The Truth Behind Repressed Memories: Why We Can’t Rely on Memory Alone

  There has long been a saying that our memory is a mysterious treasure house. All the experiences in our lives are collected in this treasure house. Usually, many memories are suppressed by consciousness, making us unable to remember them. We have to wait until the right opportunity comes before they can be recalled. The treasure house of memory is like the locked treasure in “One Thousand and One Nights”. Only Alibaba must recite the correct spell “Open Sesame”, and the door of the treasure cave will open.
  Supporting this statement is the fact that we do often and inexplicably recall many distant, almost forgotten events in astonishing detail. For example, you suddenly remember a shining silver hair on your mother’s head when she carried you to school decades ago; or you remember a piece of mud on a classmate’s white sneakers on a rainy day when you were a child… When you encounter this In this case, you will be amazed: how amazing our memory is!
  The origin of the memory “repression theory”
  The idea that memories can be suppressed for a long time and then awakened first originated from the Austrian psychoanalyst Freud. Freud believed that certain painful experiences could be locked away in our subconscious to protect us from further pain. However, buried traumatic memories may cause certain mental illnesses and abnormal behaviors. The best way to treat them is to “awaken” these subconscious memories and release the repression.
  This view was particularly popular among Western psychotherapists in the 1980s and 1990s. When many adults seek treatment for mental illness, with the help of a therapist, they suddenly recall vivid details of childhood abuse, often by a loved one. For a time, the society was panicked and legal cases surged.
  Can memories really be suppressed for long periods of time and then awakened intact? In fact, Freud’s view was overturned by neuroscientists as early as the 1990s. They pointed out that this statement was inconsistent with their understanding of memory.
  Memory is not micromanaging The
  repressed memory argument relies on the assumption that our memory is like a filing system, keeping clear records of past events and storing them for future retrieval. But in fact, memory is far from being a faithful record of past events and is highly malleable.
  Memory is divided into working memory and long-term memory. Working memory is similar to data stored in computer memory; long-term memory is similar to data stored in a hard drive. Memories of events from the distant past undoubtedly belong to long-term memory. The formation of long-term memories requires strengthening connections between different areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. Signals from different brain regions may be incorporated into the same memory to add detail. For example, when you remember a person, you also remember his smell or something interesting he said. Recalling one of these feelings will help you follow the thread and recall the person. For example, when I smell toilet water, I can’t help but recall my mother and my childhood. Because when I was a child, I often smelled my mother’s delicious toilet water in summer.
  However, not every detail in our lives can be included in the “memory bank”. Our brains don’t have such a large capacity. This is part of the reason why we tend to be forgetful: when we can’t remember someone, it’s not that the memory is repressed, but that the memory may not have been formed in the first place. For example, if someone is threatened at gunpoint, the person may be focusing entirely on the gun and not remember the criminal’s face.
  Memories are not fixed
  Once formed, memories are far from fixed.
  The formation of memories relies on the establishment of synaptic connections in the brain. After a connection is established, the memory needs to be reviewed over and over again in order for it to be consolidated and strengthened. Without review, connections weaken and wither, and memories can be lost. This is similar to the fact that if friends are not in contact for a long time, the relationship will become alienated. Therefore, some “unforgettable” memories, especially those traumatic memories, may be completely forgotten as time goes by when we deliberately forget them. For example, in one study, 129 women who had actual experiences of childhood abuse were interviewed 17 years later. More than one-third had no memory of the abuse.
  There is also a special case of forgetting: when we grow up, we often cannot remember experiences before about 4 years old. It’s unclear why this is happening. Some people think that it may be that the brain is not mature enough to create long-term memories before the age of 4.
  The plasticity of memory also manifests itself in the fact that as we age and our health changes, the synaptic connections that create memories are affected. Although we compared long-term memory to saving data on a hard drive, there is a fundamental difference between the two: hard drives are lifeless, and the molecules and atoms that store data can remain unchanged for millions of years; while our brains are lifeless. Metabolism is occurring all the time, and the molecules that make up synapses are being replaced all the time (human cells are completely renewed every 7 years). In this way, during the metabolism of the brain, some connections may wither, causing the memory to be blurred; or connections unrelated to the original memory may be established, causing the memory to be tampered with.
  Therefore, the reactivated memory may be true or false. More often, the true and false are mixed together, making it difficult to distinguish the true from the false. Memory is like the beautiful princess in the fairy tale who was enchanted and lying in a crystal coffin. Even if she is awakened hundreds of years later, she will probably be unrecognizable. There is no scientific basis for saying that a memory has been “locked” intact in the depths of the subconscious mind for decades, and then one day “opens the door” and comes to light again.
  It’s hard to tell the authenticity of evoked memories
  . It would be great if we could identify which of the evoked memories are real and which are fake (tampered with). But what makes the problem difficult is that it is almost impossible to distinguish between real memories. and false memories.
  There is plenty of evidence that over time, false memories become as real to people as what actually happened. In one study, psychologists asked 24 adult volunteers about their childhood experiences. After asking the volunteers’ parents, the researchers asked each volunteer about three real experiences and one fabricated experience – a lie that the volunteer got lost in a large shopping mall when he was 5 years old. The survey found that only two-thirds of actual events were recalled by volunteers. However, 7 people even “recalled” the experiences fabricated by the researchers, and were able to describe the scene in detail.
  Therefore, for things that happened a long time ago, it is easy for a person to regard what others have led him to believe as what actually happened. It later turned out that in the 1980s and 1990s, the reason why many people accused their relatives of abusing them in childhood was because they received bad inducements and suggestions from their therapists during the treatment process. Recent research has also shown that people are easily led to believe things like “beating an enemy black and blue” or “taking a hot air balloon ride” because it appeals to their inner desires.
  Even the physiological responses were nearly identical when stating false memories and real memories. In one study, researchers asked people who said they had been abducted by aliens to describe their experiences while measuring their heart rates, sweating and muscle tension. The researchers found that the physiological reactions of these people were exactly the same as those of real people who had been kidnapped by robbers when they described their experiences.
  So, without hard evidence, it’s impossible to tell whether a memory is real or fake. Of course, there are still some psychologists trying to find possible differences between real memories and false memories.
  The treatment effect is counterproductive
  . An important reason why Freud’s “memory repression theory” became popular in the last century is that many people claim that patients’ stubborn mental illnesses can be cured by awakening long-term “repressed” memories in the subconscious. .
  It is undeniable that those reported success cases are likely to be true, but many people ignore that there are actually a large number of cases of failure or even worsening of the condition.
  For example, in a report published in 1996, 26 of 30 patients first “remembered” childhood abuse during Freudian therapy. Three of them had suicidal impulses before treatment, and 20 wanted to commit suicide after treatment. Before treatment, only one person self-harmed, but after treatment, eight people self-harmed. Before treatment, 25 people did not give up their jobs, but after treatment, only 3 people did not give up their jobs.
  It is not difficult to see that Freudian therapy not only lacks scientific basis, but is also very poor in effectiveness.
  Our study of memory is far from over, and many mysteries remain to be solved. However, this does not prevent us from using existing knowledge to clarify some specious statements, such as the idea that “memory can sleep for a long time and then be awakened intact.”

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