Secret Traumas: Fathers and Daughters

You can’t reveal family secrets if you hide them from yourself ~~Alethea

Father/Daughter Incest: Amnesia Makes Sense

(Edited and amended from a 2012 article)

The betrayal, shame, and guilt attached to father/daughter incest is far greater than if another male is sexually molesting a child. When a father is sexually abusing his child there is also a high probability that the victim’s mother is facilitating or ignoring the abuse, which can contribute to amnesia (repressed memories) for sexual abuse.

It is also more likely that the abuse will be covered up and denied by other family members when the father is the perpetrator. This veil of secrecy aids in repression.

~Marilyn Van Derbur

~Marilyn Van Derbur

Father/daughter incest is undeniably linked to deeper emotional pain, guilt, shame, and betrayal —especially if the child enjoyed being touched or having sexual intercourse with her biological father.

The complicated dynamics of a biological father committing incest on his child increases the chances of a woman blocking out the sexual abuse completely, until adulthood.

An adult survivor of father/daughter incest might also be more likely to deny the memories of her father being a sexual perpetrator, once the memories begin to emerge from their subconscious mind.

The number of years that a child is abused, and the age that sexual abuse begins, are two elements that some experts believe contribute to amnesia. Biological fathers usually have access to their children in the early stages of the child’s life. Many step-fathers don’t come into the picture until the children are much older, at an age less likely to repress the abuse. (please note that if a child is sexually abused by a family member at a young age, and blocks it out, and then is sexually abused later on –as a teenager– they will likely also block out any sexual abuse committed against them. It could be rape by a male friend, or rape by a step-father or father figure who comes into the teenager’s life later on)


Many women declare that mothers are usually not aware of father/daughter incest going on in the home but at least 43% of women know, and do nothing to stop the incest between their daughter and their husband (or boyfriend), and deliberate lack of maternal protection is a main contributing factor in cases of repression.

Some women do manage to leave an abusive husband, or at least confront him and force counseling, but this means a minimal system of denial within the family, and therefore, less of a chance of the victim developing dissociative amnesia (repressed memories).

The entire process of dissociative amnesia has to do with repressing trauma. Rape constitutes shock, severe emotional pain, and much more physical suffering than oral sex and fondling. The suffering of molestation victims, who have not experienced rape, is not to be minimized. I know that most all child sexual abuse is terrible and can seriously damage a person, but child rape, and on-going sexual intercourse with one’s father is more likely to repressed.

A study by Elliot found that ninety-four percent of those who reported never-forgotten abuse had not been penetrated by their perpetrator and the predominance of those with full memory loss, had been raped.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is highly associated with repression of trauma, is linked to penetration, and death threats.

I interviewed a woman with continuous memory of being molested by her grandfather. After he fondled her, the memories stop just as her grandfather came at her as if he was about to rape her. She lost all memory at that point, yet she suffers from a sharp pain in her vagina that has plagued her well into adulthood and the affliction has no medical explanation.

There are a multitude of studies which show that prolonged severe trauma is more likely to be repressed. In addition, dissociative amnesia cases involving abuse that lasted months or years, have been corroborated and documented with abuser confessions, witnesses, or court convictions.

The earlier the sexual abuse began, the more frequent and long lasting, then the more traumatic and damaging the child sexual abuse becomes. People who have continuous memory (never-forgotten memories) of only one incident may have been rescued during, or after, the molestation or rape occurred. This significantly lowers the chance of repression and strongly indicates little or no denial within the family. Family denial is a strong contributor to repressed memories.

Some people, especially family members of those who –as adults– recall having been sexually abused as children, will deny memories of sexual abuse in infancy or the toddler years. Studies show that infants and toddlers can remember trauma.


Keep in mind that, whether or not the child remembers the incident, the abuse must be processed within the child’s mind. If an infant or toddler is sexually assaulted, they will still register it as trauma. The child may not be able to verbally express their pain or even understand it, but the trauma is being inflicted on the child’s body and on their emotions. The event has to be recorded in some form. The experience does not just bounce off the child’s brain and fly into the cosmos. So even children who are so young that they do not remember being abused, abandoned, or sexually violated –they will experience psychological and physical problems later in life.

Multiple Abusers is Common

Families with a system of denial, and which harbor inter-generational incest, are likely to have more than one perpetrator living among them. The abuse by one family member can create an entire atmosphere of incest. If everyone is silent about the primordial incest, then other family members –those with a potential towards abusing children, might feel they have been given a green light to also begin molesting the child. The very fact that no one stopped the original abuse, and because the child may be so weak and victimized, the child is automatically set up to be attacked by others, and or, be groomed into a sexual interaction with a sibling.

Sometimes the perpetrator orchestrates sexual acts with other family members that include the victim. The abuser may use threats to initiate the acts, or they may have a willing participant, like an older brother, an uncle, or even an older sister…or the mother.

A sexualized child might learn a pattern of how to gain attention and seek it from other male or female family members. Once the system of repression begins, the child learns how to automatically block out the incest –even if being abused by multiple perpetrators.

Remembering Child Sexual Abuse Can Feel Like the Trauma Just Occurred

Anyone who experiences any kind of trauma for the first time will certainly go through a crisis stage. When a person begins to remember previously repressed memories of child sexual abuse, the person feels as if the sexual assaults just took place. The adult survivor will go through turbulent emotions, physical reactions, and mental changes. When memories surface in adulthood, there is a strong level of emotional trauma because their lives have been shaken to the core. This is why PTSD feels as if the trauma is still happening.

In addition, victims who recall abuse memories as adults, frequently face re-victimization after remembering the trauma. This can be brought on by some or all of the following circumstances:

  • Disbelieving family members
  • Being cut off from the biological family
  • Not being included in family reunions, holidays, or celebrations
  • Being called horrible names by loved ones
  • Threats by family members who don’t like the family secrets being revealed
  • Threats by the perpetrator

There will also be added stress when the survivor has a husband and children who hear about the sexual abuse for the first time, or in some cases, the person remembering the trauma feels they cannot share their pain with their spouse or children, and they are forced to bury their trauma all over again.

People who remember their trauma after years or decades, have lived without such awareness for so long that when the truth comes out, it can be taxing on their belief system. The survivor not only has to deal with their own denial system, but they usually have to face the denial of biological family members, and in some cases, disbelieving friends or co-workers.

Marilyn and her father

Marilyn and her father

I don’t think Marilyn Van Derbur ever questioned herself (at least I do not recall ever reading that she did), but Marilyn’s sister, Gwen, openly admitted that her father had also raped Gwen as a child. Unlike Marilyn, Gwen never forgot. So in Marilyn’s case, she had strong validation from her sister. But this is is unusual.

Death threats have specifically been linked to delayed recall of abuse

It is beyond dispute that dissociative amnesia is associated with extreme abuse and trauma. Abusers often use serious threats to silence the victim into a deliberate dissociation (repression). Threats on the life of a child cause unrelenting trauma, and are congruous with a perpetrator who would do other extreme and deviant things to the child.

The subconscious mind has a system which protects a person from the most difficult memories until deep into the remembering process, and at a point when the person has the strength to come to terms with what is being remembered. Memories of the most severe aspects of child sexual abuse, invariably come toward the end of therapy –or much later in the course of recall.

Bizarre or unusual violations are more likely to be covered up by those involved, which can add to traumatic amnesia.

Repressed memory has been recorded for at least one hundred years prior to 1990, but it was not until the 1980’s that women felt they could finally talk about being sexually assaulted as children. The ancient Egyptians used a form of hypno-analysis in their time. It was used to clean out the subconscious mind of Egyptian Initiates.

Prior to the 1980’s, mental health experts and society in general, did not allow themselves to know that child sexual abuse, much less incest, even existed. Or it was considered rare.

Many judges and law enforcement blamed the victim. Is it any wonder that accusations about child sexual abuse were not heard of in any large numbers until victims and survivors found themselves in an era of refuge?

More women entering the field of psychology contributed to the ability of women to feel comfortable enough to speak with a professional about such sensitive issues. In addition, the first half of the twentieth century harbored a generation that did not believe in seeking help from mental health professionals. It was considered a sign of weakness –airing family problems was usually believed to be shaming and scandalizing to the family.

Speaking Out To Family Members

The word “confront” often implies that the accuser verbally attacks the accused when they first speak of their memories, but the manner in which a person approaches family members, or their abuser, is no indication of how those family members will react. When I spoke openly to my biological family, I did so in private letters, and private emails, and did so from a place of forgiveness and a desire to have truth and a new-formed relationship – based on that truth.

Each and every time, I was personally attacked, insulted, demeaned, denied, ignored, cut off, or threatened.

How I felt when my biological "family" treated me like worthless garbage.

How I felt when my biological “family” treated me like worthless garbage for daring to talk about what happened to me.

I am not alone. Most people experience what I did. This is because those who harm children, or those who protect the abuser, don’t want to hear about their role in serious crimes, or in having neglected to protect a child, or in having sexually abused a child. They hoped that as time wore on, the victim would forget, and that superficial family ‘pleasantries’ would trump the victims need for truth and desire to heal their past.

So when the victim dares to talk openly about the crimes, or ask questions, or tell the family how much they suffered and that they want to deal with the past…the family members, abusers, and those who protected the abusers are forced to deal with themselves, and they do not want to.

People who repress their abuse and speak of the sexual violation when they remember it, are often called terrible names by their family or told they are liars. Sometimes they are threatened or their integrity is attacked, but it is this ugliness -not the truth being spoken- which usually leads to any separation of the relationship.

In some cases siblings who were also sexually abused, will also lash out at the person because they do not want to face their own pain. They simply cannot handle the truth and cannot face what happened to them too.

The family’s multiple and dysfunctional emotional dynamics can largely impact an adult who has spoken openly about child abuse memories. Family members have a powerful emotional bond that therapists, spouses, friends, and lovers do not have.

There is nothing stronger or more potent than the emotional ties one has to their biological family.

Please see my series on revealing the secret to family members. Click here



The Secret Trauma Introduction to the 1999 Edition of the Great Incest War: Moving Beyond Polarization, Diana Russell, Table 1-1 Contrasting Characteristics of Retrieved/Then Retracted Memories and Continuous Memories of Incestuous Abuse
New York, Basic Books/Perseus Press, 1999, xvii-xiii
Healing from the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Journey for Women, Karen A. Duncan, page 12
Williams, L. M. (1995, October). Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories.  Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8(4)
Trauma, dissociation, and post traumatic stress disorder in female borderline patients with and without substance abuse problems. Van Den Bosch LM, Verheul R, Langeland W, Van Den Brink W.
Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2003 Oct; 37(5):549-55.
Traumatic Events: Prevalence and Delayed Recall in the General Population, Diana M. Elliot, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Philip C. Kendall Editor, Volume 65 No. 4, August 1997, page 814, Published by the American Psychological Association
 The Recovered Memory Project, Ross Cheit,
 Babies Remember Pain, David B. Chamberlain Ph. D., Pre-and Peri-Natal Psychology, Volume 3 Number 4: Pages 297-310, Summer 1989
Dissociations in Infant Memory, Carolyn Rovee-Collier, Ph.D, Spring 1999 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 26-30), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN).
Posttraumatic Stress Associated with Delayed Recall of Sexual Abuse: A General Population Study Diana M. Elliott and John Briere Journal of Traumatic Stress Volume 8, Number 4 October 1995 Special Issue: Research on Traumatic Memory Guest Co-Editor: Jessica Wolfe)
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