From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Repressed memories are memories that have been unconsciously blocked due to the memory being associated with a high level of stress or trauma. The theory postulates that even though the individual cannot recall the memory, it may still be affecting them consciously, and that these memories can emerge later into the consciousness. Ideas on repressed memory hiding trauma from awareness were an important part of Sigmund Freud's early work on psychoanalysis. He later took a different view.
The existence of repressed memories is an extremely controversial topic in psychology; although some studies have concluded that it can occur in a varying but generally small percentage of victims of trauma, many other studies dispute its existence entirely. Some psychologists support the theory of repressed memories and claim that repressed memories can be recovered through therapy, but most psychologists argue that this is in fact rather a process through which false memories are created by blending actual memories and outside influences. One study concluded that repressed memories were a cultural symptom due to the lack of written proof of their existence before the nineteenth century, but its results were disputed by some psychologists, and the lack of written proof was eventually partially disproven.
According to the American Psychological Association, it is not possible to distinguish repressed memories from false ones without corroborating evidence. The term repressed memory is sometimes compared to the term dissociative amnesia, which is defined in the DSM-V as an “inability to recall autobiographical information. This amnesia may be localized (i.e., an event or period of time), selective (i.e., a specific aspect of an event), or generalized (i.e., identity and life history).”
According to the Mayo Clinic, amnesia refers to any instance in which memories stored in the long-term memory are completely or partially forgotten, usually due to brain injury. According to proponents of the existence of repressed memories, such memories can be recovered years or decades after the event, most often spontaneously, triggered by a particular smell, taste, or other identifier related to the lost memory, or via suggestion during psychotherapy.
It was initially claimed that there was no documented writing about repressed memories or dissociative amnesia (as it is sometimes referred to), before the 1800s. This finding, by Harrison G. Pope, was based on a competition in which entrants could win $1000 if they could identify "a pre-1800 literary example of traumatic memory that has been repressed by an otherwise healthy individual, and then recovered." Pope claimed that no entrant had satisfied the criteria. Ross Cheit, a political scientist at Brown University, cited Nina, a 1786 opera by the French composer Nicolas Dalayrac.
One of the studies published in his essay involved a young woman by the name of Anna O. Among her many ailments, she suffered from stiff paralysis on the right side of her body. Freud stated her symptoms to be attached to psychological traumas. The painful memories had separated from her consciousness and brought harm to her body. Freud used hypnosis to treat Anna O. She is reported to have gained slight mobility on her right side. Freud's repressed memory theory joined his philosophy of psychoanalysis. Repressed memory has remained a heavily debated topic inside of Freud's psychoanalysis philosophy.
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- Dissociative identity disorder
- Interference theory
- Memory inhibition
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- Spectral evidence