[This excerpt is from Suggestions of Abuse:
True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma
, pp. , by Michael Yapko, Ph.D. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Copyright (c) 1994. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Read
our review or order
it from Amazon.com.]
REDEFINING YOUR MEMORIES
Some abuse experts suggest that the great majority of adult Americans come from "dysfunctional
families" where some level of abuse, however mild or severe, was present. Where this idea comes from is
not clear, but there is no question that whenever you broaden criteria for membership, more people join the
club. Some go so far as to rank the petty disappointments, humiliations and rejections of life as abuse right
alongside serious cases of violence or incest. Such superficial examples trivialize the depth of pain that
survivors of serious abuse suffer. They also illustrate the point that old memories can be redefined in light of
Why do so many people inappropriately jump on the recovery movement bandwagon? Quite frankly, I
think that when you appeal to the lowest common denominator in people, you will always get a big
response. Television programs that are crude and vulgar are big hits. Movies that are sexually explicit or
graphically violent are instant box office successes. Many recovery experts shine their spotlights on people's
emotional needs, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. They soothe people with acceptance and cajole them with
permission to "let it all hang out." Any time you offer to free people from personal responsibility and let
them loosen their restraints, you'll have lots of followers.
Some leaders of the abuse recovery movement give powerful emotional validation to those who already
feel justified in identify mg themselves as victims-abused by their parents' insensitivity, neglect, or rejection.
Who wasn't painfully disciplined at
times? Who wasn't told "no" when he or she wanted to be told "yes"? Who has never been hurt, humiliated,
or ignored, and who hasn't suffered all the rest of what happens that is painful in human relationships? Such
leaders provide definitions of abuse that will cover these instances, too, even if you were not violently or
sexually assaulted. They offer sympathy in these generally unsympathetic times, and they promise eventual
salvation if only you believe. Their widespread acceptance is one indicator of how poor many people's self-
esteem really is.
Adding new perspective to old experiences can literally rewrite them. "Modest upbringings" may become
redefined as "poverty," a "hard-working father" may be redefined as "detached and Unavailable," and a
"loving and protective mother" may become a "co-dependent." (They used to just be "Mom and Dad.") Once
the new labels stick, it's hard to lose sight of them, and they tend to create new issues that justify lots of
therapy by standing out suddenly as if in neon. Many therapists argue smugly that this is what achieving
mental health is all about. Meanwhile, though, research shows that people are more anxious, depressed, and
substance-dependent than ever. While the number of therapists in the country has roughly doubled in the last
decade, the mental health of the country has not improved accordingly. All sorts of issues can get stirred up
in you as you learn to rewrite your own personal history with new perspectives obtained in therapy. Therapy
can be especially powerful in this rewriting process when it involves the questionable premise of
unquestioningly bringing to light and beheving repressed memories.
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