[trigger warning: abuse, repressed memories, disassociation, flashbacks]
Contrary to popular belief, and contrary to what many psych textbooks will tell you today, Repressed Memories are, in fact, very real. The majority of the arguments against them have been based on studies that are now considered faulty and unreliable.
Most people do not know that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the extreme emotional/physical stress that causes it, can actually damage the parts of the brain dedicated to processing and storing memory. This is one possible explanation for repressed memories; many survivors of abuse may find that entire blocks of their childhood are missing, while others may have specific days or moments gone. Still others find that certain sensory details or even smaller things like a sentence or a smell are gone.
Repressed Memories are real, and Recovered Memories are real also. The Recovered Memory Project has a catalogue of some of the most reliable and rigorously verified instances in which Recovered Memories led to convictions or other changes in a case. Since court cases are indicative of only a small subset of the population (especially the survivor population), it is not unreasonable to think that there could be many more survivors with repressed or recovered memories.
There is no single way to go about recovering memories. Some people may find that when they are finally in a safe place, away from abusive environments and people, that they can suddenly think clearly again. Memories can be complicated by the internalized, negative rhetoric of abusers, or by survivors’ disassociation from events in order to protect themselves. It is not easy to recover a memory. A memory might be triggered by a major life change or event, or even a minor, everyday occurrence. Memories may return in sensory fragments, or all at once. Because the brain does not recover very quickly, it can take years or even decades before some memories return.
Survivor Vocabulary #21: Repressed and Recovered Memories