False Memories of Child Sexual Abuse: A Personal Account
It all began back in November of 1989. I was hospitalized for
depression in Long Beach, California when I started getting my first
false memories of child sexual abuse.
While hospitalized for the depression, I was asked by several
hospital workers if I had ever been touched sexually in my
childhood. Although I could not remember anything, I felt
pressured to come up with some "answers" for my condition that
would be acceptable. I also felt that if I could come up with a
single reason for my troubles, I would be able to get well and get out
of the hospital sooner.
My psychologist kept asking about my childhood and he seemed
insistent that I had been sexually abused as a child. I tried to
be very cooperative because I wanted out of that hospital. I
didn't understand why my therapist was not interested in hearing about
the recent causes of my depression a painful divorce, sexual
harassment on the job, unemployment, stress from a new marriage, and a
recent drastic change in lifestyle. I trusted him, however, and if
he believed that all of my problems wee due to some traumatic incident
in my childhood I apparently had forgotten, I assumed he must be right
because he was the psychology expert, not I.
I continued to wrack my brain to try to remember being sexually
abused, and I had a severe mental breakdown. After the breakdown,
I told him that I thought I had been raped by my father. I was not
sure of the age in which it happened. (I started with the age of four
and then changed it to six and then seven.) I was encouraged by my
psychologist to talk about the abuse in groups and in therapy
sessions. My psychologist and I confronted my mother about
it. I wrote a letter to my father and with the help of the
hospital social worker, reported him to a child abuse hot line and
continued to accuse him.
I was on four or five different medications and I became dependent
upon Halcion and Xanax in order to function at a minimal level.
Over the next few years, my doctors placed me on several more
medications including lithium, tegretol, ativan, desipramine, stelazine,
Triavil, and nortriptyline.
For the next three years, this problem ruled my life. I was
obsessed at how unresolved it all felt I was tormented constantly.
I became too sick to work regularly and went on disability as I could
not work without having "flashbacks." I did little
besides reading Courage to Heal and crying and feeling depressed and
angry. It didn't seem as though I was "healing" at all,
but instead was just getting worse. I felt a desperate need to
remember more of what happened to me so that I could get well and get on
with my life. I was always thinking and trying, trying hard to
remember. I tried all the "tricks" in Courage to Heal
and the Workbook (),
but still I could not remember anything concrete, although I was
convinced that it had happened. Hoping to get away from my pain, I
moved to another state.
At the same time, I was constantly beset by doubts about my
experience. It felt that I was "making it up," but it
said in Courage to Heal that the memories often feel that way.
At the recommendation of friends, therapists, and a person I knew who
had started an organization called Sexual Abuse Victims Enlightenment, I
started litigation against my father for the imagined childhood
rape. I was told that I would be "validated" by doing
this and that it would help my "healing" along by much.
Also, in hopes of my memories being triggered, I
founded the only Survivors of Incest Anonymous
(S.I.A.) group in my city. I was the leader of the group and
supplied everyone with literature on "remembering" and the 20
questions of S.I.A. (see appendix). In the
questions, it says that if you have answered yes to three or more of
these questions, "Survivors of Incest Anonymous can
help." Upon close inspection of the questions, however, many
of them can be applied to just about anybody.
After starting the group, my internal pressure to remember the sexual
abuse increased greatly and that is when I entered regular
therapy. I went to both a hypnotherapist and a clinical
psychologist at the same time. I told them that I believed I had
been raped at a young age and that it was causing all my present
emotional and mental problems.
Both of the therapists encouraged and pushed me to "remember"
more and more, even though I was starting to show signs of psychosis
during the treatment sessions. I was rapidly losing the ability to
differentiate between my imagination and my real memory. I also
started, at that time, to have "memories" of satanic ritual
abuse that were always accepted by my therapists and that I was never
asked to question. As a result, I came up with many more
visualizations, and some graphic and detailed sexual abuse stories which
started to involve murder. The "memories" became
increasingly more shocking and violent, and I became more ill with each
In the fall of 1991, with the enthusiastic encouragement of my
hypnotherapist, I began showing signs of MPD (multiple personality
disorder). In the hypnosis sessions, the therapist would have me
"relive" the rape but all the while it never felt real, never
like a real experience. He would ask me if there were any other
"people" there with me, and then he would have me identify and
name the other "parts" of me. Afterwards, when I went
home I would draw them for him. Meanwhile, I read books such as Courage
to Heal and books on MPD. My symptoms grew much worse with
therapy until I finally suffered a mental breakdown and was
During this recent hospitalization, I finished sorting out what I had
already started that the detailed and graphic memories had not
been real, but were some kind of hallucination or figment of my
imagination that had been accept as historical fact and encouraged by my
The realization that the memories were not real came on gradually,
over a period of a few days to a few weeks. I had been taking a
course in college psychology and was studying the brain and memory when
the scientific research that I was reading was not in agreement with
what the therapists seem to believe. I learned in textbooks about
memory that our brain "loses" much of what we experience and
that our entire childhood was not somehow recorded and is not buried,
waiting to be brought up like a video movie in the way the therapists
would have me believe.
I have since stopped the litigation against my father and apologized
to him and my family. I still remain perplexed and disturbed as to
how this all could have happened to me, but I know that the Courage
to Heal book had a lot to do with it, along with the three different
therapists who coached me over a period of three years. During
that time, I also saw two different psychiatrists, but the psychiatrists
did not encourage the false memories as the other therapists did
in fact they expressed doubt that my memories were real.
I now feel very well emotionally since quitting
"therapy." However, my life has been ravaged though all
of this. I lost a good job, my husband divorced me, and worst of
all, I lost my family. The pain and destruction that have been
wrought upon my life and that of my family can never be reversed.
THE 20 QUESTIONS OF S.I.A.
||Do you have problems with self-confidence and self-esteem?
||Do you feel you are either passive or aggressive? Do you
have problems acting assertively?
||Do you feel you have to "control" your emotions?
||Do you feel easily intimidated by authority figures?
||Do you sabotage current relationships, especially sexual
||Do you fear that people are interested in you primarily for
sex? Does the importance of sex seem exaggerated? Do
you feel that you have to be careful how you act and dress because
you might sexually arouse others?
||Are you afraid to love always questioning "what will
they want from me now?"
||Do you act "different" or passive around your family
||Currently, do you over-react or misdirect your anger in
situations that frustrate you? Are you afraid of anger?
||Do you avoid taking control of your life today? Do you
have trouble making decisions?
||Are you a perfectionist, over-achiever, or generally a
||Do you get upset when you hear a rape, incest or child abuse
victim tell their story?
||Do you have trouble trusting others or trusting your own
||Do you have unrealistic, unreachable expectations of your self
as a parent? Do you feel you have to compensate for
something? Do you try to be a superior parent or have you
deliberately avoided becoming a parent altogether?
||Do you have blocks of your childhood you can't remember?
Do you have a sense that "something happened?" Do
you have memories of abuse with no emotions associated with those
||Have you ever been promiscuous? When you have sex, are you
really seeking love, affection, and acceptance?
||Do you feel sex is "dirty?" Do you avoid
mirrors? Do you feel you're unattractive?
||Do you feel you are different, a freak? Do you fear
someone will discover your secrets?
||Do you have a problem with alcohol, drugs, food, migraines, or
||Have you ever considered suicide? Have you ever suffered
from depression or felt there was a "black cloud"
hanging over you?