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Repressed Memories of Child Abuse: What I Wish I’d Known

The possibility of repressed memories of child abuse can make you deny a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. You don't have to do that -- here's why.

One of the obstacles I encountered in coming to terms with my dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis was the idea that DID is by and large caused by horrendous abuse. Because DID and unimaginable trauma were intrinsically linked in my mind, I thought accepting my diagnosis required believing that I had suffered inconceivable horrors, repressed memories of child abuse that were lurking somewhere in the recesses of my dissociative mind. I didn’t want to believe that, so I rejected the diagnosis altogether. I wish I’d known that tolerating ambiguity is part of dissociative living, and that it’s possible to reconcile yourself to having DID without making assumptions about your history.

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”

Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

Repressed Memories of Abuse from Childhood

DID is a trauma disorder caused in part by repeated, overwhelming stress in early childhood (Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder). Often that stress comes in the form of child abuse. Dissociative amnesia allows the sufferer to continue to function, and often even thrive, by moving intolerable information and experiences out of conscious awareness. Repressed memories are therefore a very real possibility for those with dissociative identity disorder. But there is a difference between acknowledging that possibility and terrifying yourself with it.

My fear of retrieving lost memories — devastatingly painful things about my past — incapacitated me. I wish I’d noticed that I was already contending with devastatingly painful things about my past, and it hadn’t killed me yet. I wish I’d had more faith in my resiliency.

‘It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” -Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I may never know the entire truth about what really happened. Memory is malleable and traumatic memory, in particular, can be nebulous. Waiting around for a complete and undisputed account of my traumatic history before getting on with the business of recovery meant waiting for a very long time, perhaps my whole life. But I couldn’t simply rewrite my history to fit my limited understanding of DID either. So I sat on the proverbial fence for a long time. I believed I had two choices:

  • accept that I have DID and therefore must have a vast storehouse of repressed memories of child abuse, or
  • reject DID and relieve myself of the burden of unremembered trauma.

I wish I’d known that there is a third choice:

  • accept that I have DID and learn to tolerate ambiguity.

Had I not eventually shed the conviction that whole-hearted belief in the veracity of repressed memories of child abuse is a necessary prerequisite to accepting my dissociative identity disorder diagnosis, I would still be churning in the mess of doubt and resistance. By giving myself permission to question the validity of those memories, should they come up, I was able to stop questioning the validity of my disorder.

20 thoughts on “Repressed Memories of Child Abuse: What I Wish I’d Known”

  1. Darci, unfortunately I can not tell you how to fix your problem about losing the ability to write, but I can tell you that I have experienced something similar. I used to be really good in math and could do large problems in my head. When I was diagnosed with DID, one of the first things that I realized was that I had “lost” that ability. I chose to believe that I had several fractured personalities working together when I went to school (I even got my Master’s degree) and while I was working in order to have everything I needed to do well. I believe that one or more of these parts are taking a break from being always on call because they had to work constantly previously because I was such a high achiever. Since being diagnosed at 58 years of age my life has totally changed. I don’t know why just finding out that you have DID should make such a total change in the way you function, but it has for me. Since I do not have access to any of my parts and only have some indication of a couple of them because they have allowed me to “ride along” with them (basically seeing and hearing what is going on but not feeling things that are done or being able to move, talk, etc), I do not know where my different abilities are much less how to reach them.

  2. Wow its how the pieces of my life puzzle are comming together. I am 61 now but I believe the trama different types started at when I was 9months old. Because I was told that I spoke sentences the completely stopped. Ended up haveing to go to a speech therapist Lately I have had memories surfacing that happened way back in childhood, I took on a lot of resonsibilty in protecting others. I am back to seeing a counselor because I too have been a writer throughout my life.I just recently came across my test results and it showed me that I was above average but recommended that I get my GED because of I was low in math and phonics It also recommended that in order for me to be successful in work would be if I was slowly introduced and basicly worked alone and not around people. Though my previcious jobs I started at the top getting company cars and having a crew I didn’t last more than a month due to protecting my crew from unfair treatment.Lately it seems like every week a new memory pops in my mind I tear up which to me is a strenghth because my mom inforced that I was weak if I was caught crying That changed because when my dad would pick me and my sibbling up our visitations his tears flowed freely. Its partly upsetting to me that these memories are popping up but there is a positive that I can see. All these years I always saw life as a dark night sky without stars or the moon Now I see the beautiful stars glitter which are the angels that were protected me when the trama was going on. Thank you I will be bringing up DID to my counselor on my next appointment

  3. After being diagnosed about 4 years ago, only this evening did I think of putting “DID Blog'” in to the Google Search box! I was happy to find a blog written by someone who sounds so “together”. I was a freelance writer before I became disabled from a combination of physical problems caused by early abuse (trigeminal and occipital neuralgia and dislocated jaw joints, all of which resulted in an unsuccessful brain surgery 6 years ago, to try to correct the TN condition have led to physical disability.) I had another occupation as well, but what I truly loved was writing. However, once I became unable to physically work at my other career, I thought I would have time to write, despite the headaches, etc. I definitely have the time, but no longer seem to have the ability. Once I realized I had DID, and was “fragmented”, my ability to write coherently seems to have left me. It is one of the most frustrating things I deal with, as I do journal my memories, and well as revelations, dreams, things that have helped me in this journey. But to try to put them in to even an article, much less a book, seems impossible. My question is, during the first few years of accepting that you have DID, did you ever suddenly become ADD and lose your writing skills? I don’t feel that the part of me who was a writer has left. It just feels like others interfere with our thinking process, whether we are trying to speak to a doctor, or trying to write something as simple as a thank you note! Nothing ever feels to me like it is being expressed correctly. Because you mentioned in your article the fear of finding out traumatic memories that might be incapacitating, and I identified with this (although I no longer consciously fear this, after uncovering some horrific memories and living through it), I wonder if part or parts of me fear that writing things down for others to read will either make the experience more real, or perhaps even let the secret out of the box? Our therapist has always stressed the importance of using a pen name, and being “careful” and not doing “detective work”. Our abusers are now around 80 years old, the few that we know are still alive. But I feel that part of me has become terrified by the therapist telling us about how survivors of ritual abuse can be in danger if a abuser knows they have remembered. Well, this post is about as ADD as any writing can be! If you have any thoughts about why a DID person, who was a published writer (I have been published in over a dozen magazines related to my earlier career), would suddenly lose the ability to know how to write properly, can you let me know? Most of all, I would love to know how to “fix it”! Thank you for using your wonderful writing style to help those of us who are trying to hang on, trying not to give up despite various difficulties. May God bless you for your work. Darci

  4. Hi Cheryl,
    Hang in there. Life won’t always be this hard. Like someone else said, perhaps your therapy needs to take a more gentle approach. When I am feeling like life is more than I can handle it helps to “go back to basics.” By this, I mean eat, sleep, exercise, spend time with supportive people. Sometimes this is enough.
    Naomi

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