Helping Family Member with Repressed Memories
I have recently discovered that my grandparent has been living a lie nearly all of her life. This grandparent has stated that her mother died when she was really young (which is true) and that her father died shortly thereafter (not true, he lived through to his 80’s). She has stated that she was an only child but recently it has been uncovered that she had both an older sister and an older brother. When asked what nationality her family was, she will state Polish and French but through an ancestry blood dna test of us younger generations she practically fully Jewish. I found a lot of information, including a first cousin of my parent, through this dna test, as well as a birth certificate which shows that my grandmother is actually 4 years younger than she has said that she is for the last more than 70 years. Her birth name is completely different than the first name she has now. If it weren’t for the dna test I never would’ve found out any of this information.
My grandmother gives off a lot of the symptoms of repressed memories, especially flying off the handle for what seems like very minute things. When we’ve asked her about her growing up years, she either says that she doesn’t remember or asks to change the subject.
Given all this newfound information, there is a lot of talk from her children (ages 60-70) in regards to confronting her with the information that we’ve come across. I am a bit concerned that perhaps she truly doesn’t remember much and for possibly good reason. There’s so many possibilities that I can think of, one being some sort of trauma. She was born in the 20’s and experienced her mother dying and being given to a caretaker who was reportedly an awful and mean person. My question is, what is the best way to confront her with all of this and how can we best support her during and after the information is all laid out on the table. She has nieces that want to meet her and she’s nearing 90 years old (94 in her appeared life). I am gravely concerned that her grown children (my parent and uncles) might inflict their own pain from her repression and anger towards them on to her through the process and if it turns out badly, then she’s left feeling all alone in dealing with this information.
Any and all advice is welcomed and appreciated! (From the USA)
A: Thank you for bringing this question to us. It is very complex, fascinating and, I can imagine, somewhat disturbing to have uncovered this information.
I think you need a family therapy specialist in inter-generational trauma to help you sort through all of the potential landmines and insights. I wouldn’t start confronting her until you received a consult from a family therapist who has experience with trauma in families. Perhaps this is too cautious, but you are dealing with sensitive information with an individual who is fragile.
I admire your sensitivity and caution in moving forward. The professionals I’ve recommended can help you sort this information through.
Tomasulo, D. (2017). Helping Family Member with Repressed Memories. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2017/11/07/helping-family-member-with-repressed-memories/