Posted by: Marie | November 9, 2009

(181) Hidden memories

Post #181
[Book study – Sunday, July 12, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part Two: The Healing Process
A Stage of Healing: Remembering

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


The experience of remembering abuse varies greatly from survivor to survivor. Many women have always remembered their abuse. They may have minimized its importance, denied its impact on their lives, or been numb to their feelings, but they have never forgotten the events themselves.

Other survivors have selective or partial memory. They remember some occurrences but not others. Survivors sometimes remember physical or emotional abuse but not the sexual assaults. Or they may remember the context in which the abuse took place but not the specific physical events. There are also survivors who don’t remember anything about their abuse until the memories come crashing – or seeping in.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to remembering. You may have numerous memories. Or you may have just one. When you begin to remember, you might have new images every day for weeks. Or you may experience your memories in clumps – several in a matter of days, then none for months. Sometimes survivors remember one abuser or a specific kind of abuse, only to remember, years later, another abuser or a different form of abuse.

Photo by Martin Chen

Photo by Martin Chen

If memories come to you in fragments, you may find it hard to place them in any kind of chronological order. You may not know exactly when the abuse began, how old you were, or when it stopped. The process of understanding the fragments can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or being a detective.

All memories may not be literal representations of what happened. Some may be symbolic or may represent an aspect of the trauma, but not be wholly accurate. Yet there is an essential emotional truth to our memories, which can tell us a lot about how the experience has affected us.

Flashbacks are memories that are so vivid that you feel as though the original experience is happening again now, rather than just being remembered. Flashbacks may be accompanied by the feelings you felt at the time, or they may be stark and detached, like watching a movie about somebody else’s life.

Flashbacks are often visual, but that can involve any of the senses. What you heard, saw, smelled, tasted, felt, or thought can return with such immediacy that you actually relive the original experience.

Sense memory: Often it is a particular touch, smell, or sound that triggers a memory. You might remember when you return to the town, the house, or the room where the abuse took place – or when you smell a certain aftershave the abuser wore.

The body remembers what the mind chooses to forget. Memories can remain stored in our bodies – in sensations, feelings, and physical responses. Even if we do not know what took place, fragments of what we suffered endure. You may be assailed by unexplained physical pain or arousal, fear, confusion or any other sensory aspect of the abuse. You may physically re-experience the terror, your body may clutch tight, or you may feel that you are suffocating and cannot breathe.

Times When Survivors Remember

Memories come up under many different circumstances, often with some event or situation setting off the process. Sometimes women remember abuse when there is sufficient safety for the memories and feelings to emerge.

On the other hand, difficult or painful times may precede remembering. You may experience a loss, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, and feel as though everything in your life is unraveling. A contemporary event that resembles the original abuse can also trigger memories. Some women, for instance, have recalled childhood abuse when they were raped or attacked in adult life.

But memories don’t always surface in such dramatic ways. While talking with a friend, one woman suddenly heard herself talking about being abused as a child for the first time. “It’s as though I always knew it,” she explained, “It’s just that I hadn’t thought about it in twenty or thirty years. Up until that moment, I’d forgotten.”

Many survivors remember their abuse once they get sober, quit drugs, or stop eating compulsively. These and other addictions can effectively numb your feelings and block any recollection of the abuse, but once you stop, the memories often surface.

Other survivors remember at key milestones such as when they become a mother or after a significant death. Also, media coverage of someone else’s sexual assault or abuse can trigger the remembering.

Quotes 092


  1. How very true, my memories are always there. I have flashbacks daily and sometimes one word can set it off. That is why I write poetry about my abuse. Thanks for sharing this….

    • Hi, Mary –

      I think there are many of us who deal with various forms of triggering, including flashbacks. It is good to know we aren’t the only one!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Marie

  2. I went to a retreat this past wekkend and I did;nt mentioned (or even thought) about the rape by my ex partner. Is like I ereased it of my mind, I did told my story; but that part was gone until I read this blog.

    • Hi, Atabex –

      It sounds like you made some solid progress at the retreat and that your progress is continuing as you return to your regular routine. Take care of yourself, okay?

      – Marie

  3. Really good post. I like what you have to say. I have a question for you….how do you upload a photo for your publishing company and I cannot figure it out…and I see you use wordpress.

    • Hi, Erin –

      Thank you for the kind words!

      About the photo . . there seems to be two ways to do what I think you are asking about . . .

      1) Users – Your Profile – My Gravatar
      2) Settings – General – Blog picture / Icon

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Marie

  4. this book is so amazing! I have created a site called and it is partially because of a poem i read in the courage to heal that encouraged me to SHOUT out my abuse!

    • Hi, Toni –

      I agree that this book is very valuable . . . I am hearing that from so many people.

      I wish you the best in your healing journey . . . it always looks so different for each of us, yet there are so many underlying elements that are the same.

      Thank you for taking big steps towards breaking the silence!

      – Marie

  5. The Courage to Heal was a very important book for my partner – it has done so much good.

    Sometimes too people remember some stuff – and have always remembered it – but then other stuff is triggered. This can be quite shocking – “but I thought I knew it all” – and quite difficult to deal with.

    • Hi, Evan –

      That is a good point — that parts of a memory, or even whole sets of memories can be buried. The interesting part is that we are affected by all yet-to-be-healed memories, whether we can recall them or not.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Marie

  6. Good post. I don’t remember most of my childhood. I do remember some images as well as sounds. I have to say though I’m not sure that I want to remember even though it bugs me that I don’t. Having said that often things will come up for me. It is something that I can’t seem to control.

    I wonder if it is necessary to remember in order to heal? I seem to be at odds with myself when it comes to remembering!

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      I firmly believe that our psyches/souls causes us to “forget” reality when the present moment is too difficult to handle — and keep those memories hidden as long as we don’t have the tools to deal with them.

      I believe that the memories will surface when 1) we have to tools to handle them and 2) there is a healing benefit in the recovery of the memories.

      I believe that the memories will stay hidden as long as it is not in our best interest to remember. Our own souls know what is best for us — we just have to trust the wisdom of our own souls.

      I know I have spend many hours arguing with my soul — telling it I was ready to remember because I wanted to get the remembering “over with”.

      But, the memories didn’t come as a result of the arguing. I had to wait . . . and am still waiting . . . the memories are coming at a much slower pace than my brain says they should — I just have to trust that it is all coming together at the most beneficial pace.

      – Marie

  7. That is actually ringing true for me. Lately I have been trying with everything within me to remember – from visiting a childhood place where I lived to asking people questions. It’s certainly not helping. In fact it seems to be causing more problems within me. So considering what you said, which seems to make sense, maybe I should just take it easy.

  8. You know, I truly appreciated this post. For the first time, I’ve chosen to write about my experience on my blog, detailing not just the molestation that occurred but the other forms of abuse which took place. As I read your piece, I was all too aware of the ridicule and censure some women may get when recalling abuses decades after they’ve occured. Family members, friends, and those one has counted on could turn on them, making an already difficult journey seem even more impossible. The molestation which took place about a decade ago when I was eleven has severely schewed my view of men and trusting them.
    Thank you so much for what you’re doing, and keep up the good work.
    Yours Truly,

    • Hi, Gracesong –

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog! It is good to “meet” you.

      I hope you are finding your way through this maze called the healing journey. It can be a rough journey, but it is possible to find your way through. I trust you have some help.

      I look forward to hearing from you again!

      – Marie

  9. […] shame, healing addictions, and learning to trust. I came across an interesting post called Hidden Memories that is about remembering and some of the different ways memories may present […]

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