Recovered Memories

When I was in my early twenties, I delved briefly into Scientology.

I didn’t get into the high levels, mind you, so technically what I was doing wasn’t Scientology, it was Dianetics. But it was an interesting concept to me.

In case you’re not familiar with Dianetics, or are only familiar with the crazy alien shit that Scientology devolves to, Dianetics is based upon the premise that difficulties you experience in life are caused by mental blocks called engrams. Engrams are essentially emotionally charged negative beliefs that subconsciously limit your functioning. They are “implanted” through traumatic experiences in which strong negative emotions allow these beliefs to penetrate your subconscious. Engrams are removed through a process called auditing, in which you essentially regress to the traumatic event and run through the memories of it over and over until the emotional charge is depleted, which then releases the negative belief.

I have a really good memory, and it goes back far.  My oldest memory is a near death experience that I had when I was very young. My mother claims I wasn’t even two yet, but I suspect that I was closer to three. I have other very vivid memories from around that time, including my third birthday.

This particular memory was one that selected for auditing. It certainly qualifies as a traumatic event, and I figured it must be the root of some sort of psychic nastiness. So I went in with the auditor, focused on the memory, and ran it.

During the auditing process, it is accepted that as you run the memory, you will uncover more of it. Which means that in addition to running what you remember, you are adding more to that memory. And that was where I started having problems with the process.

I remember being at my uncle’s house. I remember playing with his car keys. He took the car keys away because I was playing with them near an electrical outlet. I kept trying to get them back. He didn’t think I saw him hide them under the couch cushion, but I did. I waited, and when he wasn’t looking reached under the cushion and took them. And went back to where I was. And I stuck that key in the electrical outlet.

I don’t remember being blown across the room. I don’t remember dying. And I didn’t remember my uncle doing CPR on me, until the auditing session. At which point I “recovered” those memories, which were the point of implantation for the negative beliefs. Because my grandmother was there, and was screaming about how what my uncle was doing wasn’t any good, and he was doing it wrong, and it wasn’t any use.

Here’s the problem: memories are fallible. I normally have a very good memory, but even I misremember things. And there are stories that I’ve heard but wasn’t there for, but have told so often and so well that the people who were there actually remember me being there, even though I wasn’t. Those memories can be adjusted, edited, and created. And the auditing process is a perfect situation for that to happen, even though the auditor is carefully trained not to ask leading questions.

Having a memory from so long ago is pretty tenuous. Recovering more of that memory is even more tenuous. Odds are that my original memory is less than exact, and that the reconstructed bits were less so.

That’s not to say that events didn’t happen that way. But the deeper into reconstruction I went, the less likely those memories were not accurate to actual events. And had the auditor phrased her questions the wrong way, she could have led me to believe I wasn’t remembering things that didn’t happen.

I knew this at the time. And it bothered me enough to be very skeptical of the process.

When I was younger, I saw the HBO movie Indictment. Starring James Woods and that kid from ET all grown up, the movie is a dramatization of the McMartin preschool child abuse case in the 80’s.

I remember growing up in the 80’s and hearing about the bands of Satan worshipers that were going around molesting children and killing animals. We locked the cat in the bathroom on Halloween so he wouldn’t get ritually sacrificed. I’m pretty sure my mother read one of those books. And the talk shows had people telling their stories of brainwashing and secret cults.

Well, it was all bullshit.

The McMartin case actually revised the standards for interviewing children because of the leading and abusive techniques used by the interviewers. Many of the children required therapy to cope with the false memories they had been given. The books disclosing the secret lives of Satanists were revealed to be hoaxes. The entire theory of repressed and recovered memories came into question, and is now largely discredited, as well as the theory of multiple personalities. All of these cases were linked in some way to a small set of psychologists that were shown to share similar preconceptions and ideals, and who all asked leading questions under the assumption that false memories, brainwashing by cults, and multiple personalities were common.

Because when you put someone in a trance state and ask them leading questions, they’re likely to agree with you. And it is possible for them to remember something because you suggested it. Even if it’s not true.

This is one of the reasons I tend to be skeptical of past life regressions and past life memories.

Those who have read my blog for a while will know of my ambivalence toward past life memories. I’m not sure if reincarnation is a thing, really. And if you have memories of living in the past, those memories may not be accurate. And even if they are accurate, they may not be true.

I have memories of several past lives. I have been regressed by people that I know very well and trust. But those memories are still suspect. Sure, some amount of research may add some veracity to those accounts, but I’m not sure to what end, especially if like me, you have a history degree, and are more than capable of filling in historically accurate details. Past life memories can easily be constructed through a combination of suggestive questioning, fantasy, and expectation.

If your goal is to prove reincarnation is true, then yes, you’d want all the details you can gather. If your goal is to figure out why that “memory” is relevant to your current life, it doesn’t matter so much.

There are past life memories that I trust a bit more than others. This is in part because the conditions they were recovered in were controlled to my satisfaction and facilitated by trusted individuals.  It is also because I have had psychic readings by third parties that provided an account of past life events in line with those memories. This does not mean that I belief those memories to be perfectly accurate, or even that I truly believe in reincarnation. It just means that if such things are real, I believe these particular accounts to be more likely to be genuine.

The big difference between past life memories and other examples of recovered or reconstructed memories is that past life memories don’t have a direct impact on your current life. If they are true or not isn’t relevant. If you reconstruct an account of Satanic Ritual Abuse that isn’t true, people can end up in prison. If you reconstruct a past life in ancient Egypt, the events have no impact on your life now, unless you are going to try to convince someone that such memories are proof that some historical event occurred in a certain way (which would be a rather difficult assertion to make).

The question to ask then is why the memory in question is important. What does it mean? How is it relevant to your current life? What does it help explain or illuminate about yourself? What lessons does it teach that can help you change?

Because the memories remain suspect. But what they can teach you about yourself can be useful.

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3 responses to “Recovered Memories

  1. Yes, even if we assume that past life memories are the product of wishful thinking, active imagination and suggestion, at the very least they immediately reflect the person you are (or were when the “memory” was “recovered”), like a lucid dream. The fact that the “memory” is constructed in a particular way reveals something about you – how you see yourself and how you negotiate your experiences.

    One clarification though – the diagnosis that is commonly called multiple personality disorder hasn’t exactly been discredited – it’s just been more carefully defined and given a new name, dissociative identity disorder. Of course, the popularized “face” of the disorder is quite different from the way it actually is, and many people were falsely diagnosed in the 80s. I think that’s what you were driving at, but I just wanted to offer a clarification.

    • When I was a psych major, my understanding was that DID itself was generally regarded as a misdiagnosis, usually of schizophrenia. The mechanisms underlying the disorder, primarily repressed memories, are not considered a viable phenomena. As far as I was aware, the only diagnoses of this disorder came from a very small number of psychologists that were all trained by the same people, and were all involved in the SRA scare and repressed memory circuit somehow, and that when evaluated by other psychologists those patients were diagnosed with different disorders. My abnormal psychology class did not even address DID except in passing.

      Now I’m not a psychologist, so I could easy be wrong, and new information could be available. But as far as I knew DID is not regarded as a valid diagnosis by most psychologists.

      • You know, I’ve never really talked with a psych major from another school – not about psychology anyway. 🙂 My professors talked about how different the (ostensibly) same psychology education can be from one school to another, but this is the first time I’ve encountered it.

        Although I didn’t learn about the information you shared, we did spend some time on DID. But our tour through the DSM came with a caveat. On one hand, it’s useful to classify symptoms for the purposes of identifying potential common causes/correlations that might become targets for treatment. On the other, it doesn’t really matter what you call a collection of symptoms when you’re dealing with a person who is suffering. There’s no doubt that some people experience episodes of dissociation and that they can act unlike themselves during those episodes. Whether there’s a separate “personality” operating during the dissociation isn’t really the point. I think I lost sight of this when I commented previously.

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