Of course, memory is imperfect.
Of course, it is an interpretation of events, not an exact record of them.
Of course, what we remember is shaped by our subsequent experiences.
Of course, what we remember is shaped by our preexisting beliefs (not to mention the beliefs we develop after the fact).
All that is true. Research into memory tells us that it is potentially malleable and faulty.
Research also tells us it is alarmingly easy for people with influence over us to implant “false” memories.
However: the fact that memory is imperfect does NOT mean that the only reason you’re hurt by your memories of the past is because you have “selected” a “disempowering” interpretation of events.
People have used the fact that memory is imperfect for decades to try to persuade victims of trauma and abuse that their recollections are unreliable.
Victims have subsequently come to believe that what they endured “must not have happened.”
They’ve come to believe they are “crazy” or “making things up.”
Predators have used the defense that “memory is unreliable” when trying to convince others, including legal authorities, that their victims should not be believed.
I’ve worked with hundreds of trauma survivors, and one of their most common struggles is trusting themselves that they experienced what they experienced.
I’ll be the first to tell you: memory is imperfect. What you experienced may not have gone down exactly as you think it went down.
But I’ll also tell you this: the idea that people who struggle with post traumatic symptoms are “making up” their recollections or symptoms for attention is absolute nonsense.
Believe me: no one wants the kind of attention you tend to get for having trauma symptoms.
No WANTS the the abuse, neglect, or trauma they remember to be true.
Therapy is not a process of discovering what’s true. I hate when people get into therapy and think that they’re on a fact-finding mission.
It’s not that you don’t or can’t discover truth in therapy; it’s that therapy isn’t the kind of tool that is well-suited for that.
Therapy is about healing. It’s about restoring functioning. It’s about picking up the pieces of a life that’s been shattered.
There are those who will tell you that the reason you’re suffering is because you are “interpreting” your life experience in a way that is “disempowring.”
They’ll blame you, in other words, for your suffering.
That’s not fair and it’s not accurate.
We know things about how trauma impacts people— and even on a neurobiological level, it’s more complicated than “this person has been choosing a disempowering interpretation of their life story.”
Trauma is more than you having “chosen” a “faulty interpretation” of the past.
Healing is about more than just choosing a “different interpretation” of what happened.
Trauma impacts our psychology AND our biology. It leaves its mark in every cell of our body.
Healing trauma takes time, patience, compassion, and support— and the courage to admit to ourselves that our wound was not superficial, and healing will not happen overnight.
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