virus: repression of memories is a myth.

Tony Hindle (
Sat, 15 Mar 1997 14:56:27 +0000

In message <Pine.SUN.3.95.970315021645.17116C->, Eva-Lise Carlstrom <>
>On Thu, 13 Mar 1997, Tony Hindle wrote:
>> I think all these false memory syndromes spring from the
>> same popular misconception, the freudian construct of repression
>> (I can post an essey on this if anyone is interested)
>> Tony Hindle.
>> there is no such thing as repressed memories.
>I'm interested.
>PS--Several years ago I commented to my mother that I wished I had kept
>doing ballet when I was little, as I probably would have been good at it,
>and I asked her why she hadn't kept me in the classes. She looked at me
>funny, and said that I had refused to go back after falling down onstage
>in the production of Swan Lake, even though I had gotten back up and
>continued. I have no memory of this. In fact, I do not remember performing
>at all, though I do have clear memories of practicing Swan Lake with the
>class (I was about six). I find this odd.
The question is this: Have you simply forgotten the falling
incident (although you still retain a "schema" which represents all
your practice sessions). Or was the incident so traumatic that your
mind buried it into an innaccesible part of your subconciuos as a
"defense mechanism" (which may ultimately become a destructive
force on your behaviour in later years).
Anyway here is the report, the names in the case in the
introduction have been changed for legal reasons.


This report has been prepared in response to a request from
the defence council regarding the case of Freud vs. Darwin. The
relevant details of which follow.


Sandra Freud is suing her father John Darwin, for damages
she has suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse(C.S.A.)
which she allegedly suffered as a child up until the age of 7.
Sandra alleges that her father committed this abuse. The case is
now coming to court because of changes in the law regarding the
statute of limitations. Sandra has only recently (in the last year)
acquired critical information allowing her to know that the alleged
offence took place. This information has arisen in the form of
recollections of the abuse which have been uncovered during
therapy. Although hypnosis was used during therapy, the memories of
C.S.A. were uncovered during non-hypnotic therapy. Sandra has given
a sworn statement regarding the details of the abuse which she
remembers. Her therapist has given a sworn statement to the effect
that he fully believes that Sandra was abused as she alleges. Until
one year ago Sandra had no idea she was abused as a child. Sandra
presented to therapy a year ago when she initially complained of
depression and anxiety and loss of libido.


There is no doubt that C.S.A. is tragically common (Daro
88). We feel that we cannot stress sufficiently the need to have
a mental health service that is sympathetic to the trauma
experienced by a patient who has suffered or believes they have
suffered from c.s.a. For this reason we feel that a dichotomy
exists between the need to asses reality in the courtroom and the
patients perceived reality during a therapy session.

The concept of repression is well established
anecdotally, in lay psychology and popular writings, it is a
concept which many psychologists readily accept ( Bruhn, 1990).
Repression is the situation where a traumatic event is expunged
from consciousness in such a way that the person repressing the
memory is no longer aware of the experience. Some trace of the
memory remains in the unconscious from where it can manifest
symptoms of behaviour/ mental dysfunction. Given the right cues the
memory can be uncovered and brought back to conscious awareness
where dealing with it can have the effect of improving many
symptomologies. It has been said that repression is the cornerstone
of psychoanalysis (Bower 1990).


It is important to clarify that there is no
objective scientific evidence that repression of memories is a real
phenomena. Undoubtedly there exists evidence for cases of traumatic
events where the victim has chosen not (cannot bear) to think about
the event as the memory of it is too painful (e.g,holocaust
victims), this is not repression as the victims are still aware of
the events. All attempts to date at scientifically establishing
the construct validity of repression have failed. By its very
nature the concept of repression in general, cannot be falsified,
although specific instances can be proven to be false and have been
(see later). The numerous anecdotes referring to repressed memories
have been described as empirical observations lacking in
scientific underpinnings (Ganaway 92, p.203) and impressionistic
case studies that could not be counted as anything more than
unconfirmed clinical speculations (Holmes 90). To put this into
perspective if we accept the anecdotal evidence for repression then
we must also accept the equally compelling evidence for alien
abduction memories and past life regression memories. The anecdotal
evidence for repression comes from patients and therapists.


There has been extensive research into the extent to which
therapists believe recovered memories from their clients (e.g.,
Bottoms Shaver & Goodman 91, Braun, & Sachs 88, Ganaway, 89,91).
Overall 90+% of therapists believed uncovered memories of
ritualistic satanic abuse involving ritual sacrificing of babies.
If therapists believe these kinds of claims it seems likely that
they would be even more likely to believe the less aggravated
claims involving childhood sexual abuse.
A comprehensive survey of therapists beliefs concerning the
validity of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse recovered
under hypnosis (Yapko 94) showed that the extent to which
therapists believe their patients repressed memories is way out of
proportion to the validity of such memories as suggested by
rigorous scientific research. This and extensive other
research(e.g., Orne 1960ff, Wagstaff, 1970ff) has shown that
hypnosis uncovers at least as many untrue memories as it does true
memories. Yapkos research also showed that there are many
practising psychotherapists that erroneously use and believe in
hypnosis as a method for recovering accurate memories in patients.
It appears that the main effect of hypnosis is to increase the
patients and the therapists confidence in the reality of the
This extensive research alerts us to the fact that
therapists tend to believe their clients memories, when asked what
evidence they use to support their confidence in the validity of
their clients memories, therapists point to the extensive
symptomology. In the words of one researcher this epidemic of
belief is based in large part on authority and social
consensus'(Dawes 92).


As already mentioned, many therapists use the
presence of symptoms as supporting evidence of the validity of
their patients uncovered memories of C.S.A. What is even more
worrying is that for many therapists the presence of symptoms
raises their index of suspicion and they begin looking for
repressed memories of C.S.A. (See confirmation bias later). For
illustration of the possible dangers of this non-validated approach
to therapeutic diagnosis we present a list of symptoms which are,
according to many popular writings on the subject, indicative of

Having had an abortion
Affairs during marriage
Bad dreams
Bipolar disease
Teeth grinding
Denial of sexual abuse
Downcast looks
Early puberty
Emotionally unstable spouse
Environmental disease
Family secrets
Fear of being alone
Fear of rape
Fear of trusting god
Fits of rage
Im sorry syndrome
Inability to call god father
Inability to forgive
Low self worth
Memory gaps
Missionary/Social work
Multiple divorce/Marriages
Multiple layers of clothing
Pornography at home
Preoccupation with sex
Repugnance to sex
Interracial marriage
Unmet emotional needs
Undiagnosed pains
Use of drugs
(Taken from Appendix D, Littauer and Littaur,1992)


The concept of suggestibility is widely accepted
and measurable using such psychological investigative tools as the
Gudjonsson suggestibility scales. It is known that people can come
to believe untrue suggestions made to them particularly in cases
where their recollections of the actual events are ambiguous
(Gudjonsson 1992).Today there is a thriving market for readers who
'suspect' they may have repressed memories of C.S.A. as the above
list demonstrates.


The research concerning false memories is growing
(Ceci & Loftus 94). It is at present not known what percentage of
uncovered repressed memories are true or false. However there are
scientifically admissible cases of false memories. The case of
Laura Pasley (Pasley 83) is one example of a patient uncovering a
repressed memory in therapy and then retracting it (after a period
of four years). The case of Paul Ingram (Ofshe 92; Watters 91) is
an example which shows the possibility of implanting a knowingly
false memory which is at first denied, and then believed by the
subject.Implantation of this kind has been achieved using the same
measures as those used in eliciting repressed memories in a therapy
situation. It is important to stress that this is proof that false
memories, emerging after a period of repression can exist, there
is no equivalent evidence to unequivocally validate a single case
of repression.

The concept of confirmatory bias (Baron, Beattie &
Haershey,88) is well established experimentally by social
psychologists (e.g., Hyman 77). It is the tendency that everyone
has to find evidence that supports their hypothesis/theory/
belief/intuition and to overlook evidence that refutes it. It is
the influence of confirmatory bias that helps to explain the
widespread belief in phenomena such as astrology and fortune


Ceci & Loftus (1994) have suggested a mechanism
whereby false memories may develop without intent from either the
therapist or the patient. Given that one believes in the concept of
repressed memories (for which there is only unfalsifiable anecdotal
support) it logically follows that one cannot say with certainty
that one has not been a victim of C.S.A. The nature of human beings
is to be curious, if one's curiosity leads one to ask the question
did it happen to me, then one may consult the popular writings
(e.g., the courage to heal- Bass & Davis, 88)and from these sources
one can easily get the impression that as many as 50% of people
have been abused. One then begins to look for the symptoms
suggested to be indicative of C.S.A. (confirmatory bias). One is
now in a position of thinking I have a feeling something may have
happened. A consultation with a therapist who also believes in
repression of C.S.A. may lead to the uncovering of memories in
which the patient and the therapist believe, these memories may be
real only in the minds of the patient and the therapist.

After our comprehensive review of the relevant
research findings we strongly advise that unless physical evidence
for the alleged abuse is found, the case be dismissed. If the
prosecution present corroborative evidence from a neutral party
then we feel the case should come to court. Before going to court
it would be essential that a third party of expert psychologists
should be allowed to fully investigate the accuser and all
witnesses in a clinical situation. We would like to stress that the
nature of false memories is such that Sarah Freud can honestly and
truly remember the events yet they are events which may never have
actually taken place outside of her (and her therapists)
On the broader issue of repression we feel there is a very
strong case for educating all practising therapists to the real
danger of false memory formation by the mechanism proposed by Ceci
& Loftus. The construct validity of repression is dubious and the
implications of allowing the cultural milieu to accept it as
true,are potentially damaging to the mental health of some
vulnerable members of society. We recommend a concerted effort to
inform the public that repression is still only a theory. In fact
we feel that it would be responsible and far more desirable to have
a public sceptical of the phenomenon of repression rather than a
public that tacitly accept it to be true. We note that on the day
that this document was finished the sunday times magazine carried a
six page article spelling out the dangers of false memory syndrome
but did nothing to stem the widespread acceptance of the validity
and pervasiveness of repressed memories.
There are potentialy two different types of error that can
be perpetuated in this context. The first type of errors will occur
if repression is not a real phenomenan but is widely misperceived
as real. Then the acusers will suffer trauma from believing in
false memories and the acused will suffer the consequences of the
false acusations. The second type of error will be made if
repression is real but is widely perceived to be not real. In this
case the victims who had suffered the repression would never know
that it had happened.

Helen Graupp
Helen Francis
Tony Hindle


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Misplaced E.Goldstein and K.Farmer(Eds.),True stories of
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Tony Hindle.