Normal not to Remember Abuse?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW


I was sexually abused when I was a child. I don’t have any really consistent memories. the only consistent memory i have is not normal. basically, it was at an after school program, i was about 7 years old. he would get me alone and i remember him touching me, holding me, etc…but then when the abuse happened (I was sitting on his lap) i don’t remember what was happening. I remember being there, being present, but I don’t know what was happening with my body. i would stare at the poster on the far side of the room but i have no idea what was happening to my body. its like my body was not attached to my head. basically, i don’t remember? but i do remember. i could read that poster to you in detail, tell you all about the mountain range on it, how many peaks there were, i could tell you about the desk in the corner of the room, how many pens were in the pen cup, but i don’t remember what was happening with my body. i feel crazy. is this insane? do i have any right to say i was abused if i don’t remember the ‘meat’ of the abuse? and why don’t i remember it, if i was there, and present? is this totally abnormal? i want to be able to talk about the abuse but i’m afraid that saying it happened and then when asked what happened saying, ‘i have no idea.’ makes me sound like i’m making it up. what if nothing happened while i was there on his lap? i remember him touching me other times but that seems like the most important time, we were alone, and yet i don’t know what was happening? am i insane?

A. No, you are not “insane.” During the abuse, your conscious mind was “tuned out.” Your unconscious mind took over in order to protect you. Dissociating during a traumatic experience is not uncommon. Dissociation is a psychological defense mechanism.

One reason to explain your inability to recall the “meat” of the abuse is that you are not psychologically ready to handle those memories. Your unconscious mind may be protecting you from having to relive potentially painful and traumatic memories.

You may never have total recall of the abuse. You cannot force yourself to remember. Defense mechanisms are not within our control; they are unconsciously generated. Perhaps those memories will be revealed to you when you are psychologically ready. Only time will tell.

I would encourage you to read about psychological defense mechanisms, dissociation and abuse. It may help you to better understand your situation. You may also want to consider seeing a trauma specialist. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Apr 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Normal not to Remember Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/04/16/normal-not-to-remember-abuse/