Rachel Downing says she was terribly abused by her father, an Episcopal minister, and that he killed Rachel’s animals in order to silence and punish her. As an adult, Rachel suffered from physical problems that were unable to be diagnosed, and she endured depression from the time she was a child. As an adult, she went to an emergency hospital seventeen different times within three months for pain in her abdomen. Doctors eventually performed surgery in order to find the cause; they found nothing.
Rachel had repressed the memories of being sexually abused by her father, and like myself, she had experienced life-long behaviors and physical problems that she could not explain. As a child Rachel had dark thoughts of things she could not understand, like the death of animals, bondage, and sexual acts. In addition, she suffered from irrational fears.
Rachel’s memories began to emerge following her father’s death. After examining school records, her own diaries, photos, letters, family papers, and after speaking with family members, she found corroboration. 7
Rachel concluded psychotherapy and healed from Dissociative Identity Disorder. She recovered from anxiety attacks, depression, and from her physical ailments. “False Memory Syndrome” proponents don’t usually like to speak about the cases of repressed memories in which the survivor becomes free from their suffering, unless it is to say that the person healed because they simply “believed” they were abused and that their symptoms went away with “wishful thinking.”
A person cannot just magically rid their lives of a multitude of psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms, many of which were with the person years before they entered therapy, by merely assuming something is true when it is not. If pure belief worked then mental and medical health professionals would go out of business. We could all just invent things about our past in order to rid ourselves of debilitating disease and mental illness.
If FMS supporters feel that the mind has the power to rid a person of disease, simply by inventing and believing in non-existent events, then they must be willing to consider that the mind has the power to repress real trauma, and recall the memories later in life.
In The Myth of Repressed Memory, Loftus says “Believers claim that even while the traumatic memories are safely buried, the emotions entombed with them seep into our conscious lives.” 2 It baffles me that a professor of psychology does not understand that subconscious forces drive the behaviors of human beings and have a profound affect on their interactions with others. How can a psychology professor not know that people’s over-reactions to certain situations, their choice of partners, and their emotions and fears are driven by the unconscious mind?
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(Elizabeth Loftus, PhD., testifying for the defense in the Paul Shanley child sexual abuse trial in February 3, 2005. In spite of her testimony, Shanley was convicted of child rape. Photo by Jodi Hilton/Getty Images)
Maybe Elizabeth Loftus does not comprehend unconscious forces because she feels that her own personal experience with child molestation did not affect her adult life. She says that a babysitter fondled her and explains, “I never forgot this memory, nor did I repress it” and she says, “Even though it affected me deeply, I choose to leave it in my past. I think that’s where it belongs.” 3 I assume that Dr. Loftus is not implying that everyone who has suffered severe child sexual abuse and other types of trauma, should just “let it go” and “move on” with their lives, as if placing an unused item in the back of a drawer? Certainly she wouldn’t have the ignorance to say that? Or would she?
According to the account of Dr. Loftus, she was not raped, threatened, choked, or forced to have oral sex by her own father with no protection from her mother. Elizabeth Loftus did not repress her experience because, according to her own account of the event, she did not suffer a trauma.
1. A Flight of Mind, Pamela Oldham, The Washington Post, February 18, 2003, Page HE01)
2. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin’s Press New York, 1994, Page 7
3. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin’s Press New York, 1994, Page 226