Patricia Singleton of Spritiual Journey of a Lightworker has a very validating brief post on memories, self-doubt and disbelief among survivors of abuse. In this post, she highlights that memories will come to your conscious when you are ready to deal with them, and that the self-doubt many survivors have does not indicate that the memories are not real, but that the survivor is not ready to face their feelings.
Joke Lijnse, a Dutch psychologist specializing in dissociative disorders, writes that traumatic memories, unlike other memories, remain intact until they are recovered. Regular memories are distorted by our reconstructive capacity when recalling them, but traumatic memories, she says, come to your conscious unchanged. This does not mean they come to mind in full at once: many people experience flashbacks and memories that only have a certain component of the actual event to them, such as a smell, the perpetrator’s appearance, or an emotion experienced during the abuse. Now I am not certain what Lijnse’s opinion is based on, and have not looked for research that validates it, so I am not sure she is right.
However, in essence, it is not important whether your memories are 100% true, unless you are going to pursue legal action based on them. The things that are important, are the emotions you experience as you recover and process a traumatic memory and the way you cope with these feelings. Therefore, constant self-doubt and invalidation are not going to be productive. Rather, we need to be validated in our experiences and validate our own feelings. Memories may or may not be distorted, but you have to deal with them as they come to you in the present, not as you experienced them in the past.
An earlier version of this entry was posted at my two personal blogs in April of 2011.
There was a discussion on a DID forum I participate on, in which someone asserted that there is a hierarchy of trauma-based disorders from PTSD via complex PTSD and other dissociative disorders to dissociative identity disorder. I have read similar things before, such as in the dissociative spectrum, where depersonalization is on one end and DID is on the other, with dissociative amnesia and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified being inbetween.
I strongly disagree with this hierarchy of disorders. After all, both depersonalization disorder and PTSD – the “mildest” forms according to either spectrum – can be very severe and disabling. It is true that depersonalization and other dissociative phenomena often accompany DID, so in that respect the dissociative spectrum makes some sense. However, it is not always true that DID encompasses all other dissociative phenomena.
Secondly, there is a lot of overlap between dissociative disorders and (complex) PTSD. There is also a lot of comorbidity. This makes it harder to presume a hierarchy between PTSD and DID: most people with complex PTSD, also have some dissociative features or disorder, and most people with DID or DDNOS also have a form of PTSD.
Lastly, it is simply invalidating to presume a hierarchy of trauma-based disorders. No trauma is “mild”, and its consequences should never be trivialized. Presuming a continuum of trauma or its consequences, is therefore offensive to people presumed to be “mildly” affected.