Amnesia of childhood abuse

It is known that the brain has many ways of protecting us from harm, including upsetting events and memories, and does everything in its power to protect our wellbeing and aid our development. Sometimes we are unable to recall certain events specifically, usually traumatic ones, as our brain has worked to block out any unhelpful information to us (Bremmer, 2006).

One known phenomenon is amnesia of childhood abuse; adults that cannot recall the abuse that they suffered as a child in its entirety. In a study done on 450 adults with a history of sexual abuse, 59.3% reported that before the age of 18 they all had a time in their lives where they could not remember the abuse (Briere & Conte, 1993). Those who still suffered psychologically from the abuse were more likely to have suffered from some sort of amnesia, along with those who gained injuries from the abuse. Interestingly this would support Freuds ‘seduction theory’ where he suggested that hysteria in adulthood is caused by repressed memories of abuse during childhood (Israels & Schatzman, 1993).

girl standing near vehicle

Amnesia for childhood abuse is seen to be an adaptive response, again to protect the wellbeing of the sufferer and to ‘promote survival’ (Freyd, 1994). It is quite common within research, and those that suffered from abuse have even portrayed high levels of dissociation, suggesting that child abuse can increase both amnesia and dissociative symptoms (Chu et al., 1999).

Bremmer, J. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues In Clinical Neuroscience8(4), 445-461.

Briere, J., & Conte, J. (1993). Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children. Journal Of Traumatic Stress6(1), 21-31.

Israels, H., & Schatzman, M. (1993). The seduction theory. History Of Psychiatry

Freyd, J. (1994). Betrayal Trauma: Traumatic Amnesia as an Adaptive Response to Childhood Abuse. Ethics & Behavior4(4), 307-329.

Chu, J. A., Frey, L. M., Ganzel, B. L., & Matthews, J. A. (1999). Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. American Journal of Psychiatry156(5), 749-755

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