Very often, when our past is complicated or painful, we can confused about what we do and don’t remember— and what we do remember means.
This is especially true when the pain of our past centers largely around people, situations, and institutions that we were involved with or immersed in for a long time.
Sometimes we look back at what we remember from our past, and it doesn’t seem quite real, or has small or large chunks just missing.
Sometimes we look back at people and relationships that we KNOW caused us pain and damage in the past…and we’re confused, because in addition to painful memories, we also have neutral and even positive memories.
This can lead us down a rabbit hole of, “Did I really have it so bad? Was I really abused? Was I really neglected? Was I really traumatized?”
For many people who have experienced complex trauma, it’s hard enough to accept that what happened, happened.
Many survivors of abuse and neglect struggle with the reality of our past. Many of us have voices in our head that are constantly asking us, “C’mon, now, was it REALLY that bad? Or are you just looking for an excuse for why your life is messed up now?”
That narrative can be reinforced when we have mixed or positive memories of certain relationships or situations— how could they have been “traumatic,” we ask ourselves, if I actually remember parts of them fondly?
For some people, the fact that they DON’T remember large chunks of what happened to them raises similar doubts: could something REALLY have affected me that much if I don’t even REMEMBER it?
You need to know that complex trauma is, well, complex.
It’s NOT uncommon for survivors’ memories of traumatic relationships and situations to be a mixed bag.
It DOESN’T mean the situation “must not have been that bad.”
It’s even possible to miss aspects of a person, situation, or a time in your life, despite the fact that they were painful or damaging to you on the whole.
In your journey as a trauma survivor, your’e going to have plenty of people try to shape how you remember your past. Plenty of people will weigh in on whether you “should” struggle with what you’re experiencing right now.
Thing is: they don’t get a vote.
Your past impacted you exactly the way it did— whether you remember all of it or not, whether your memories always seem to make sense or not, whether you or anyone else think that you had it “bad enough” to produce your current symptoms or not.
If we’re going to realistically recover, we have to start with accepting that whatever we went through produced exactly what we ARE going through.
Memory, especially traumatic memory, is complicated.
How we remember something is influenced by a lot of factors. It’s true that our memories are rarely, if ever, photographic and perfectly accessible to us.
But the fact that our memories of the past are complicated doesn’t mean they are not valid.
It doesn’t mean that they are not true.
If we don’t remember something, or don’t remember it entirely, or don’t remember it in the kind of detail someone else expects, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
What we DON’T need, as survivors, is anyone— even ourselves— trying to tell us that what we do or don’t remember invalidates our experience, either past or present.
Few things get in the way of trauma recovery like the creeping thought, “Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I’m just being dramatic. Maybe I’m making it all up.”
Nobody “makes up” the kind of pain and heartache that trauma survivors endure every day.
Your job is not to evaluate your life experience, memory by memory, in search of how badly you “should” or “shouldn’t” be hurting.
Your job is to accept that you’re hurting exactly as much as you’re hurting— and to start the recovery and rebuilding from exactly right there.