Nov 28 2011

Recovered Memory: Freud’s Belief, Then Rejection of Recovered Memories of Abuse

One only needs to examine the work of Freud to see the origins of the recovered memory debate.

In 1896, Freud wrote of a pattern of sexual abuse of women in eighteen consecutive cases.

Robert Dewey quotes Freud in his “Introduction to Psychology”:

“The event of which the subject has retained an unconscious memory is a precocious [unusually early] experience of sexual relations with actual excitement of the genitals,

resulting from sexual abuse committed by another person; and the period of life at which this fatal event takes place is earliest youth—the years up to the age of eight or ten, before the child has reached sexual maturity. A passive sexual experience before puberty: this then is the specific aetiology [cause] of hysteria.

…In some eighteen cases of hysteria I have been able to discover this connection in every single case and, where the circumstances allowed, to confirm it by therapeutic success. (1962/1896, p.199)”

However, Freud quickly changed his mind and argued that what he found as sexual abuse was merely a normal pattern of fantasy in families.

Historians and mental health practitioners look back on this reversal with disappointment, but some appreciation for the complexity of the issue.

Freud was using hypnosis, which contemporary research has found to contaminate the memory process. Also, the potential for there to be eighteen consecutive cases of sexual abuse seemed unlikely.

Whatever his rationale for changing his mind, one can easily assume there were very high incidences of sexual abuse and incest occurring. However, Freud’s powerful influence in the world, essentially shut the door on any serious investigations into these issues for about 100 years…it was a long time.

So, was Freud wrong to normalize these recollections of his clients as fantasy and disregard the possibility of them being sexually abused?

A look at the history of sexual abuse in the world begins to suggest a more massive problem with the sexual abuse of children, than anyone could ever possibly imagine.

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