Involuntary Memory Supression/False Memories

Many studies have been done to prove that our brains are capable of involuntarily blocking out painful memories. I, myself have experienced this first-hand. In fact there is an entire 3-4 year period of time that doesn’t exist in my mind. Because of the journals and writings I kept, I know some of what happened during that time. However, if I actually try to think back to specific circumstances, conversations, etc.. It is just all so black. It’s like my mind comes to a fork in the road and just stops as if there’s nowhere else to go.

A little information to aid this writing: Supressing memories is associated with increased activity in the left and right frontal cortex (the part of the brain used to suppress memory). Which in return leads to reduced activity in the hippocampus (the part of the brain used to remember experiences). The better a person is at activating the frontal cortex, the more likely they are to be able to suppress memories. Obviously this isn’t something a person can just turn on and off, it is involuntary, but it has a big play into those “blackout” periods we sometimes experience. Not only can your brain block out memories, but your brain can also create false memories. These are usually not trauma-oriented, rather due to lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, and misinterpreted information that the person truly believes to be real. You can actually convince yourself of false memories. The more you try to convince yourself they are real, the more you believe it.

Ok. This is the conclusion of the psychology portion of this writing. The next part is about to get very personal. So feel free to stop here.. Or read on! What I’m about to write has never been said out loud.

When I was about 5 years old, my mom took me to see a family psychiatrist/nutritionalist. My mom had blood work done on me about a week prior, in order to be able to share the results with the uh… We will call him Sir.  I remember going and sitting down in his office, and he began to ask me questions. I refused to answer any of his questions on front of my mom. She was then asked to leave the room and go sit in the waiting room. The next thing I remember is looking down and seeing my green polka-dot dress crumpled    up on the floor next to me. I remember feeling cold, and uncomfortable, and that I wanted my mom. And after that day, anytime my mom would want me to go back to see him, I would feel extremely anxious and would cry. All I knew is that his office made me very uncomfortable and that I did NOT like him.

Years later, I was at a church event through school and we were about to have lunch. When I walked into the dining area and got in line, right as I was about to be served, and I realized that the counselor from before was serving lunch. I remember that I felt my face turn beat red, I was extremely uncomfortable, and I felt like I needed to set my food down and run as fast as I could in the opposite direction. And because the church event was something all my friends went.                        to, I continued going every Tuesday for an entire school year. I would see him every week, and I would try to hide from him, afraid that he might say something to me.

This is the part that to this day still creeps me out… At one point in high school, I came to my mom and told her that I thought I needed to be put on some kind of medicine for depression. And instead of making an appointment with a doctor, she lied to me and said that I would have to see a counselor before a doctor would put me on anything. So I complied and agreed to see a counselor first. The following week, my dad picked me up from school and brought me to my counseling appointment. As I got out of his truck, I walked up to the building and had an eerie flashback like I had been to this place before. I looked at the name on the side of the building, and instantly recognized it. My heart started to beat out of my chest and I then remembered being here once before…when I was 5…wearing my favorite green dress.

When he came out to take me back to his office, I almost backed out. I almost told him that I was feeling ill and that I was just going to schedule for a later date, however.. I had no way home until my dad came back at 5, which was an hour and a half away. So I put on my brave face and followed him back to his office and sat down. He then said to me “So, why are you here today?” And I replied, “I don’t know. I guess I’ve been feeling really sad lately.. and I’ve been having panic attacks.” Then without saying anything, he handed me a folder with my name on it, and inside was 3 different packets. One on anxiety, one on depression, and one on sexual abuse. And then came the question. “Do you have any rememberance of sexual abuse in your past?” The way he said it, led me to believe he knew something that he wasn’t telling me. I’m very good at reading people, and the look on his face showed remorse.. I wondered why he phrased the question the way he did. Do I remember? Instead of “Has there been…” And I looked at my lap and said “Nope”. He leaned over and grabbed the pamphlet out of my folder and said “Alright” and then began talking about anxiety and depression totally disregarding anything I had to say. He talked to me in a voice that you might use while talking to a child. He made me feel dumb and naive, and I couldn’t take it. I closed the folder and stood up. I lied and said that I had a piano lesson to get to. He looked at me and said “you’re not coming back, are you?” I sternly said “NOPE!” And opened the door and walked out.

To this day, I still only have a faint memory of the day at the office when I was 5. Most of my life I’ve convinced myself that it was something I made up, or that I just wasn’t remembering it quite right. To be 100% honest with you, I’m still not sure what happened between Sir and I that day. The only thing I know is the shame and embarrassment I feel whenever I stumble across him every so often. I know the anxiety and the feeling that I need to run. But I constantly question whether my mind has involuntarily blocked out the office visit or if it was something that I just forgot over time. Unfortunately, it’s something I may never know.

In conclusion, the brain is a great thing. It’s potential is limitless. However, sometimes it’s provides us times of misinterpretation and confusion or conflicting memories. Unfortunately there’s no quick or easy way to decifer between or bring out repressed memories. Some people are able to recover repressed memories through therapy, and some people believe that hypnosis can be a powerful tool in unlocking the mind. Some memories are never able to be recovered. 

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