Minimization, Denial, and Amnesia

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I’m writing this time about three defenses that protect us from overwhelming feelings. It isn’t only people who have endured extreme trauma as children or who are dissociative who employ these defenses; everybody does. It’s a matter how often they are used and how much they interfere with making good choices in life.

Sometimes people assume that defenses are “bad.” They aren’t good or bad; they are simply protective, Ask any one of us if it is agonizing to freak out all the time and you will get an earful. Luckily defenses smooth things out and calm things down so that there is less suffering over-all. But they can also be used to damp down feelings about situations that are dangerous, and, while it might feel better in the moment, it increases suffering in the long run. So are defenses good or bad? Like so many other things, it all depends.

These three defenses are related. I’ll start with the mildest one.

Minimization is down-playing the importance of something, either consciously or unconsciously, either to oneself or to others. “I was only five miles over the speed limit.” (Actually, it was twenty-five.) I wasn’t drunk last night – I only had three drinks. (Three drinks in an hour can get you pretty drunk.) “Don’t worry about me – I’m fine.” (Well, actually, I am feeling a little bit bad about…”)

If minimization is unconscious, it’s harder to break through than if it is conscious, and it’s almost impossible to do it alone. How can you know something you don’t know? Unless, of course, you have an alter who does know and who can tell you in such a way that you are able to listen.

Denial is more robust than minimization. Denial means you believe something that isn’t true. “We weren’t poor as children. We always had food on the table.” But the kids’ clothes were worn-out hand-me-downs, the electricity often was turned off, and, during the last week of the month, dinner was usually spaghetti or rice and beans, if that. Believing a fantasy allows you to hold your head high.

Denial can be deep-seated. I once worked with an alcoholic who believed with all sincerity that beer did not contain alcohol. Showing him the label with the percentage of alcohol clearly marked just elicited the response, “Oh, that’s only a marketing ploy.” If he didn’t believe it, he was doing a great job of irritating me.

Denial, by definition, is unconscious. If you know you are denying something, you aren’t in denial; you are lying to yourself. You may half believe your lie, but you half don’t. The truth of the matter is buried in the unconscious. Why? Because it is too unbearable to face, at least for now. Maybe later in life, when you have more resources, you will be able to come to grips with the issue, but not right now.

Amnesia is the strongest of these three defenses. It’s as if a fifty-foot high ten-feet deep stone wall has been erected around things that would be totally overwhelming if conscious. We think of amnesiac barriers as existing between alters to keep them apart. Imagine for a moment that the whole system has one mind. The system believes that if those alters were in contact it with each other would be extremely dangerous for everybody in the system. So the alters must stay apart, and the information they have must not be communicated.

As I said earlier, people who are not multiple can also have amnesia. A study was done where girls who had been sexually assaulted as teens were identified through hospital records and interviewed a few years later. Most did not remember either being assaulted or going to the hospital. (Wish I could remember the reference.) Some probably were dissociative to begin with, but undoubtedly many were not.

I believe that the phenomenon of amnesia for traumatic events in non-multiple people is less studied than in dissociative people. Perhaps I just am not up on the literature about people who aren’t like me! I don’t remember any explanation of why some women forgot their trauma and others didn’t. That would make a fascinating piece of research.

When it comes to survivors of ritual abuse or other forms of severe trauma, it’s intuitively easy to understand why intense pain and terror inflicted in a group setting before the age of six is bound to produce amnesia. If that weren’t enough, many of us have remembered hypnotic sessions when we were repeatedly told to forget and never remember. And many of us were manipulated to have only certain alters know certain things, and those alters were programmed to appear on command of the handlers. It’s little wonder out amnesia is so hard to overcome.

One personal thought. I do not seem to “lose time” in the sense that there is a gap in my consciousness. It’s not like being under anesthesia or in a an alcoholic black-out.  I don’t lose information instantaneously; the information doesn’t disappear like snow on the water. My memories fade out with time. Sometimes it takes hours, something months. The result is that there is precious little in my long-term memory.

I believe that I was taught so well not to remember that my mind was molded to forget things. The hypnotic command to forget is no longer confined to dangerous things; it applies to almost everything. It’s annoying to me and everybody around me, but there is little I can do except find work-arounds. For example, my keys are tied to my purse, and my purse is a vivid color that is nothing like anything else in my environment. It takes a lot of effort to think of ways around my forgetfulness, but when I figure things out, life does get simpler.


Upcoming Holidays

Note: Additional information on the following holidays is available at:
August Ritual Dates
Fall Equinox

7/16 Full moon
7/16 – 7/17 Partial lunar eclipse. Visible in South America, Africa, most of Europe and Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
7/25 St. James´ Day/Festival of the Horned God

8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/15 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

9/2 Labor Day (US)
9/5 – 9/7 Feast of the Beast/Marriage of the Beast
9/13 Full moon
9/13 Friday the Thirteenth
9/23 Fall equinox

10/13 Full moon
10/14 (?) Columbus Day
10/31 Halloween/start of Celtic New Year/start of the dark half of the year

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
7/29 Hitler proclaimed leader of the Nazi party
9/29 – 10/1 Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, Day of Judgement)
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

My Brain is Wired to Forget

Everybody has ways of defending themselves against thoughts or feelings that are just too hard to face. Know anybody who says, “Oh, it’s nothing,” when it really is a pretty big deal – like an abcessed tooth, for example? Or “I don’t really feel sad,” when a pet dies? That’s minimizing, a defense that allows you to feel calm instead of flooded by strong feelings.

It’s normal to have defenses. And it is also normal for a person to have one or two ways of defending themselves that they use a lot more than others. Favorite defenses, defenses to turn to automatically every time the going gets tough.

The more a defense is used, the more it becomes “wired” in the brain, and this happens pretty early in childhood. In other words, the kid’s brain thinks, “Well, it worked last time, let’s try it this time.” If it works often enough, it gets used over and over. If it doesn’t work, it loses its appeal and doesn’t get chosen very often.

My go-to defense is forgetting. I was carefully and systematically taught to forget what happened in cult settings. I was taught not to speak to outsiders about anything that happened because it was none of their business. I was threatened with harm to myself, my pets, or my brother if I remembered and told somebody and I was also hypnotized to forget. Anybody ever heard the phrase “Remember to forget and forget to remember?”

I learned very well how to forget. To the best of my knowledge I told nobody until my early fifties – and when I say nobody, that includes myself. I was totally amnesic for what happened back then.

Besides serving the cult well, my skill at forgetting protected me most of the time against constant terror, fear, and guilt. I couldn’t have strong feelings about what I didn’t know. Instead, those feelings were dampened and displaced onto other things. But forgetting spread out over innocuous things, too. I no longer forgot “that:” I forgot everything.

Of course, everybody forgets to some extent. Things they stop using, like algebra, fade out and make room for more useful things, like how to use email. But I experience that in spades. In school, after I took the final exam, the course material rapidly faded until in a few months it was as if I had never taken the course.

I lived in a house for twenty-five years starting in my late twenties. Now I am driving myself nuts trying to remember details. Where did I store the towels? The dog food? Who did we give the purple couch to? What did we sit on before we got the purple couch, and what happened to that first couch or those first chairs, if there was no couch?

I knew a man who could remember lots of facts, including a huge number of nice meals he ate. I imagine that his mind was filled with sensory details that wove a rich tapestry. And the pleasure he got recalling them! His life must have seemed much fuller than mine, even though I had more varied experiences than he did, to put it mildly. Knowing that this is possible for some people makes me sad because, when I look back, I remember so little that my life seems really empty.

I had hopes that dealing with the abusive events that taught me not to remember would free me up to remember more every-day things, but the results were temporary, for the most part. I’ve come to an acceptance that things may get a little better, but I can’t expect anything spectacular.

As I explained in a previous post, I went a little crazy fearing I had incipient dementia from memory loss. Now I have started to be able to separate my base-line memory problems from new developments. It’s reassuring to find out that not much is new. Still, I wish I were more like that lucky man. <sigh>


Upcoming Holidays

3/30 Good Friday/Death of Jesus Christ
3/31 Full Moon (Blue Moon: second full moon of the month)
4/1 Easter Sunday
4/1 April Fool’s Day
4/8 Day of the Masters
4/29 Full Moon
4/16 – 4/23 Grand Climax/Da Meur/ (Preparation for sacrifice in some Satanic sects)
4/30 Walpurgisnacht/May Eve
5/1 Beltane/May Day/ Labour Day in Europe
5/13 Mothers’ Day
5/28 Memorial Day
5/29 Full moon

Dates important to Neo-Nazi groups
4/20 Hitler’s birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual birthday, 4/20, and Easter of the current year. His alternate birthday is 4/1 this year.)
4/30 Anniversary of Hitler’s death
(Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lamas, Halloween, solstices, equinoxes, and full moons.)