I have this fear that I was sexually abused as a child. How can I know? I think this is because I find it difficult to remember a lot of my childhood, and at an age as young as 8 I knew what sex was and was curious/experimental about learning about it.
I’ve read that blocking out childhood memories can be a sign. I’m so frustrated, I have a fear that I will never know. Please help me.
Hello and thank you very much for your question. You have asked the right person, as part of my Masters looked at what is called ‘recovered memories.’ It is an area that I am passionate about, and hopefully I can give you a sensible answer.
I am going to answer your question in a few different parts, and I shall work on what you have said. Before I start I should point out that this is a very controversial area, so I shall outline my basis for my opinions and my qualifications for answering this question. I want to do this to reassure you, and I am sure there will be others that disagree.
Part of my Masters looked at what was called the ‘recovered memories debate.’ Where people believed they had been sexually abused as a child, without actually having any memories of this, to begin with. Memories can be ‘implanted’, which simply means that we can create memories of things that did not actually happen. This can occur with work from a therapist, if they believe you have been abused, this work, can unwittingly ‘implant’ memories. I won’t go as far as calling them ‘incompetent therapists, as Wikipedia does, but it can occur, if someone does not understand how the brain works, the impact of emotion and memory, and how memory itself works.
I studied the work of Elizabeth Loftus, who is expert on memory, and she led the way to show how we can create ‘false memories.’ She is a highly influential psychologist and if you would like to know more about her, I would start with her Ted Talk.
I’ve read that blocking out memories can be a sign of child sexual abuse
Now, although you did not mention where you read this, it may have been in a book called ‘The Courage to Heal’ as this is where I have read this also. This book has been called The Survivors Bible for those who have been sexually abused, and I have also seen it in psychologists offices, and I would ask them, have they actually read it, before recommending it to people.
I first came across this book, when I was working in a Rape Crisis Centre, which was a few years before I qualified as a psychologist. It was cited as ‘recommended reading.’
The book lists an entire page of ‘symptoms’ and goes on to suggest that if you have some of these, even though you do not remember, you were abused as a child.
This is wrong, it is just wrong. In my opinion, it is also misleading and dangerous, as I believe that it could lead to falsely remembering things, or creating a substantial amount of doubt and fear.
Let me explain. When someone comes to see me, for whatever reason, they normally have a whole host of symptoms that they cannot explain, and many symptoms are common to lots of other conditions. For anxiety, many of the symptoms are similar to those who experience, thyroid problems, asthma or other respiratory conditions. I cannot say to someone with authority, if you have these symptoms, you definitely have ______ . There is more to it than that.
It is common, that different conditions, and different experiences, can result in shared symptoms.
First and foremost, you have to ask yourself ” am I in fact, blocking out memories,” or am I looking for memories, that I think I may have blocked out, based on something that I have read?
Our brain seeks to make sense of experiences, and sometimes, gathers evidence that appears correct, but for most of us, it can result in 2+2=5. We add bits on, to make sense of the information that we have.
I find it difficult to remember a lot of my childhood.
We do not remember a lot about our childhood, this is normal. Your brain does not have to remember every single detail of your life. You can probably remember most of what you have done this morning, or yesterday. If I ask you about last Thursday, or a specific day last month, you will start to struggle a little, unless someone specific or unusual happened.
When you have to look into the past, spanning years, your memory works a little different for you. For example, some people may remember starting school (I personally do not remember this.) and finishing the school, and the bits in the middle are very vague, or not accessible at all.
You might be able to recall specific details about school, maybe you fell one day and broke your leg, this would stand out amongst all the other other memories, as something unusual, or specific.
If I think back to my childhood, I cannot remember every day. I remember the summer of 1974, as it was particularly hot, the tarmac on the roads was melting, and myself and my neighbours got a paddling pool. I remember one boy being called out of class, and he was gone for a few weeks, as his mother had died. I remember little snapshots of things that were unusual, the rest is a bit of a blur.
What I am trying to say is, not remembering a lot of your childhood is normal, it does not necessarily mean that you are repressing anything, it is just how memory works.
I knew about sex when I was 8 and was curious about it.
This is one of those taboo areas, that is not discussed, but ask any psychologist, and they will tell you this is quite normal, in fact it is a healthy part of child development.
I fear that I was sexually abused as a child. How can I know?
From what you have said, this is a fear; a thought process, not an accurate reflection of reality.
You have to work on the assumption that it is a thought process based on fear.
I have this fear that I was sexually abused as a child. I think this is because I find it difficult to remember a lot of my childhood, and at an age as young as 8 I knew what sex was and was curious/experimental about learning about it.
From this part of your question, it looks like you are assigning some sort of causal explanation of events. Put simply, it looks like you are thinking, “I don’t remember much of my childhood, and I was curious about sex as a child, and this might mean that I had been abused.”
You might be trying to make sense of the statement. Sometimes, and I am just guessing based on what you have said, the brain makes mistakes.
For the point of explanation, you might have been worrying about the fact that you remembered having some sort of sexual interest as a child. Now for many people, realizing that, can make you feel uncomfortable or start to think ‘what is wrong with me’ ‘why was I curious about sex aged 8?’
You maybe did not answer that question in your head, the way I would answer it, which is
All kids are curious and play around with sex from an early age; ‘doctors and nurses’ games! It is part of normal healthy development.
If you went down the path of being uncomfortable and wondering why, it might have started to make you feel uncomfortable in your body; uneasy, stressed or fearful. So what have we got now? An interpretation of reality which might go something like this.
Thoughts: “I shouldn’t have been curious about sex, so young,”
Feelings: Uneasy, uncomfortable, maybe shame or guilt.
These thoughts and feelings need some sort of explanation, so you might have gone looking for explanation. You might have read something on the internet, or come up with the idea yourself, either way, it may have seemed plausible that ‘something must have happened to me, to make me not able to remember my childhood very well, and I was interested in sex.’
This is where it can get very messy. When 2+2=5. It might have made sense in your head, and now you have to deal with the thoughts of “I don’t remember being abused” but “I read that this is a sign that I was abused.” These thoughts can dominate your waking moments, where you constantly try to make sense of it.
To summarize, you have to look at the facts.
It is normal to be curious about sex as a child and it is normal not to remember much about your childhood.
Settling down the fear: by simple relaxation exercises, and or mindfulness.
When these thoughts come into your head, distract yourself from them, by paying attention to whatever you are doing. For example, if you are out walking and these thoughts come, bring all your attention to what you are doing, you are just walking.
The reason that I am suggesting this, is you do not want your brain to pay too much attention to it, as if you do, it can take on a life of its own and dominate your thoughts, and cause more fear, and the fear will in turn keep the thoughts going.
If you take away the fear using relaxation, your thoughts will calm down and give you more perspective.
I hope this helps