want to believe the abuse. Who wants to remember being raped constantly? Not me.

I have learned that victims are to be believed and their memories trusted. Our brains are capable of miraculous things, and we can compartmentalize painful memories until we are capable of coping with them. I still go through periods of self-doubt. Sometimes, I find it comforting and a relief to just say nothing happened and I am OK.

The reality is that I am not OK. I was violated by multiple perpetrators and my life was forever altered. I am working on embracing my memories as a defining part of me.

I recommend for those who do not trust their memories to know:

1. It is alright to believe the child within you; she will not lie to you.

2. You do not need a confession from your abuser to be telling the truth.

3. You do not need a paper trail of your abuse to be telling the truth.

4. You OK not have to have physical scars to have been abused.

5. It is OK to have forgotten your abuse for your own self-protection.

6. Your abuse story does not have to be like someone else’s to be true.

7. Everyone does not have to believe you for you to be telling the truth.

8. Your body could be also holding your truth about abuse.

9. You do not have to report to the authorities to prove that you are telling the truth.

10. You do not have to have violent flashbacks or nightmares to be an abuse survivor.

11. Just because you begin to remember once you are in therapy does not mean your memories were planted.

12. No one can know your truth except you.

Move forward with the knowledge that you are not a liar. Your memories are not false. You are a truth-teller. No matter who does or does not want to hear it, you have a voice and it should not be silenced.

You are Mighty Strong!

Photo by Amin RK on Unsplash

Originally published: August 26, 2021
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