“False Memory Syndrome”: A Perpetrator’s Dream

“Little attention has been paid to the notable fact that there has been an identifiable “false memory syndrome” known for centuries –perpetrators of many crimes are well known to deny charges brought against them.” ~ Sandra L. Bloom 1

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was founded in 1992 by the parents of Jennifer J. Freyd, a highly respected psychology professor and memory researcher, who privately accused her father of sexually abusing her as a child.  Jennifer’s father denied Jennifer’s memories and her parents formed the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Jennifer’s mother is the executive director of the FMSF. In their book, Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors, Whitfield, Silberg, and Fink, offer evidence which supports Jennifer’s accusations.

“False Memory Syndrome” has no scientific basis and there are no documented cases. There have been cases of people who were led to believe they were sexually abused when they were not (These instances appear to be uncommon) and there are some people who make up stories of abuse (This is highly uncommon), but these facts are not synonymous with a “syndrome.”

“False Memory Syndrome” is a non-existent “disorder” that is not recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Medical Association. It has never been proven to be a medical condition, clinical syndrome, or a disease. Research has found no evidence that exhibits the likelihood that a false memory of abuse can be implanted into a person’s mind. 2

Prior to the formation of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, the term and concept of any such syndrome was non-existent among mental health professionals. Most psychologists and rational-minded people agree that someone can be confused or lie about abuse memories but not to the extent of it being a societal problem.

The FMS movement has played a large part in the erroneous idea that repressed memories are some kind of mass delusion. The FMSF appears to have based its evidence on the denial of the accused and their wives, and on the retraction from a few persons who had at one time accused someone of abuse. Retraction of abuse claims do not mean the abuse did not happen and denial from accused child molesters has existed since the beginning of time.

The proponents of FMS consistently attack therapy as “mind control,” when in reality, backlash from family members reacting to the unveiling of long-kept secrets can be a form of mind control. To my knowledge, the advocates of FMS have not addressed the fact that family members have a much stronger influence on a person than a therapist does. The family’s multiple and dysfunctional emotional dynamics can largely impact an adult who has spoken openly about child abuse memories. It is highly plausible that in many cases, family members, not a therapist, have re-created the truth of the accuser’s childhood. A therapist is an outsider and a stranger when the patient begins therapy. Family members have a powerful emotional bond that therapists do not have.

The need to reject the truth begins within the family. It is deeply embedded in every aspect of their lives. It then filters out to friends, neighbors, co-workers, and then to the media, judges, and even some in the mental health field who come from a generation when abuse was considered rare. Incest is not a normal topic of conversation at bridge parties or company picnics, and the child who is being abused in a seemingly “normal” home can conform to the collective denial system by repressing her memories. Society says, “That good-looking man in the coat and tie would never harm a child. His daughter must have False Memory Syndrome!”

1. Hearing the Survivor’s Voice: Sundering the Wall of Denial, Sandra L. Bloom, The Journal of Psychohistory, A publication of the Institute of Psychohistory, Vol 21, Number 4, spring 1994, page 471

2. Kristiansen, C.M., Haslip, S.J., and Kelly, K.D. 1997, Scientific and Judicial Illusions of Objectivity in the Recovered Memory Debate, Feminism and Psychology, 7, 39-45)

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