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Question
Posted by: naked nun | 2008/06/06

traumatic amnesia?

CS, i'm wondering about something you said to someone a few days ago (cannot remember where) but basically you said (unless i misunderstood) that whenever someone has a traumatica experience, that it's never 'forgotten'; and is always on the forefront of that person's mind.
So you wouldn't believe a person if he/she eventually remembered a very very traumatic incidence that happened to that person as an infant/toddler? Would you say that person is either vindictive, or insane, or both?

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Our expert says:
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Not always in the forefront of the mind, but ( and this is different from what the quacks preach ) never forgotten --- nobody who was in the Holocaust, or an earthquake, or whatever, ever forgets that it happened to them. They may not at all think of it all day or every day, but they'll never be unable to recall that it did happen.
Now, set aside the term "traumatic amnesia" which is memory disturbance caused by physical trauma to the brain. After my car accident, for instance, there is a persistent gap for which I can't recall what happened after my severe concussion, and I will never regain that chunk of memory, because, frankly, my recorder wasn't recording at the time.
I would indeed be deeply suspicious of someone who suddenly remembered some awful event from early childhood which they previously never had the gaintest inkling of. Indeed, as an infant and young toddler, you are similarly not recording properly, and the anatomical and chemical brain mechanisms for forming memories are not present --- its only around 4 or 5 that this skill becomes more usual. Prior to that there may be false "memories" created by what others may tell you about what they think happened, or what they think you ought to remember.
There are mischievous and inaccurate and misleading books and movies which suggest otherwise and can encourage people to form "memories" of things that didn't happen. And someone who finds they suddenly are persuaded that they have a "memory" of something they never previously had any awareness of, especially if this was supposed to have happened in the period when they would not have been able to form proper memories, I would consider them generally to be sincerely mistaken and misled. Not in the least insane, and no reason to consider them vindictive, either.
Its rather like a memory equivalent of an optical illusion ---which can encourage you to see something that isn't there, but which really seems to be there. You're not vindictive or insane for seeing the illusion --- but that doesn't make the illusion "real" either.

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