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The Folklore of Buried Memories

How victims remember trauma is the most controversial issue facing psychology and psychiatry today. Many clinical trauma theorists believe that combat, rape, and other terrifying experiences are seemingly engraved on the mind, never to be forgotten.

Others disagree, arguing that the mind can protect itself by banishing memories of trauma from awareness, making it difficult for victims to remember their most horrific experiences until it is safe to do so many years later. While acknowledging that trauma is often all too memorable, these certain clinical trauma theorists assert that a condition known as “traumatic dissociative amnesia” leaves a large minority of victims unable to recall their trauma, precisely because it was so overwhelmingly terrifying.

However, these clinical trauma theorists do not argue that “repressed” or “dissociated” memories of horrific events are either inert or benign. On the contrary, these buried memories silently poison the lives of victims, giving rise to seemingly inexplicable psychiatric symptoms, and therefore must be exhumed for healing to occur.

This is no ordinary academic debate. The controversy has spilled out of the psychology laboratories and psychiatric clinics, capturing headlines, motivating legislative changes, and affecting outcomes in civil lawsuits and criminal trials.