Where are repressed memories hidden

Fake memories?
For everyone who seriously deals with so-called borderline scientific topics, the question arises at some point of how reliable our memory actually is. This question arises particularly in connection with the UFO phenomenon.

Many apparently sane people remember being kidnapped by UFOs during examinations by psychotherapists. Mostly they are traumatic memories of mysterious gray-skinned aliens and cruel medical experiments. There are literally thousands of such cases, with recurring basic patterns, from different cultures and almost all countries on earth. Apparently serious psychologists like Prof. Dr. John E. Mack write thick books full of incredible memories of alien abductions that came to light during therapeutic sessions.

Here the question arises: are these memories "real" - or "therapeutic artifacts"? (The widespread assumption among skeptics that either the client or the therapist or both are simply fooling may apply in individual cases. For the time being, however, I assume that most therapists and clients are at least subjectively honest.)

The second question in this context is even more explosive: Can people be made to "remember" things that never happened? Can conversely be undone what has actually been experienced for our consciousness? Can, in other words, false memories be "implanted" in our memory - and without time-consuming "brainwashing" and drugs?
Such manipulations are an integral part of most "conspiracy theories", for the UFO hypothesis it is downright a key point. Is it possible to suggest to a witness of a UFO landing "just like that" that he only saw a harmless weather balloon, and that way? that the witness would later believe it himself? Or vice versa, can someone who "only" saw a top secret airplane believe that they saw an Achenar IV spaceship? Is it perhaps even possible - almost like in the SF parody "Men in Black" - the memory simply "delete" a witness?

A central term in this complex of topics is that of "repression". Again and again there is talk of "repressed memories", which one normally has no access to, which one is therefore not aware of. Only special therapeutic techniques or certain "key experiences" would allow access to these memories, which we unconsciously keep secret from ourselves. According to this view, repression is an automatic protective mechanism of the psyche. It is the ability of the mind to protect itself to protect against emotional overload by removing certain experiences and feelings from consciousness. Months, years or even decades later, when the mind can better cope with them, these "repressed memories" can gradually come to the surface of consciousness - or unplanned due to new traumatic experiences.
This "repression mechanism" is often used as a possible explanation why many - allegedly most - "UFO kidnapping victims" cannot consciously remember their terrible experiences - apart from "strange feelings", nightmares, sudden visions, behavioral disorders Knowledgeable therapist brings the terrible truth to light.
To my surprise, I learned from a psychologist friend that the term "repression" does not appear at all in many standard works on cognitive psychology. It comes from psychoanalysis, which, despite its popularity, is not entirely undisputed. And to make the confusion complete, understand the psychoanalysts include something different from those psychologists who have popularized the idea of ​​the "mechanism of self-protection" mentioned above in recent years.
The term "repression" originally goes back to Sigmund Freud. According to him, feelings have the power to block memories. In a 1915 paper, he clearly and concisely described the phenomenon of repression: the "essence" of repression consists "only in rejection." and keeping away from the conscious. "According to this original theory," becomes an idea intentionally ousted from consciousness ". In other words, want the client does not remember an unpleasant fact! The memory itself is always there. As a client, I "only" feel uncomfortable thinking about it or even talking about it. Accordingly, classical psychoanalysis only uses relatively gentle methods, such as free association, to track down repressed memories.
The above-mentioned approach of the "recovery" theory (to recover), which is particularly widespread in the USA, is different, in German mostly called "detection". It starts from a completely different kind of repression, one that does not affect you consciously, but completely unconscious Mechanism is based. Memory is not blocked by associated unpleasant feelings, as in the theory of psychoanalysts, but is not available to consciousness at all. The client cannot remember with the best will in the world, only his behavioral problems and feelings, which he cannot explain, reveal that there is something is.
Sexual Abuse - Touchstone of the "recovery theory" of repression
The recovery theory of displacement has come under discussion in the last ten years due to a phenomenon that is even more frightening than the possible UFO abductions, and its reality, in contrast to them - unfortunately! - there is hardly any doubt even among "arch skeptics": the sexual abuse of children.
Although it has been proven that many children have been and are sexually abused, and although far more "sexual offenses against minors" are likely to remain undetected, "detection-oriented" psychotherapists and self-help groups based on similar assumptions brought so many "cases" to light that even one more The large number of undiscovered "child molestations" is not sufficient to explain these truly frightening numbers. If you extrapolate a few results, it is estimated that every third woman and every fourth man must have been sexually abused in childhood!
Some radical feminists even take these numbers seriously and use them as political ammunition, while especially in the US ultra-conservative and hyper-moral circles abuse these ridiculously high rates of abuse for their campaign for repressive sexual morality. Ultimately, however, such results meant that supporters of recovery theory had to put up with some critical questions.
Above all, the methodology of the psychology of discovery fell into the crossfire of criticism. This is because it is based on an approach from the early days of psychoanalysis, which Sigmund Freud himself later gave up: It is precisely the strong resistance of the client that indicates that there is a repressed memory. So if he thinks he cannot remember, that indicates a particularly deeply repressed memory.
The other point of criticism is the behaviorist approach of recovery theory. Classical behavioristic psychology, which is now considered out of date, regards the human mind as a "black box". Only behavior is visible, and this behavior must be explained as simply as possible using approaches known from natural science. It sees people primarily from a conditional perspective Reflexes, controlled by conditioning, are based on a mechanistic image of man.

To put it simply, recovery psychology imagines the memory as a kind of video tape that - especially in stressful situations - "records" everything with the greatest possible accuracy . a parent, a close friend or an educator, then it does not want to have the terrible fact true and suppresses it - mechanically this could be imagined as an access block. Only characteristic dysfunctions indicate the terrible experience - although some psychologists of this direction not only interpret severe neuroses or dissociative personality disorders as indications of sexual abuse, but even "very everyday" behavior disorders such as bed-wetting (in children!), apparently unmotivated aggressiveness and, in particular, everything that appears to them to be inappropriate sexual behavior it seems.
Some - mostly not psychologically trained - "Abuse experts" even go so far as to suspect sexual abuse, even if the child is apparently free of symptoms, if the child utters certain "key signals".
(In one specific case, an over-concerned kindergarten teacher became suspicious when a six-year-old boy kept drawing dinosaurs with long, thick tails. The suspicion was sufficient that the youth welfare office stepped in, filed charges against the parents and, for safety's sake, the boy and his siblings in one Host family accommodated. Mind you in Germany, not with the "prudish southern Americans"!)

To put it bluntly: Those who cannot remember having been sexually abused could only have repressed particularly bad memories particularly deeply. (Here the argumentation of particularly eager UFO abduction theorists resembles those of the extreme abuse theorists except for a few exchanged vocabulary.) The therapist can break the "access block", the resistance of the client knows the way. Once the "block" has been removed, the whole unpleasant truth comes to light, in all details.
You don't "forget" severe trauma
The repression - in the sense of psychoanalysis - is most likely real, and there is broad agreement that "repressed memories" sometimes lead to neuroses and behavioral disorders. We apparently successfully hide embarrassing and unpleasant experiences from ourselves - and in most cases they do completely harmless and even appropriate. In everyday language, "healthy repression" simply means "sponge over it!"
It is different with "traumatic experiences" such as serious accidents, rape, torture - or even kidnappings. Such serious events remain in the memory. Children obviously forget trauma just as little as adults do. On the contrary: like these, children push themselves Memories of traumas suffered even when they don't want to. The terrible event "can't get out of their heads". Interviews with children who, for example, witnessed kidnappings with death threats or who had witnessed an attack on their school in which children were shot, or of children who witnessed the murder of their father or mother, and also of children who can be proven who were raped or badly mistreated clearly show: the children did not suppress the traumatic event, they could not suppress it, under fear and pain and against their will they had to keep reminding themselves of it. The interviews encountered memory gaps, but the incidents themselves were present. According to all experiences in memory psychology, it is simply not true that z. For example, a girl who was raped by her own father when she was four years old, repressed the terrible events for years and suddenly recalled her memories after years. (Possibly with photographic fidelity.)
As already mentioned, the recovery theory assumes that traumatic experiences are "stored" with almost photographic accuracy. Memory psychology came to different conclusions: memories are not photographically precise - and they are certainly not constant over time the description of the events changes, although one is subjectively sure of having a constant memory image. In addition, memories of spectacular events are accessible to suggestions. 1993) asked television pictures of the crash that never existed.
The process of storing and remembering
In a very simplified and mechanistic way, one can imagine memory as a kind of database in which memories are stored. Of course this is a model, the brain in no way works like a computer, but the analogy helps to understand some amazing insights.

If you remember something, a search process takes place (in the computer via indices) until the memory is found in the "database". Forgetting is based on the fact that the search process becomes more and more difficult over time. Recovery theory now assumes this that in a therapeutic conversation the index "blocked" by repression is made "usable" again - and the original memory comes to light again. Only: "Saving" and "retrieving" are in reality not carried out with digital fidelity. Rather, they interfere every process of "storing" and remembering newer experiences, similar experiences, including what has been heard and seen elsewhere, so that memory is no longer an exact - and usable in court - reproduction, but a reconstruction. We are constantly rewriting our "inner diary"! Its "table of contents", the "memory index", is even changed with every use.

Information recorded after an event plays a major role in this. A well-known example is the experiment in which test subjects are shown a car accident on video and are asked to describe it later. A large number of the witnesses can be influenced by suggestive questions. You answer yes to the question whether the traffic light was red, although no traffic light could be seen. In a further survey, the traffic light is then a natural part of the scene.
A similar example from the practical experience of the traffic courts: If a (maybe color-blind?) Police officer always speaks of a "gray car" during interrogation after a traffic accident, although it was actually light blue, many witnesses will later call a " gray car "" remember. This also shows how "authority" can influence memory.
(In this respect, it is sometimes true that children cannot remember sexual abuse because their dad talked them out of it. However, such victims tend to transfer the harm they have done to another person with less authority, e.g. the unloved one Brother or the neighbor, to blame - and the memory of the "event" is always present.)
Such information, which can be falsified in retrospect, can also come from witnessing a process: he relives the unusual event again and again, his thoughts and feelings deal with it, he draws parallels, remembers something similar, absorbs new information. One no longer remembers an event very quickly, but rather the stories that one told oneself and others about it.
Pseudo memories
Not only details of events are gradually changed in memory. The memory of the core of a process can also be deformed - e.g. B. by repeating leading questions over and over again. It is even possible to generate so-called pseudo-memories, memories of events that have been proven to never have occurred. For a long time, the famous Geneva psychologist Jean Piaget was firmly convinced that he had been kidnapped by a stranger as a toddler while walking with his nanny. He had clear memories of the surroundings, of the kidnapper and of the nanny's fight with the kidnapper. After many years, the ex-nanny testified that she made up the story to explain a delay - the parents' mere narration had become a pseudo-memory over the years.
In the early 1990s, the cognitive psychologist Denise Park created such pseudo-memories in an experiment under controlled conditions. It made the test subjects "remember" being lost as a child in a shopping mall. It was surprisingly easy, provided that the "experience" matched the subject's "self-image", plausibly fitted into their biography and from apparently uninvolved third parties has been confirmed.
The more questions are asked about an event, the clearer and more detailed the pseudo-memory becomes. In the extreme case, it can no longer be distinguished from a real memory! Children and adults who have a lively and imaginative imagination are particularly prone to pseudo-memories. Pseudo memories are not uncommon. Long interrogations, for example, can lead to this. In the United States, people are known who have demonstrably never been to Vietnam, but who have clear memories of the Vietnam War. There are also pseudo memories of a childhood in a concentration camp.

In view of these findings, one has good reasons to doubt that memories of a traumatic event that have been repressed from the unconscious can emerge which reflect the truth and nothing but the truth.

Special case of memory: hypnotic regression
In the case of "UFO abductions" in particular, a technique is often used that has an eerie reputation in several respects: hypnosis.
Under hypnosis, it is said, repressed and blocked memories unfailingly come to light, with photographic fidelity. One cannot lie under hypnosis.
This "bright" legend is contrasted by a "dark" hypnosis legend: one is under hypnosis without will, the hypnotist can suggest any circumstances, or even reprogram the hypnotized person like a robot using post-hypnotic commands. These legends are - formulated carefully - extremely exaggerated!
As I know from my own experience, hypnosis is a completely normal process. You don't lose consciousness during hypnosis and you don't fall asleep either. Hypnosis "feels" no "different" than z. B. the "deeply relaxed" state in autogenic training or certain types of meditation. The well-known "highway hypnosis" is really a hypnotic state. We spend a large part of our day in a hypnoid - hypnosis-like - state, e.g. B. in "tied" reading. Basically, every hypnosis is "self-hypnosis" and depends on the "help" of the hypnotized person; the hypnotherapist only guides and cannot simply "break the will" of anyone. The bad reputation of hypnosis is based on the often sensational show hypnosis. In the hands of a conscientious hypnotherapist, it is a valuable psychotherapeutic tool.
The "good reputation" of hypnotic regression is primarily based on hypermnesia, the enormously increased memory. This experience is indeed astonishing: In a hypnotic regression, for example, I experienced an afternoon in the aviation department of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, which I call Six-year-old with my grandfather, which I can hardly remember, literally all over again. Everything was there: not only all the details of the aircraft on display, but also the patterns of my grandfather's cardigan, the smells in the hall, everything The museum guide told the story and my grandfather read it to me.The feelings were also palpable again, the little boy's naive enthusiasm for all the great pilots and the confusion about the many things that I just didn't understand yet.

At first glance, this hypermnesia is a brilliant confirmation of "extreme" repression theories. It's almost as if we all have a photographic memory and just don't notice it in everyday life. At second glance I noticed something strange: I could myself I don't remember what was on the tablets! The reason was that as a six-year-old I couldn't read. I just don't have a photographically accurate memory, but what I "relive" is my normal long-term memory. I couldn't read yet, so I didn't remember the texts either, even though I saw them clearly.
Something else also became clear to me during regression: As with every "normal" memory process, in hypnotic regressions, too, gaps and gaps in memory are unwittingly filled with plausible assumptions, conclusions or mere fantasy. (The technical term for this is "confabulation".)

To stay in the picture of the database: Hypnosis enables an "alternative access" to my memory, not via the normal "access path" with its "indices" that are overwritten and changed over and over again. The memories are clearer, not so often afterwards "Over-smeared" and mental blocks, which are always "conscious" mental blocks, are removed. This makes memories accessible that have been repressed (in the sense of psychoanalysis).
But: What I do really forgot, I couldn't remember that even under hypnosis! Hypnosis is a good method that allows access to the unconscious - but it has its limits. One of these limits is our usually non-photographic memory.
For the questioning under hypnosis this means that the memories brought to light by hypnosis are just as manipulable as "normal" ones. Hypnosis is not a magical truth serum. Every memory that emerges during a regression can be a fact, an imaginative invention or a pseudo-memory which may have arisen accidentally from an improperly suggestive remark made by the therapist.In most cases, even an expert cannot distinguish between these possibilities.

Worse still, under hypnosis I am in rapport with my therapist. I trust him, otherwise he wouldn't be able to hypnotize me. So he can steer my thoughts and associations in a certain direction more easily than a normal conversation partner whom I don't trust so much. He can guide my memories to a certain extent.
In this respect, the idea of ​​"hypnotically implanted" memory contains more than a grain of truth. "Hypnotic pseudo-memories" can even be therapeutically meaningful in some cases. A client can e.g. B. under hypnosis "revenge" on his tyrannical father and thus free himself inwardly, in which he makes him atone in his imagination guided by targeted suggestive hints on the hot stove.

A brief note on hypnotic regressions into a "previous life" and "progressions" into a possible future: I know that there is such a thing - not least because I experienced it myself. However, this is apparently a completely different process than "normal" hypermnesia (it "feels" different too). Here, my normal, individual memory is not "tapped", but rather an "other source" is used, about the nature of which there are several hypotheses (e.g. Akashic Chronicle, species memory, spirit body, collective unconscious). Most psychologists, however, consider the experiences of this kind to be a complicated kind of fantasy, a bizarre variety of pseudo-memory. In connection with the UFO phenomenon, regressions in the minds of extraterrestrial intelligences and even disembodied light beings are particularly noteworthy.
So what's up?
In the light of these findings, what to make of UFO abductions? It is a fact that thousands of sane and intelligent people, who generally think completely "unesoterically", speak in fearful voices of their experiences on board alien spaceships. They clearly remember being abducted by aliens . You are not lying. You obviously really saw something. But what was that Something really?
From a more skeptical point of view, one can object: If a therapist is subjectively convinced of the kidnapping of his client, he is likely to steer his or her memories of something in the direction of the UFO, just as a therapist who is convinced of the everyday occurrence of sexual abuse steers his client in this direction - even if the client's problems actually have completely different causes. Many clients believe the shocking "revelations" of the therapist only because they are afraid of taking their life into their own hands and not wanting to look for the solution to their problems in themselves, because: "My angry mom is on all to blame! " Or the mysterious, wide-eyed aliens that no one has control over.
But: Even if most cases of "uncovered" sexual abuse are therapeutic artifacts, there are still many - far too many! - cases of the most disgusting sexual abuse of children.
When reviewing the Dr. John E. Mack described "UFO abduction cases" that struck me that the clients were convinced even before the sessions that they had at some point been kidnapped, "raptured" or manipulated. In many cases they even remembered the "little grays" - before the treatment. So there were no cases of repression and rediscovery á la "recovery theory" and at least essentially no pseudo-memories that were first discovered by Dr. Mack were generated. There is probably some reality behind these cases - which, however, I cannot say with the best of will.

Even more explosive are the consequences that the manipulability of our memory has for "conspiracy theories". False memories can be implanted. Worse still: As long as the aim is not to "erase" memories completely or to "create them freely from nothing", but "only." "It is about falsifying what has been experienced terrifying easy to change our "inner diary"!
As it turns out, witnesses in interrogation situations are particularly easy to manipulate ( Keep pointing out the man upstairs in the warehouse, just don't respond to the shots from the other direction ...) Later, in court, their "memories" are hardly worth anything.

The "brain eraser" from "Men in Black" is fiction - but in the title track of this film, Will Smith reveals the method that would really work in such cases - and is certainly used. "Talk with the witness ... hynotize her, normalize her, turning memories into fantasies!"
No, I was wrong earlier, it was just a weather balloon!
Martin Marheinecke, 2000

Published in OMICRON, issue 2/2001, Roth-Verlag, Fuldatal-Simmershausen

John E. Mack: Abducted by Aliens - Heyne, Munich, 3rd edition 1997
Susanne Franzen / Jörg Müller: Hypnosis - healing in trance - Heyne, Munich, 1996
John Kotre: White gloves - How memory writes a life story - Hanser, Munich, 1996
Elizabeth Loftus / Katherine Ketcham: The Treated Memory - Bastei-Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach, 1997
Katharina Rutschky: Excited Enlightenment - Child Abuse: Facts & Fictions, Klein, Hamburg, 1992
Dr. Cécile Ernst: You don't forget abuse, "Tages-Anzeiger", Bern, October 24, 1999
Dr. Bernhard Eppinger: Father atone on the stove (hypnotic psychotherapy) - "Image of Science", 7/1999 p .: 68 - 71
The dispute over memory. - Can sexual abuse be "suppressed"? - "Psychologie heute", 6/1994, pp. 20-30

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