Repressed Memories of Child Abuse: What I Wish I'd Known
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.
Gray, H. (2010, August 12). Repressed Memories of Child Abuse: What I Wish I'd Known, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2010/08/repressed-memories-of-child-abuse-what-i-wish-id-known
Author: Holly Gray
Things got really out of hand in February of this year and I had a suicide attempt. I just wanted the flashbacks to end and I still did not fully accept the diagnosis. This changed my life. I went through a alcohol and drug rehab and was taken off a benzodiazepine that I had been taking for 15 years. The stay at the rehab was horrid and traumatic. I was having severe flashbacks, depersonalization and anxiety and the staff was not educated in treating the disorder. I was flooded with memories. I finally believed I had the diagnosis and when I returned home I started working on containment, safe places and processing memories with the therapist I had been seeing for several years.
Now, eight months later, I am still experiencing time loss, switching and flashbacks but with the help of my therapist who specializes in DID I have been able to return to work and take care of my family. I am finally hopeful about the future.
Thank you again.
The chaos, drama and ingenuity of the place triggered in me a couple of DID episodes of losing time, dissociative amnesia. Needless to say I have decided that this unhealthy environment is no longer a part of my life because I have learned to look after myself over the years.
I have been referred to a neurologist because of these incidences and will make sure nothing else is going on in my brain. But I want to say how glad I am that I found all the helpful articles from Holly Gray and others diagnosed with DID. I want to pursue the subject of DID for my next book!
I have recollection of past events good or bad , just some emotional triggers that pop up leaving me to wonder what had happened and why.
I was given a ‘golden’ opportunity to live (free of charge due to the NHS in the UK) for 2 years in a psychotherapeutic community and it changed my life.
Integration is the cure for fragmented personalities and I am so blessed that I was led to this form of treatment.
I used to talk about myself in the third person, I now fully accept the I AM, the whole person.
Writing my book was so healing! Blow Me Over With A Feather.
I hope you read this blog. And write about your experiences too.
With love and respect
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.
"But there is a difference between acknowledging that possibility and terrifying yourself with it. My fear of discovering 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."
My partner has been in an incapacitated state for years now. These words provided some wisdom and comfort for this midnight seeker and I suspect they will for my partner as well. Thank you for this gift.
I was diagnosed 5 years ago, and I am still just lulling along. I, like you, want straight forward answers. What happened, when it happened what started the situration, how did it end. I struggle with the *not knowing*. I would rather know than be confronted by alters with these outrageous stories that don't find in my mind.
I don't want to be a liar, yet continously feel like one.
My abuse was Clergy abuse. My one goal is to report it. How do I do that, if I can't speak about it in coherent sentences.
lothough life is good, (alot better than it was before diagnosis), yet I still long to be able to stand on my own two feet and trust what i say.
Thanks--for giving hope.
i always said if I could help one person this mess would be worth it. I am sure you feel the same. I just wanted to let you know that you succeeded.
"I don’t want to be a liar, yet continously feel like one."
For what it's worth, I hear that a lot from people with dissociative disorders. It's a common fear for a lot of reasons, I think. Not the least of which is dissociation itself, which blurs reality. But I've come to believe that part of learning to live with Dissociative Identity Disorder is making friends with ambiguity. I've found that dealing with traumatic material is much easier (though no less painful) now that I've learned to take such material seriously, but not necessarily literally, depending on my level of awareness. By doing that, I've created a safe zone in which I can talk about it. And, over time, forming coherent sentences, understanding the nature of my own history, gets easier.
I've also learned that using art to communicate with my system and also about disjointed, dissociated memory is incredibly helpful. I don't know if you've tried that but it has really helped me to find clarity.
Thank you so much for your comment. It really means a lot to me.
It's a burden to carry the secret of DID. Reading your blog makes the disorder seem a little less bizarre and more human. Thanks.
"Reading your blog makes the disorder seem a little less bizarre and more human."
That is a huge compliment, thank you. Because the focus of my work is humanizing and demystifying DID, feedback like that is extremely encouraging. Thank you.
For what it's worth, in talking with others with DID I've discovered that this drive towards minimizing one's own trauma is very common. I think it stems at least in part from The Denial Factor - the total denial that anything at all is amiss in the environments so many with DID grew up in. My point is that I'm not convinced this knee jerk urge to trivialize one's own experience has anything at all to do with the experiences themselves, and instead has more to do with the attitudes encountered around those experiences.
Thanks again for reading and commenting, Darla. I'm so glad to know my blog has been helpful.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your comment. I do agree that physiology can play a role in the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder for some folks (see From Trauma to DID: The Sensitivity Factor - http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2010/08/from-trauma-to-did-the-sensitivity-factor/.) But at its core, DID is a trauma disorder. In other words, people aren't born with DID. They may be born with a particularly strong capacity to dissociate, but the disorder itself, like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, is a response to trauma, not a physical illness.
You mentioned anxiety too, though. One of the most helpful things I've ever been told about my anxiety is that it's organic. In other words, it exists and then attaches itself to things in my environment. Knowing that my anxiety is chemical really helps me cope with it better because I no longer feel compelled to try and reason out the hidden meaning behind some of my anxiety driven behaviors.
I looked for the book you recommended but couldn't find it. Is it perhaps out of print?
This is the first time I've read about DID with other people.
It is a hard thing to go through being diagnosed DID. I've been diagnosed PTSD with DID for over a year now. Two years ago I had a severe head injury that caused memory loss. The treatment with a counselor has brought back alot of memories that even before my head injury I had repressed. Since my treatment I feel like a weight has been lifted, because now I understand my issues of anxiety and irrational fears. DID treatment has been essential to my life, even though I still have memory issues of everyday living I know now that I don't have to live with being afraid. Medicine is helpful and working with my husband about my issues he never understood has given my life back too.
It is scary to think that there could be more memories, that there is more abuse hidden. But I know now I can wake up everyday and actually have a purpose. I am also Bipolar and have been diagnosed since I was 15. My daughter is a life saver, being surrounded with purpose and knowing that my memory issues were only a way to keep myself going.
We have to tell ourselves to propel forward, being DID I know now saved myself. I have little contact with my family and still have difficulty with even being near them, but I am here. I am here and I appreciate the blessings given to me. I wish you the best, it is your courage that speaks out to me. It is strength that keeps us going forward.
"It is scary to think that there could be more memories, that there is more abuse hidden. But I know now I can wake up everyday and actually have a purpose."
I love that you shared this. For me, feeling purposeless was even more crippling than the fear of discovering intolerable material. Perhaps the two are linked somehow - fear of that magnitude resulting in profound purposelessness or something - because I notice that as the fear abated my sense of purpose returned. Regardless, feeling like I have purpose and meaning in my life gives me the strength I need to move through the fear.
"We have to tell ourselves to propel forward, being DID I know now saved myself."
You seem to have a very hopeful attitude and the brief part of your story you've offered here is inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Wonderful job with writing out your feelings. I too struggle with DID and PTSD. I went through all my repressed memories and felt I was crazy. Now I no longer fear that. I went through so many emotional states one of them being fearful of men. I have a stable life, adopted 6 children and have 9 total, a marriage of 21 years to a supportive husband. This trauma and reliving my repressed memories I thought would break me. With the Lord and support I made it through. My alters are less controling and only return during major stressful life events. Do not be afraid, work with the memories, the truth will set you free!
We have been diagnosed with DID for maybe seven years now. There are a laundry list of co-morbidities of course, have yet to meet another fellow DID where that is not the case. Over the past ten years, we have been overcoming our addictions: marijuana, cocaine, alchohol, painkillers, food and of course cigarettes. Now that the body is back to it's natural state, more memories are coming through...none of them pretty, but they aren't as horrible as once we had feared they would be. We too have come to grips with the nebulous nature of this particular beast.
Thank you for your work in helping others. We are now a pre-nursing student, we hope to become a psychiatric nurse and help others as well.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Good luck with your schooling. I'm not sure there can ever be too many competent, empathetic psychiatric nurses!
I would like to add a fourth choice for Holly and others to consider who are still working through issues of DID--this disorder can also result from emotional neglect--not just extreme traumatic events.
I would not have believed this based on the research I had done in the past, but then I meet a Psychiatrist who told me that he had worked with several patients who were DID and they did not have extreme trauma in their childhood, but they did have emotional neglect.
Since hearing this from the psychiatrist I have come across this in my own private practice with those who suffer from DID. It is not as common but it is definitely one of the contributing factors which can result in DID.
To be clear, my struggle was never about whether or not I experienced trauma. That was never a question. What terrified me was the idea that DID was the result of trauma so severe as to be inconceivable. And as I said in my post, "My fear of discovering 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 remembered trauma. But it didn't sink to the level of horror and nightmare that I was under the erroneous impression DID was the result of. The trauma I knew I'd suffered was painful enough. I was terrified that having DID meant I had repressed memories of still more painful trauma. Illogically I concluded that by rejecting the diagnosis, I could protect myself from discovering things I could not tolerate.
I appreciate your comment because it draws attention to the fact that emotional abuse and neglect is traumatic too. And like you pointed out, can be the very trauma that helps to create DID.