is false memory syndrome / fmsf?
Child abuse and the problems it can cause in later life came to the attention of doctors in
many fields starting in the mid60s. With the advent of women's liberation and other advocacy
groups for women and children, doctors began to look more carefully for evidence of child abuse
in all clients, particularly those who demonstrated unusual symptoms of any kind.
Child abuse really can be forgotten -- or put on the shelf, in a way -- until years later, and
it really can cause problems whether you remember it or not, especially if you think it was
your fault. The original goal of recovered memory therapy was to let clients look honestly at
what had happened and know they were not to blame. But many doctors -- led by Cornelia Wilbur,
the psychiatrist who worked with Sybil -- mistakenly thought that when a memory was put aside,
it meant another personality was holding it. In the process, they often persuaded non-multiple
clients to behave as if they were multiple, just in order to get through the therapy process.
People whose lives were in chaos might come in and be discovered actually to be multiple, or median. They might have been put through the memory recovery wringer when all they really needed was help organizing an operating system. In fact, in the 80s and 90s, being discovered to be multiple was almost a guarantee that you'd get no help in living plural -- just hours and hours of sorting out and "abreacting" traumatic memories, with integration as the ultimate goal -- whether that's what you wanted or not.
Abuse memories which were recalled without prompting or hypnosis were considered to be merely
surface or cover memories; only "memories" produced in therapy sessions, accompanied by re-
enacting the supposed event, were considered valid. Clients had to invent all sorts of
situations and dig up more and more "alters", in order to continue pleasing the therapist. They
were told they would "never get well" from their other life difficulties until these things
were fully explored and expiated. It was cultish, it was abusive, and it destroyed lives and
careers on both sides.
In cases of both real and imagined abuse, clients were encouraged to sue their parents for
damages. One who did was Jennifer Freyd. During research into the nature of memory and how it
is processed by the brain, Freyd realized that some of her childhood experiences constituted
parental abuse. Her parents, who stridently deny her allegations, founded the False Memory
Syndrome Foundation as a so-called protective organization for falsely accused parents.
While undoubtedly doing some good in genuine cases where a therapist has crossed the line, the
FMSF is also a shield for pedophiles, including Dr. Ralph Underwager, and the playground
of professional "skeptics" such as Amazing Randi and Martin Gardner, who seem not to have much
else to do.
Contributed by members of other plural groups, and non-plurals.
anonmyous member, Amorpha, @ 14 Jan 02 02:13:
When someone comes -- through coercion tactics and repeated insinuations
that any odd or out-of-place emotion, mental image or reaction must
represent a literal memory -- to believe in the reality of things that never
objectively happened -- whether as abuse memories, memories of supposed past
incarnations, memories of alien abductions, memories of being in the womb,
et al -- what do you call it other than "false memory"?
Telling someone on principle that their abuse memories are false, REGARDLESS of
whether they were ever induced into attempting to recall them or not, is
one thing, but telling people "you DO have memories of your past
lives, of being abducted by aliens, of being born, etc.; you just haven't
remembered them yet" is another. In the case of past lives and alien
abductions, at least, it's quite easy to prove induced recollections to be
obviously false. As far as I'm concerned, the primary criterion for
objective falsehoods lies largely in whether or not incidents recalled can
be proven as literal, physical truths.
In my opinion, groups like the FMSF are best treated as scions of the extreme atheist/skeptic movement, whose primary defining characteristic is an obsession with scientism, the belief that only science can be trusted to provide truth (a view which has been rejected by many scientists themselves). It's a somewhat cliqueish enclave of people acting like snobbish twits and whose primary goal appears to be scoffing at people whose religious and social beliefs they disagree with, using disguise words like "rationality" and "logic" and "reason."
Read some of the literature put out by groups like CSICOP sometime (which has a large crossover membership with FMSF) if you want an example of their type of thinking.
Someone once offered me the following analogy. Skepticism is like vegetarianism in the sense that though it does have its merits, the image of the whole thing gets tainted by blood-throwing zealots who want to divide the world into equal camps of Right and Wrong. (As a moderate skeptic and vegetarian, I can attest to the validity of both of these.) Thus, any good ideas offered by the movement get thrown out the window on principle by people who cringe away from the rabid zealotry, thinking, "Ew, I don't want to be like that."
It's important to remember that for most of these groups -- the FMSF, etc. -- they reject on principle that it's healthy to conceive of oneself as consisting of several distinct identities in one body, as they reject on principle the idea that it's healthy to be religious and to put faith in something that can't be proven. It has nothing to do with the reality of people who do live their lives this way and our healthy-- they want to feel Superior and Right. In terms of their stance on memory, it's a vicious co-opting of a legitimate idea which forces an artificial schism between "believers" and "non-believers," making it difficult for both people who have really repressed abuse memories to be taken seriously and believed by the "non-believers," and for people who have really experienced false memories to be taken seriously and believed by the "believers."
I spent a bit of time myself moving around in "skeptic" circles when I was a teenager, and I can tell you that they can be just as viciously fanatic as any born-again fundamentalists. They like to force the artificial polarity, just like fundamentalists--insinuating that one can't
believe in both God and evolution, or in both false memories and memory repression, despite the fact that millions of people do believe in seemingly "contradictory" ideas and have no problem with it.
Gina of the Hondas, @ 14 Jan 02 13:23 :
You know what you said about telling people they do have memories of all that stuff but didn't remember them? That's something we were really afraid would happen to us. We heard the
I think that makes a lot of sense. Tat we have groups that say you can't believe in both things, that it's either one or the other. The problem is that they tell people "Multiplicity isn't real and I have proof" and most people will believe them. Now that won't change the way
things really are for us, of course, but it means we have to do a LOT of work to undo the damage that is done with statements like that.
Shadra D @15 Jan 02 00:07 :
People seem to forget that -all- memories are not the absolute truth of the event that they remember... time, viewpoint, emotions.. all of these can alter a memory, and dammit, they do. And even then, two people witnessing the same event remember it differently...
... So it leaves me wondering, how can they go around saying that a memory is false when no memories are truly accurate?
Amorpha @ 15 Jan 02 08:37 :
Those horror stories that you mentioned... I know what you're talking about, actually. I've read the books like "Victims of Memory" and others down that same track, and they basically throw this worst-case scenario at you again and again: someone goes into therapy for depression or anxiety or something that can have the whole world's range of causes, get told all
their problems stem from sexual abuse, and if they don't remember it, they must be repressing it... and on down the track to telling them they have "MPD/DID," using hypnosis, that they have hundreds of "alters" induced by mind control or whatnot, person ends up in the mental hospital unable to function as a human being... the whole Pat Burgus-type scenario, basically.
I think that partly because of those types of books and the way they made multiplicity sound like a slippery slope, I was scared to explore or acknowledge any kind of plurality of identity in myself for a long time. I was afraid I'd end up like all those basket-case women who ended up accusing their parents of participating in big brainwashing cult conspiracies.
Now, obviously, even those people who're told their problems stem from sexual abuse don't necessarily end up like the scenario described above. It's more a scare tactic than anything, I think. "Give us money or they'll do THIS to your daughter/sister/wife/etc!" Some of the
fundraising letters I've seen from skeptic-type groups are... um... >_>
I think what people really lose sight of in an emotional debate like this one is the value of moderation. I need to re-find that book I was reading in the library tonight; it had some mention of this Indian philosophical/religious tradition (it wasn't Hindu, actually; it was for a relatively small religion called Jainism) which acknowledged the existence of seven different kinds of truth, or something along those lines, as opposed to the yes-or-no, right-or-wrong dualism that tends to prevail in this society. What caught my eye was that the "middle" ways, where truths from both "extremes" were permissible and could co-exist, were most esteemed... blah, I need to find it again and type it up. Anyway, I think a lot of psychologists could benefit from that type of thinking.
Anthony Temple, Astraea Jan 19 13:50 :
Having personally experienced FMS, I can say publicly that it is a sort of agreed-upon story that one lives as if it were fact. One can give oneself FMS by means of reading or watching films and intensely taking to heart the information presented. However, it is generally easier if there are at least two participants, one the recipient of said memories, the other
providing and reinforcing them. It need not be a therapist-client relationship. Let's call'em A and B.
In creating and maintaining false memories, it is assumed that B has knowledge of events in A's life of which A is unaware but takes B's word for it. As the narrative progresses, A is encouraged to form clear mental images of the events described or suggested by B, and to regard any related image or concept that spontaneously comes to mind as a memory. It helps if A believes he stands to gain something from close association with B and 'reclaiming' his memories; the goal could be improved mental health, a better understanding of one's past reincarnations, enhanced psychic ability, or simply a more intimate relationship with B.
The keys to a successful false-memory scenario are; denial of discrepancies in the narrative, denial or rewriting of one's actual memories, and a willingness to give one's life into the hands of another. It is necessary that A be convinced that B is in possession of knowledge which A himself does not have. It is also necessary that B herself be perceived (if not overtly present herself) as dominant in some way; as someone entitled to take some form of authority in A's life. (Again, it does not have to be a therapeutic relationship. B could say she was A's mentor in a previous life, for instance, or someone who's known about him for centuries.)
With the above ingredients you could make any number of puddings, pies, cakes and cookies. You can cause A to doubt his parental ancestry, behave as if he has psychic abilities like John Travolta's in "Phenomenon", or believe in all seriousness that he is multiple and that his various moods and flights of fancy are other selves striving for emergence. You can convince him he's Prince Gyanendra of Nepal for that matter. Temporarily, at least. Formal hypnosis is absolutely unnecessary in all of this; some psychological conditioning is all that's required.
In order to break the spell (and it is a kind of spell, although a psychological one) it may be necessary to get completely away from B and anything that reminds you of her. This is not always so easy, particularly if the game has involved the concept of telepathic communion, but it can be done. Once separated, one can begin to acknowledge the Large Holes In The Story and regain one's personal history.
Perhaps it is now easier to understand why I am so bitterly opposed to the idea that 'MPD is a disorder of memory'.
Amorpha @ 20 Jan 02 07:51 :
"A disorder of memory"? Oh, for the love of... *snarls randomly* I should get my rant about these issues up and running, because it includes a discussion of why Plurality. Has. Nothing. To. Do. With. Memory. PERIOD. And it's unfortunate not only that the two things became entangled in the public's mind, but then all the snarky "debunker" types had to go and grind in that fallacy by insinuating that "MPD" was always "induced" by therapists hypnotizing patients in an attempt to recover abuse memories. Sigh.
I read that definition of FMS that Gina quoted below. The more I read that definition, the more I really dislike it; it smacks of... I don't know how to define it, but you get to see the attitude a /lot/ in "debunking" circles. The type of behavior pattern you describe is... well, it's familiar to me. It's typical manipulator/victim behavior with induced helplessness on the part of the "patient"; it's the same thing you see in very manipulative religious groups.
I have to think about this some more...
Hel @ 20 Jan 02 13:38 :
*grabs coffee, bleary-eyed*
Inasha and Amorpha, I agree with you both. It does seem, at least to me, that it's possible for memories to be manipulated by someone who stands to gain something by doing so. It scares me to think that our own beliefs about ourselves can be so easily restructured to fit the needs of another.
It's just that...the fact that people have been hurt in this way, by others claiming to be helping them, saddens me.
I do think that traumatic amnesia and later recollection is possible, although we aren't discussing that here; I just wanted to throw that in for clarification. People who do remember events long forgotten are now easily dismissed, thanks to the people who have hurt others by claiming to "recover" memories.
I know we said this earlier, but it's a huge can of worms. What is our truth now, and how can we be sure?
If I've offended anyone with anything I've said, I'm sorry, it wasn't my intent.
Anthony, Astraea @ 20 Jan 02 18:06 :
"It scares me to think that our own beliefs about ourselves can be so
easily restructured to fit the needs of another."
Oh, they can indeed. What it takes is willing participation on the part of
the subject. You have to play along, or it won't work. Attempts to pull
back or to change the storyline may be seen as resistance or as "the
enemy are trying to get you" (there's always an enemy). When you stop
playing, the game stops, and you're left with whatever they didn't take
Amorpha @ 22 Jan 02 00:56 :
It's terrible, isn't it, to worry that memories which form a core part of
who you are could be created from nothing more substantial than sunbeams
and cobweb dust, bits and pieces of things which might not be real at all?
I agree with Inasha, though, I think. You can't just wake up remembering
things that never were, though recall is of course ever subject to
observer's bias. To enter into a state where you're prone to interpreting
every unusual thought or mental image as symptomatic of a memory requires
you to be making active effort, and usually another party (or several)
involved in a "coaching" role-- and, most of the time, for you to
be taking their judgement over yours. (Because if you ever start to feel
this didn't happen, it means you're going into denial again, and then
you'll NEVER get well-- oh, you know the deal. Blah.)