This book was written by Jennifer J. Freyd in 1996 when there was a fierce debate going on between professionals whether children were really sexually abused by adults or were they having false memories about what happened to them when undergoing therapy as adults. Were they influenced by therapists to unearth the past and make incorrect assumptions about the incidents recalled? The False Memory Movement was really stirring things up in the 1990’s.
Freyd quotes many studies that were done regarding forgetting, repression, traumatic amnesia, and dissociation. She gives definitions for these kinds of forgetting. She discusses defense mechanisms used by survivors of child sexual abuse. She writes about the three general patterns of traumatic recall, and the three primary motivations for repression: avoidance of pain, avoidance of being overwhelmed, and avoidance of unacceptable wishes. Freyd adds a fourth: the avoidance of information that threatens a necessary attachment. She lists predictors of when abuse is most likely to be forgotten, and she refers to Type one and Type two traumas. Freyd describes Van der Kolk’s Model of The Effects Of Emotional Arousal on Declarative Memory. She leads the reader through the different kinds of memory.
Her focus in the book is to present Betrayal Trauma Theory. She believes that traumas which involve betrayal leave serious wounds in the victims. That the traumas more likely to be forgotten are those in which betrayal is a fundamental component.”The more a victim is dependent on the perpetrator, the more power the perpetrator has over the victim in a trusted and intimate relationship, the more the crime is one of betrayal. Betrayal by a trusted caregiver is the core factor in determining amnesia.”1
She writes that a child wants to avoid pain (psychological as well as physical.) Pain is a motivator for changing one’s behavior in order to survive. Yet if a child changes his behavior, the perpetrator can become angry and threatening if the child tries to avoid contact or run away. The threat to survival is real, so information blockage occurs in the child. The perpetrator, if a parent, has power to give out food, shelter, clothes, and other necessities. Without these, the child cannot survive. Other issues are involved as well. If a child must face the reality that his caregiver does the unthinkable to him, how does that affect his perception of the world as a safe place to live? What does such betrayal do to his concept of self-worth and competence? If his caregiver sexually abuses him, there is shame, and if he fights against the abuse and is labeled “a bad child,” what does that do to his spiritual self? It makes perfect sense for a child not to remember, to deny what is happening so that dissociation and amnesia occurs. This is an interesting book to read.
1 Freyd, Jennifer J. 1996. Betrayal Trauma: The Logic Of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press.