As reports of false memory increase, you realize that you were not, in fact, molested.
September 23, 2010 9:21 AM   Subscribe

In "My Lie" author Meridith Maran reveals her own painful history with recovered memory: she accused her own father of molesting her, and years later learned that her recollections had been false. Interviewed today on NPR,Maran equates her journey through the recovered memory movement to the persistent political lie that President Obama is a Muslim.

Considered a "true child of the Sixties".

Maran, a friend and associate of the authors of The Courage to Heal came to the conclusion that she had "recovered memory" of having been sexually abused by her father.
Years later she retracts her claim of the abuse and re-establishes contact with her father whose own memory is being compromised by Alzheimer's Disease.

Finally, from Salon:

In the middle of the book, while you are still deeply in the mind-set of being molested, there's a notion you agree with that if one innocent man goes to prison, but it stops a hundred molesters, it's worth it. Do you still agree with that notion?

I'm fairly close to a man still in prison, and really believe he is innocent. I know how he's suffered. I know he's 80 years old and in ill health. He's spent 20 years in prison, for no reason. If every elementary school child is now taught how to protect themselves from sexual abuse -- and even more to the point, some father or preschool teacher who feels the urge to molest a child will be inhibited from doing so because they think there are guys still in jail for doing that -- but innocent people are in prison, do I have to make that choice? It is a Sophie's choice kind of thing. Would I allow an innocent man to sit in prison if it meant keeping children safe?

So would you make that choice?

I think so.
posted by pianomover (67 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
and even more to the point, some father or preschool teacher who feels the urge to molest a child will be inhibited from doing so because they think there are guys still in jail for doing that

What an idiotic thing to say. Does she think that molesters don't already know that people are serving jail terms? Why would an innocent man serving time be likely to tip the balance?
posted by OmieWise at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [19 favorites]


By little brother when to McMartin Preschool in Southern California. This was well before the accusations and trials, but we followed them closely.

I also have a friend who claims to have recovered memories of being abused by her mom and grandmother. She is very detailed about it, down to attributing her current sexual turn-ons to these episodes. But it is hard to picture her narratives actually happening.

One of the dynamics, of all of this, and it may well be true of a wide range of human thought, is that emotions trumps facts. The bigger the emotion, the smaller role that facts have in the equation.
posted by Danf at 9:31 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maran equates her journey through the recovered memory movement to the persistent political lie that President Obama is a Muslim

This is a bizarre comparison, made to reassure her friends on the left that just because she has withdrawn from one popular narrative of victimization, she still hates all the right people and can utter the necessary political shibboleths. In truth, her journey through the recovered memory movement is more like emerging from a extreme religious or political cult, including fundamentalist groups of all stripes, Scientology, Marxist cults, and the psychoanalytic cults that flourished on the Upper West Side in the 70s and 80s. All of these begin by turning you against your parents and separating you from your families -- often by inculcating suspicions of mental and physical abuse. Our whole nation has yet to come to a full understanding of the madness-of-crowds that was the recovered memory movement. Was it political, psychological, economic, or what? However it was generated, we shouldn't forget it -- real-life witchhunt that it turned into. Maran and the rest may have ruined as many (or more) lives and careers as the McCarthyite "witch hunts" of the 1950s.
posted by Faze at 9:39 AM on September 23, 2010 [20 favorites]


I really don't see the connection to the Obama-as-a-Muslim rumors. People believe in false memories because they believe it was something that happened to them. This is different from believing something about the President because they read/heard it somewhere.

Only if anyone has a false memory of Obama confessing to be a Muslim can it be comparable.
posted by ymgve at 9:39 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My grandfather recalled being a little boy, wandering off with his older sister, the family dog, and the family cattle to play in a creek, while the family was frantically searching for the children. He was able to recall some details of that day, but he wasn't there. That event happened, but it was only his sister who wandered off to play. He was too young to even walk, but he had heard the story enough that he had internalized it somehow, and made it his own. He grew up, went to college, and went on to be a political science professor, someone I'd consider a "critical thinker" as Meredith Maran sees herself. He knew everyone else said he wasn't there, he knew he was too young to be there, but he still had what he thought were memories of being there.

Memory is a tricky bugger.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:40 AM on September 23, 2010 [19 favorites]


Can somebody read the book and provide the spoilers that the video so righteously sets up? What happened when she went to visit her father?

And further more, what exactly is the process or phenomenon that allows oneself to have a memory that one realizes later can't be true. I mean without any kind of factual counterargument / proof that you were wrong. You can't prove that someone didn't molest you, right? How do you (re)gain that conclusion?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 9:43 AM on September 23, 2010


Not on the topic of abuse, but on the topic of memory Radiolab has a wonderful hour that details the in's and out's of memory and forgetting which filthy light thief outlined. There's a couple examples in that radio hour about how memories are often not as accurate as we would like them to be, and how sometimes they're pure fiction.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:45 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


What an idiotic thing to say. Does she think that molesters don't already know that people are serving jail terms? Why would an innocent man serving time be likely to tip the balance?

Personally I agree that the idea that putting innocent people in prison serves as a deterrent is stupid. But on a practical level, how exactly do you design a justice system that does not in reality put innocent people in prison for these sorts of crimes that are mostly decided by eye witness testimony? Most people would argue that the current system is "worth it" even though some innocent people are punished unfairly, while still agreeing that in a perfect (but unattainable) system no innocent people would be harmed.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:46 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Obama-as-Muslim bit was obviously thrown in by editors at Salon to get people to click through. It gets a passing mention, at best, in the interview, which is so brief as to barely deserve the name. This is a press release.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:47 AM on September 23, 2010


The worst part of this to me is there are still people in or close to being in the psychology profession who really believe in recovered memories.

A dear friend of mine was finishing her Masters a Teacher's College prior to entering a Ph.D. in neuropsych program. A higher level grad student was teaching the course. She taught a section on recovered memories and how they come about. My friend and some other students challenged her on the subject. She went on to say that recovered memories were valid and she's had clients who've experienced them and found great release in knowing what happened to them. I don't think the conversation went much further from there, except in recounting this to me, my friend was greatly worried about this person becoming a licensed clinician eventually. And I don't blame her.

If any good came out of the recovered memory movement -- and I'm not sure much did -- it was the societal change in attitude that molestation shouldn't be kept silent, that victims should not be blamed, and if a child should say something like this happened to them, people should at least listen.

I also think the pendulum may have swung too far in that direction if sex offenders are so restricted in where they can live that their best options are under a bridge and that in the case of the wrongly accused or wrongly convicted, it is an uphill battle to remove one's name from an offender's list and to reestablish reputation.
posted by zizzle at 9:49 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with burnmp3s. Since human beings and human institutions are unavoidably imperfect, the only way to be certain of never jailing an innocent person would be to jail no one. And then you lose the deterrent value of putting people in jail.
posted by grizzled at 9:50 AM on September 23, 2010


Re: "eyewitness testimony" please consider face-blindness aka propagnosia. One reason I have always been opposed to the death penalty is that one conviction of an innocent person trumps the "elimination" of all the guilty. Sophie's Choice indeed.
posted by emhutchinson at 9:53 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, prosopagnosia.
posted by emhutchinson at 9:56 AM on September 23, 2010


Would I allow an innocent man to sit in prison if it meant keeping children safe?

So would you make that choice?

I think so.


Her thinking's still fucked up, but what the hell - got to get your next book idea from somewhere.
posted by metagnathous at 9:59 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't the question have been "Would you be willing to go to prison, facing the stigma of being known as a child rapist, if you knew that meant keeping children safe?"

Original position and all that...
posted by banal evil at 10:04 AM on September 23, 2010 [44 favorites]


One of the dynamics, of all of this, and it may well be true of a wide range of human thought, is that emotions trumps facts. The bigger the emotion, the smaller role that facts have in the equation.

This exactly sums up my understanding of my family's experience with this issue. And it has destroyed my mother.

I've written before about my mother and her mental illness. Somewhere around 1985/86, my mother started seeing a psychiatrist who specialized in recovered memories, childhood abuse, and what was then called multiple personality disorder. Over years and years of so-called treatment, my mother "uncovered" memories of severe abuse that are major signifiers of the time frame -- child pornography and prostitution, satanic ritual abuse tied to the Catholic church structure, being sold to pornographers making a snuff film, near death experience, et cetera. She became less and less functional in the world, to the point where she is now nearly nonfunctional. Her entire life for the last 25 years has centered on her victimization.

When I was a child, growing up with this, I believed everything she said wholeheartedly. I mean, this started when I was around 8 or 9 years old, and it absolutely defined my childhood. It has ruined my mother's life, and continues to do so. What I've now come to realize, slowly, is that yes, something damaged my mother's psyche horribly when she was young. I don't believe it was those particular experiences. I think that she was so damaged, and had no idea where that damage came from, but that the only way she could understand it, and get people to listen to how awful she felt, was to explain it as the result of horrifying trauma. Every year, the type of trauma she claims to have survived becomes more and more severe, as her inability to participate normally in the world has become more and more pronounced, causing a generalized spiral of dysfunction.

I think these experiences are real to her now, whether or not they actually happened, because she's spent 25 years defining herself by them.

At this point, though, I can no longer have a relationship with my mother. Anyone who expresses the slightest doubt about the accuracy of her repressed memories and flashbacks is treated to some fairly vile verbal abuse, and my mother has developed significant hallmarks of borderline personality disorder. She has destroyed her relationship with me, and her nearly 30 year marriage to my stepfather, as she's cycled deeper and deeper into this. I wish she could have a Maran-like turnaround, but I don't hold out any hope for that. But I do hope that Maran's courage in admitting her very hurtful, very public mistake gives someone else the courage to do the same.
posted by amelioration at 10:14 AM on September 23, 2010 [40 favorites]


Would I allow an innocent man to sit in prison if it meant keeping children safe?

So would you make that choice?

I think so.


Wow. If ever there was a "Lets nuke it from space, just to be sure" statement this would be one.
posted by nola at 10:17 AM on September 23, 2010


That's heartbreaking, amelioration.
posted by nola at 10:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Abused people recover memories of that abuse *all the time* when they start dealing with their mental illness, without help from "Evil Recovered Memory Therapists".

Recognition of this fact, and of the sheer pervasiveness of abuse of children in our society, led to overzealousness and false accusations, but denying that this sort of thing happens is ludicrous.

You might as well say that the fact that there are false convictions proves that actual crimes never happen and any reports of actual crime are entirely fabricated by fanatical prosecutors.

Required reading on "False Memory Syndrome" and the Foundation that invented it:

http://www.kspope.com/memory/memory.php
posted by edheil at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have memories from my childhood, clear memories of things that I know never happened: Troubles with ghosts, Superman climbing out of my poster of him and stealing my toys, an encounter with a pterodactyl. My sister has a very clear memory of a family trip in which my father crashed the car into a woman in a wheelchair, knocked her wheels off, and drove away laughing. With that in mind, I don't put a whole lot of stock in childhood memories. Kids are ten kinds of dumb, and their brains haven't really developed to the point where they can distinguish fantasy from reality.

Having said that, I also have some memories of sexual exploitation that I'm fairly certain are real, so the whole matter is confusing and frustrating for me.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This brings to mind how Budd Hopkins has used false memory syndrome to really do a lot of harm. An interesting study about cryptomnesia.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:30 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maran equates her journey through the recovered memory movement to the persistent political lie that President Obama is a Muslim.

Human memory is amazingly fallible and easily manipulated. Tell a fictional story about yourself enough times, and eventually you'll forget that it's a story and believe that was real. And "recovered memories" make it even more tricky, because they are often false or not completely accurate, but since your memory is one of the only tools you have, you put a lot of weight on it, and it becomes your reality.

But that's a long way off from a constant and intentional effort to frame someone as something they aren't. One is a minds mistake in an effort to understand something, the other is a lie designed to cause mistrust among people with predisposed feelings on the subject.

And unlike a mistake existing in one persons head, this kind of lie won't ever be true, no matter how many people believe it.
posted by quin at 10:30 AM on September 23, 2010


edheil, I in no way intended to suggest that recovered memories are de facto false, but simply to relate my own particular and unique experience in a family that has experienced the issue. I'm not sure if I see any other assertions of that point of view in the thread either, but perhaps I missed it.
posted by amelioration at 10:32 AM on September 23, 2010


Over years and years of so-called treatment, my mother "uncovered" memories of severe abuse that are major signifiers of the time frame -- child pornography and prostitution, satanic ritual abuse tied to the Catholic church structure, being sold to pornographers making a snuff film, near death experience, et cetera.

Where I grew up, there was a similar case (a book, Michelle Remembers, was written about it) that was very actively everaged by the local Roman Catholic diocese to create a rumour that Victoria, BC was the Satanic capital of the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Each time I've tried therapy for my issues, the question comes up very quickly. I say no, I was never abused. They ask am I sure. I say yes. They tell me that 80% of women with my set of issues have a history of abuse. I say not me. They say ok, and I imagine them noting my charts something like "Patient denies abuse." A couple sessions later, they ask again. Even the one I remember as the nice smart lady did this. I understand the stats, and that they have to ask, but they never asked about what else could have curdled my young brain in this particular way. I'm not saying this was improper proceedure, and nobody ever tried to recover a memory from me, but it is definately one of the things that keeps me away from therapy. I can understand how someone of a different temprament might answer yes just to get them to leave it alone.
posted by rainbaby at 10:34 AM on September 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


grizzled, I think the point is more subtle than that. It is generally agreed that a system of justice should presume innocence, carefully weigh evidence, and be blind to class, race, and belief as much as possible: a system that embodies the classic blindfolded statue of Justice, in which only the guilty should be jailed, both to protect ourselves from them and (ideally) for the opportunity of rehabilitation.

What Maran seems to be saying is that these standards should essentially be ignored when it comes to sex offenses, whether real or imaginary: that the presumed discouraging effect of locking up a few innocent people (and it is a massive assumption: most studies show that the perceived risk of punishment does not deter the majority of crimes) is worth it.

While many might agree with this statement - ("So a few innocent people go to jail. It's better to be safe!") it becomes a very different question when they are the sacrifice chosen for a 10 year imprisonment... or a death sentence.

Reductio ad absurdum does not fly here: the fact that we have a justice system that is imperfect does not mean that we should not strive to make it better, allow innocent men to be jailed, or set everyone free.

Further to the original point, there is little question that recovered memory syndrome, suggestive analysis and the associated social castigation and imprisonment of presumed child sex offenders in the 80's and early 90's was a form of mass hysteria. You had adults claiming that they took part in satanic rituals in which babies were eaten; children who could not have been victimized in the way they were claiming, and who showed no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, sending grandmothers to jail for 30 years. It was a flat-out witch-hunt, and it ruined innocent people's lives.

Looking back, I find it especially interesting that the targets in the 80's were predominantly public school teachers; meanwhile, a massive amount molestation and rape of children, and associated avoidance of trial (sometimes with the cooperation of law enforcement), tantamount to policy, was actually occurring in the Catholic Church... and largely ignored.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


I can't recommend highly enough the This American Life story, reported by Alix Spiegel, on Recovered Memory Syndrome and the tragedy of families torn apart by accusations daughters and sons later recanted. Maran still seems to me to be lacking some humility, but this story was just devastating.
posted by liketitanic at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looking back, I find it especially interesting that the targets in the 80's were predominantly public school teachers; meanwhile, a massive amount molestation and rape of children, and associated avoidance of trial (sometimes with the cooperation of law enforcement), tantamount to policy, was actually occurring in the Catholic Church... and largely ignored.

That is pretty interesting. It's almost as if the psychological repression of one sort of abuse inspired people to invent another.

"I would love to look at the defendants from the McMartin Pre-School and tell them, 'I'm sorry.'"

- Kyle Zirpolo

"The next time you think about going out for dinner or to a movie, perform a Satanic ritual instead. You'll not only save your family money...you'll save their souls as well."

- A Parent's Guide to Satanic Ritual Abuse

Zirpolo's recollections are interesting, especially because I have a near-2yo in day care right now, and getting her to tell me exactly what happened each day is a curious conversation. If I ask the right questions ("Did you get that scratch when Amy swung you around and threw you against the wall?") in the right way, I can get her to agree with almost ANY statement.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Rainbaby: I've had a very similar experience. In the context of seeking help I've been asked if "I'm certain" I wasn't abused or molested. I always wonder if they believe I could be damaged from it even if I don't remember it. I feel as certain as I can reasonably be that I was not abused and I am not repressing it, but it always makes me feel like something "should" have happened for me to have the issues I have.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:35 AM on September 23, 2010


Memory is a tricky bugger.

I vaguely recall a memory expert on NPR saying that when we remember an event, we are remembering the last time we remembered it. This means that except for the immediate recall of an event, all our memories are false memories, and each is subject to intervening experience and imagination. That we remember anything with clarity after the passage of time is pretty remarkable. I've often marveled at how badly my "clear memory" of a place or text misses the mark. It seems to have little to do with my certainty of its accuracy; my certainty seems more to have more to do with the emotional valence I attach to it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:39 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maran still seems to me to be lacking some humility,

I've seen this and similar statements elsewhere, and it's sort of confusing. According to the interviews I've read and heard, Maran reconciled with her father nearly 20 years ago. What do we expect after all this time? Continual self-recrimination?
posted by muddgirl at 11:46 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read 'Real Life Nude Girl', a collection of essays by Carol Queen back in the late 90's. In one of the essays she describes volunteering her time/body to a medical school so med students could get practice doing GYN exams and pap smears. She said part of the reason she volunteered to do this is when she learned that the med students were practicing their gyn exam skills - with the school/hospital's knowledge and consent - on patients who were anesthetized for surgery. Surgeries, it should be noted, that had nothing whatsoever to do with gynecology or reproductive issues.

She postulates, in a single throwaway paragraph that I thought easily merited a chapter unto itself, the possible connection between this practice and huge 'recovered memories' movement at the time. Her general gist was it is certainly possible that the people who were professing to remember sexual violation from their past were remembering something, it just might not be what they thought it was.

So you get a woman who'd gone into a teaching hospital for some kind of abdominal surgery who had a pelvic exam performed on her while she was knocked out, who later goes to the kind of therapist that Rainbaby describes above, and she comes to the conclusion she was sexually abused by a family member.

I don't know how on target her theory is, but it stunned me at the time and I think of it every time I hear a discussion of recovered memories.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


I always wonder if they believe I could be damaged from it even if I don't remember it.

A distinct possibility. Eif sensory or declarative memories of the event are not formed or accessible, maladaptive beliefs or behaviors developed in reaction to the event could still persist.
posted by Jpfed at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Eif" => "even if"
posted by Jpfed at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2010


I'd say that most elf memories are probably false ones.
posted by hippybear at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2010


You're saying that night with Legolas never happened?
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'd say that most elf memories are probably false ones.

:: Puts down copy of Otherkin Quarterly, grabs bow, notches arrow. ::

"Say that again, you son of a bitch."
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:35 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Personally I agree that the idea that putting innocent people in prison serves as a deterrent is stupid. But on a practical level, how exactly do you design a justice system that does not in reality put innocent people in prison for these sorts of crimes that are mostly decided by eye witness testimony? Most people would argue that the current system is "worth it" even though some innocent people are punished unfairly, while still agreeing that in a perfect (but unattainable) system no innocent people would be harmed.

But that isn't her point. She's arguing that we don't need to figure out how to keep innocent people out of jail in these cases because the benefit of putting people in jail, even innocent people, outweighs the costs. This isn't a question about how to calibrate the scales, she's essentially saying that there should be no scales of justice where molestation is concerned.
posted by OmieWise at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2010


the only way to be certain of never jailing an innocent person would be to jail no one

OK, I'll bite. The only way of being certain you jail all the guilty people is to jail everyone. Would that be better?

The point is that a lot of innocent people have had their lives ruined in the worst possible way -- being accused of harming children with evil intent -- because of a cultural hysteria fed by a venal business interest. It is *only* this crime that merits a suspension of necessary disbelief -- innocent until proven guilty -- supposedly because it is so heinous that merely being accused of it suffices to render the accused deserving of punishment.

It's a witch hunt, not justice. And in the end, it harms society's ability to prosecute actual instances of child abuse. I know I am not the only one who reads or hears about some claim of "remembered" abuse and thinks, oh that same old bullshit again.

Crying wolf has serious consequences for everyone. And it's a damn good thing for the wolves.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:19 PM on September 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


With that in mind, I don't put a whole lot of stock in childhood memories. Kids are ten kinds of dumb, and their brains haven't really developed to the point where they can distinguish fantasy from reality.

It's interesting. I have two extremely distinct memories that would today be considered potential abuse—potential only because at the time the situations made me feel so uneasy (even to my child-brain) that I extricated myself from the situations before they turned ugly.

But for both memories, there's no "kinda-sorta." They are distinctive. I remember all kinds of details. What direction I was laying. What the lady was wearing. What her make-up looked like. While I have no doubt that some people have trauma that's so… trauamatic… that they bury it deep in their psyche, I think that with the vast majority of people that have traumatic events in their childhood, there's no burying. You know exactly what happened. You replay the events in your head for years. This is why I usually don't buy "kinda-sorta" suppressed recollections of early childhood events. There's too much room for the kind of outside influence rainbaby describes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fourcheesemac, I completely agree. My therapist actually felt strongly the same way-- I remember we discussed this at length, the whole recovered memory as a witch hunt phenomenon. I wonder how much of this she'd personally experienced in her own professional life.

She was very cool. I feel lucky that my experiences with therapists and psychiatrists has been overwhelmingly positive.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:45 PM on September 23, 2010


I read things like this and, as the father of a little girl, it terrifies the shit out of me.
posted by kgasmart at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2010


But it is hard to picture her narratives actually happening.

The first person I knew who identified as a Satanic Ritual Abuse survivor, I believed. What he was describing was horrific, yes, but nothing that I couldn't believe some twisted person somewhere was capable of. Even when he described being unable to get help as a child because so many people in his small town were in on the ring--the principal of his school, the police chief--I still thought it was horrible, rare, and unlikely. But possible. I also made a choice not to be skeptical of him, because I thought my belief and support was the most helpful thing for him in terms of his recovery.

The second person, it got a little harder. The third and fourth people, well...it got to the point that, to believe them all, I would have had to believe that the lower peninsula of Michigan had no fewer than three separate small towns that were completely given over to Satanic cults. I just couldn't sustain that.

When I was a young woman, I was a women's studies major in college, and a lot of my friends had been sexually abused as children, and we were all reading The Courage To Heal etc. I grew up with a brother who was horrible (at that time, he's a pretty decent guy now), and for a long time considered myself abused by him (as a big old grown up, I have a more nuanced view).

I remember working with a therapist and at one point getting dangerously close to dredging up some murky memories of him sexually abusing me as well as all the hundred other ways he was nasty to me, and which I remembered perfectly clearly even when awake. Fortunately, I had a very good therapist, and she said, "I don't think we need to focus on that, or on the details of things. We can look at how they affected you and how you can get past it without spending too much time on did this happen, did that happen." In that social context, and in the kind of emotional turmoil I was in, I could easily see me having gone down another path if I'd had a therapist who'd said, "Yes, let's explore that...have you ever been hypnotized? Here are some books about sexual abuse for you to look at..." I could easily imagine ending up identifying as a sexual abuse survivor, although I'm clearly not.
posted by not that girl at 2:32 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]



I've seen this and similar statements elsewhere, and it's sort of confusing. According to the interviews I've read and heard, Maran reconciled with her father nearly 20 years ago. What do we expect after all this time? Continual self-recrimination?


Shrug. I find her tone weirdly self-promoting. You don't have to agree.
posted by liketitanic at 2:35 PM on September 23, 2010


Tell a fictional story about yourself enough times, and eventually you'll forget that it's a story and believe that was real

I used to be a professional storyteller, and told stories based on my life. I found that after I'd told a story for awhile, I lost the memory of the original event and only still had the version I was telling on stage. While these stories were true, they were often "nuanced" true--some details left out, others emphasized, things shaped to fit the requirements of the form. So a lot was lost when the stories I'd tweaked to make them work on stage or come to a satisfying resolution replaced the original in my mind. Sometimes I would specifically choose not to make something into a story for performance because I didn't want that to happen to it.
posted by not that girl at 2:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


I find her tone weirdly self-promoting.

She is promoting her book, right? A book based on her life?

I don't necessarily disagree, I just don't know what sort of tone is acceptable in this sort of situation.
posted by muddgirl at 2:47 PM on September 23, 2010


Okay, about the Obama = Muslim thing....this has been bothering me. It's not that people believe he's Muslim...it's code for "I don't like black people.".

At the moment that people endorse believing that he's a Muslim, they are conscious that they don't believe it --- it's just become acceptable, somehow, to say this instead of saying "I hate black people".

This is why the metaphor is a wrong one -- unless you consider that some women may feel that an accusation against a man is code for --- I'm pissed at men in general and this kind of accusation has become acceptable...or something like that.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who was something of a star patient in the multiple personality disorder/satanic ritual abuse/recovered memory circuit; she was examined and written up by several of the pioneering researchers while she was a patient at a private clinic specializing in MPD. After a little over a year—a year in which she was allowed no contact with friends or family—her insurance reached its $1.5 million lifetime limit. She was promptly booted, with a referral to the county mental health hospital. She's doing very, very well now but it took YEARS for her to put herself back together, almost literally. A big part of that process was realizing how much of what she'd been told about herself and her past was bullshit, and how thoroughly that bullshit had been re-inforced while she was in the clinic.

Speaking of researchers: Elizabeth Loftus has done a lot of work examining how memories are formed and re-formed; some of her studies have been mentioned in the thread. Here's a 1997 article titled
"Creating False Memories."
posted by dogrose at 3:47 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did a paper on this phenomenon when I was in law school. It was astounding how much of the genesis of these panics could be traced back to the mental illness of a single person. Myself, when I worked on the paper, I began to be haunted by a particular nightmare I had as a child.

When I was four, and staying over at my grandparents' house, I had a vivid dream that I killed their dog. I remember waking up and being frozen stiff in the bed, desperate for daytime so that I could run out of the house and make sure the dog was okay. Not long after that, for unrelated reasons, my grandparents gave the dog to another family. As an adult, I read about the plasticity of childhood memory and began to wonder: what if I actually killed that dog? What if they covered it up and said they "gave him away" when I didn't know that I did it? Naturally I've always loved animals and never thought about hurting one, but the horror of it dripped at me until I finally had to call and ask my mom about what happened to a cocker spaniel in 1983. Of course he had been fine, and was actually given away, not "sent to a farm." But the consequences of one terrible nightmare, in a family that isn't sane and loving like mine, could be very different indeed.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:51 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"In truth, her journey through the recovered memory movement is more like emerging from a extreme religious or political cult..."

No, like she said herself in the interview, her journey came about through a resurgence of feminists who were fighting against domestic violence. It was Liberal idealism run-amok but they were also co-opted by right-wing family-values types because it involved children. It was not a cult, it was a zeitgeist.

posted by Student of Man at 3:53 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I vaguely recall a memory expert on NPR saying that when we remember an event, we are remembering the last time we remembered it.

I think I remember hearing the same sort of thing. I remember tobogganing one winter, and getting annoyed with my parents, so I decided I'd go off and ride some other hill. I chose a long slope that ended in a snow bank, with branchy bushes beyond. I got to the top of the hill, slid down with increasing speed, and instead of stopping in the snow bank, I flew up and landed in the bushes. I look back and remember it being great fun. I re-told that story around my parents, and they said I was terrified. I like my story better.

"The palest of ink is better than the best memory" seems more than a cute quip now.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:26 PM on September 23, 2010


According to one of the comments on the NPR piece, "she only suspected her father of abuse. She didn't remember any abuse. Still, she titles her book 'My Lie - A True Story of False Memory.'" Contrary to Faze's remark about "popular narrative[s] of victimization" on the left, sexual abuse survivors have been "out" for years on the left; people listed on sex offender registries for urinating in the street are in. (It shouldn't be an either-or, but somehow it is.) Maran is very honest in her Salon interview about how her views changed like a weathervane with the culture, and I'm sure that she and her publishers realized that "A True Story of False Suspicion" wouldn't have the same resonance.
posted by transona5 at 5:59 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related
posted by Avenger at 6:31 PM on September 23, 2010


I'm glad that you and the telephone pole finally reconciled, Avenger.
posted by dr_dank at 6:47 PM on September 23, 2010



She is promoting her book, right? A book based on her life?

I don't necessarily disagree, I just don't know what sort of tone is acceptable in this sort of situation.


I don't know, and I'll stop after this, but she still seems to have a sense of moral surety that I would have imagined this experience would have challenged but doesn't seem to have. That's all.
posted by liketitanic at 8:19 PM on September 23, 2010


Contrary to Faze's remark about "popular narrative[s] of victimization" on the left, sexual abuse survivors have been "out" for years on the left; people listed on sex offender registries for urinating in the street are in. (It shouldn't be an either-or, but somehow it is.)

Umm... I don't think it is? Or maybe no one is "in" and no one is "out". Maybe I'm farther to the left than others, but it seems pretty straightforward to say (a) people should be protected from sexual abuse, and (b) non-sex-offenders should not be on the sex offender list. This includes drunken public urinators.
posted by muddgirl at 8:25 PM on September 23, 2010


The Loftus thread from last May is one of the most quietly horrifying threads I've read on Meta.
posted by carping demon at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2010


My sister's had a hell of a week. It was her third son's first youth soccer game. During the middle of it, he came up to her and started acting kind of whiny about not feeling well. She tried to talk him into bucking up and getting back into the game, and then he threw up. She took him home quickly so as not to have whatever bug he'd caught catch on, and put hm to bed. In the morning, when he woke up, she asked if he was feeling better. He said "yes, but my boo-boo still hurts." It turns out that he'd gotten a concussion out on the field, but he hadn't mentioned anything about a "boo-boo" at the time. Thankfully, he's fine, but she put him to bed with a concussion because kids are terrible at knowing what's important to remember about things like this.

I myself had numerous concussions as a kid. I've heard all the stories numerous times, but one in particular happened because my three older siblings, and their friends, were all playing outside in the driveway, when one of friend who was roller skating picked me up, and then promptly fell down on top me me (on top of my head) a moment later.

I remember this clearly. It's one of my earliest memories, this girl smiling and picking me up on the driveway and then falling with me in her arms. But really, there's no way I could have actually remembered this, right? I was immediately concussed. Also, I was barely out of infancy. And I've heard the story a million times, so I could definitely piece together a clear mental image.

But I've heard the other stories as many times if not moreso, and never formed a first-person memory around them. Also, my nephew, when my sister questioned him about what happened, told her a version of events which checked out with what she and her husband had seen from the sidelines. So what's to be made of it?

I personally think that the therapist who says that the details aren't important - and that the possible effects of alleged past events are what is paramount - is a very, very good therapist. We tend to view professionals as smart people with expertise in their fields. This is not necessarily true at all. More likely they are average people with the means to pursue the necessary schooling. This says nothing, however, about the quality of the schooling or how much practical knowledge the student has taken away from it. Think about the well-put-together but kind of dumb/naive kid you knew in high school, who continually asked questions that proved that they didn't get the subject at all. Professional grad schools are jam-packed with those people. Those are your doctors and lawyers. There are a lot of brilliant and trustworthy ones out there as well, but as a client, it can be hard to tell when you're entering a relationship with someone who you are supposed to trust implicitly because they have an education that you don't.

So think of all of those kids pursuing psychology because it sounds interesting and lets them stay in school while they figure out their own lives, and apply them to people desperately in need of help. One of the first effects will be that of therapists more interested in the detective-style search for the "cause," even more so because media has made this out to be so sexy and tantamount to discovering the cure itself.

Another effect will be an irresistable urge for the therapist to educate the client on what he or she knows about the trauma in question. Now people naturally want to identify themselves, differentiate themselves, understand themselves. People in therapy are normal people, but in emotional pain, and so their need to do these things is more acute. Also they are far more likely to have aspects of themselves which they distinctly do not like or even hate, including actions they take that they abhor and wish to remedy. When their doctor treats discovering a "cause" as the holy grail, how refreshing must it be for the patient? It gives them a story, which gives them identity. Moreover, the story absolves them of responsibility for those things that they hate about themselves. They are The Victim, and that is why they are like this.

The third effect is that of the therapist, once the "discovery" is made, not knowing what to do to further assist the patient. If finding the "cause" was the important part, the therapist may well then continue by just trying to dig deeper into that, and feeding the patient more and more information about aspects of a particular type of trauma becomes like a fitting room for one's personal narrative. "X abuse causes Y result, you say? Well, I don't know if that really describes me. What causes Z? Ahh, well, now that I think about it, there was this time..."

But none of this actually helps the patient. If someone has HIV, the doctor doesn't spend every appointment discussing how they got it, and what the details of the encounter were. They focus on what can be done in the present. So much of psychotherapy seems to be focused on the diagnostics as if they are the treatment themselves (not for any malicious reasons, really) and that can get people stuck into a loop where they are victims with no agency, and that is their identity. And in a profession where a great many people come in because they have been victimized, and feel powerless as a result, focusing on their victimhood to the point where it defines them must do much more harm than good, in my humble opinion.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:46 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


So it's okay to be evil if you're delusional? That's the vibe I'm getting off this woman. Mmmm...vibes.

My God, is it a good thing if you keep discovering surprising new completely terrible people? Because this nutter has so very clearly not completed her journey through bullshit valley. Not by a long shot. And what a severe grilling the journo gave this piece of work!

Hang on, I'm getting a memory.....What's it saying to me? What does it meeeeean?
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 12:43 AM on September 24, 2010


Navelgazer, good points, and I'd agree with your worries for the most part. I am a skeptical psychology undergrad, fresh from an impressive summer course that emphasized these very issues from a number of angles, including the myriad biases fundamental to all people and how much confusion they can lead us to in the best of times. Every psych class I've had so far has emphasized potential fallibility and associated repercussions.

Recognizing unexceptional minds amongst the graduating ranks is a vital concern, if perhaps a bigger beast than can be rightly sized up in this particular case. Just to add that, for the most part, psychology education itself is deeply concerned with these things and I'm not sure the well-meaning road-to-hell variety of therapist or social worker is the overwhelming norm. Be a smart self-advocate, yes, always, but know that critical thinking seems to be de rigueur, at least from this side of the enterprise.
posted by methinks at 1:02 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re Satanic Villages: I remember reading a take on the overwhelming molestation hysteria that tied it to increasing numbers of women going to work. I.e. kids would have been safe, and this wouldn't have happened, if mothers stayed home with their kids rather than utilizing commercial concerns (such as McMartin Preschool).
posted by goofyfoot at 1:17 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


methinks, I hope it's not the norm, and I have greater faith in the education than I let on above, but my experience with fellow law students (at a top tier school) make me skeptical, as do my friends in PhD programs in psycology/psychiatry.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:48 AM on September 24, 2010


The replies to my earlier comment seem to have missed my point. I point out that the only way to be certain of never jailing an innocent man is to jail no one - which is certainly true - and one response asks, would it then be better to jail everyone in order to ensure than no guilty person goes free? Well, I hardly advocated either of these extremes. Obviously the objective is to punish the guilty and to exonerate the innocent. No one (neither I, nor Maran) has suggested that it is a good thing to punish innocent people. There is room for debate as to whether it is more important to avoid jailing innocent people, or to make sure that guilty people do not escape punishment, but that is an issue that I did not even raise. I was just explaining Maran's comment. It is also claimed that Maran's true objective is a witch hunt, so that anybody accused of child abuse would be found guilty and punished, whether there is any truth in the accusation or not. I just do not see that in her comments. As far as I can see, she is just saying (in a slightly more complicated way) what I pointed out, which is that if we are prepared to prosecute people for child abuse, we must accept that the justice system is not perfect and therefore some verdicts will be wrong, and some innocent people will suffer. We can, and must, try to be as accurate as possible in such matters, but we also understand that human beings are imperfect and we cannot achieve 100% accuracy.

I will add that the injustice which occurs when innocent people are found guilty is, in my opinion, worse than the injustice of allowing guilty people to escape punishment, so my own emphasis in any trial would be to take every care to acquit people who may have been wrongly accused, even at the risk of releasing people who are actually guilty. I do not go to the extreme of the O.J. Simpson jury, however. There are times when you really should accept that the evidence is overwhelming and the accused is guilty.
posted by grizzled at 6:05 AM on September 24, 2010


Re Satanic Villages: I remember reading a take on the overwhelming molestation hysteria that tied it to increasing numbers of women going to work. I.e. kids would have been safe, and this wouldn't have happened, if mothers stayed home with their kids rather than utilizing commercial concerns (such as McMartin Preschool).

That's another interesting take on the collective hysteria.

"Although many of these forces were interactive and intricately built upon one another, they must also be placed within the larger social context of the day in which real and unsettling changes in the industrial economy were accompanied by economic insecurity, changing family forms, and increasing anxiety about family stability and sex roles."

- The Social and Cultural Context of Satanic Ritual Abuse Allegations, Susan P. Robbins

more...

"Somewhere, I'm afraid, Satan is smiling."

- The Satan Sellers, Th. Metzger, 2001

"... better methods to evaluate and explain allegations of "ritual" child abuse must be developed or identified. Until this is done, the controversy will continue to cast a shadow over and fuel the backlash against the validity and reality of child sexual abuse."

- Satanic Ritual Abuse, a 1992 FBI report, Kenneth V. Lanning

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, let's not forget fucking Geraldo "Whiz Bang" Rivera:

Geraldo: "Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country...The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town..."

Odds are that Geraldo is a motherfucking idiot.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on September 24, 2010


Holy crap, Avenger, now I'm scared of the telephone pole.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:00 PM on September 24, 2010


I have a distinct memory of standing at glass balcony doors with my older sister and my parents, when I was three or four, watching a squirrel eat the head of a Lego shopkeeper. I used that image as a metaphor in a poem I wrote, and when my book came out, my mother mentioned that she thought it was neat how I'd condensed a bunch of separate events into something simple for my readers. Come to find out that I never saw the squirrel chew on the Lego shopkeep's head; we found the gnawed toy after the fact. We used to watch squirrels eat nuts though. Also, it wasn't a Lego shopkeeper; it was some other children's brand, and he was just some guy, he didn't have a specific occupation. Also, the balcony I was remembering belonged to the house we moved to when I was five. I still remember it happening just as clearly as if it actually had.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:17 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, Avenger, now I'm scared of the telephone pole.

GONK GONK GONK

they still creep me out
posted by Avenger at 8:06 AM on September 25, 2010


« Older The Passion of David Bazan   |   Nostalgia meets (meats) the modern age of gaming Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments