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)

Ritual Abuse and Denial

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I promised I would write about denial. I started off thinking, “Oh this will be easy,” but I was mistaken. I found that denial, minimization, repression, and amnesia were all mixed up in my mind. After sleeping on it for several days, I figured out that in denial and minimization the thought, feeling, or memory is not forgotten, it resides in the conscious mind; it just isn’t interpreted the way most people would interpret it. Whereas in repression and amnesia the thought, feeling, or memory is unconscious.

Denial is. well, denying something is so. Minimization is admitting it’s so, but believing it isn’t really all that bad.

I’ll give an example from my past. For years I said (and believed) I didn’t self-harm. All that time, though, I was scratching the back of my neck and picking off the scabs. That’s denial. On and off I was aware I was doing this but I never really thought about what it might mean. When I finally admitted to myself that I was self-harming, I said that it didn’t really count because it was so much less severe than taking drugs or cutting or burning myself. That’s minimization.

True, it was a mild form of self-harm. But it still was self-harm.

I figured out that I had been abused in the woods as a young child and that the twigs and stones on the ground had left scratches on my back. I was recreating those scratches and I didn’t know why. It was the memory trying to surface and I made sure those scratches stayed open until I recognized it as a sign from my unconscious that I needed to pay attention to something.

When I got the memory and processed it, I no longer had the need to scratch myself. If I need to remind myself, I can take a mirror and see the scars. I can’t see the internal; scars, but I know they are there and sometimes I am acutely aware of them.

This example of denial didn’t cause any real harm to me or to anybody else. But often denial leaves destruction in its wake, like a hurricane. It ruins relationships and sucks the joy out of life for the person in denial and all those around them. People adapt to the denier’s behavior and this, rather than bringing peace and harmony as hoped, feeds the denial. The behavior being denied becomes a secret, corrosive as all secrets are.

Think of an alcoholic who says, “I’m not an alcoholic, I only drink beer.” But how many beers a day? Or “I only drink after five o’clock.” But how much? Does the money spent on alcohol strain the family budget? Does that person turn nasty and say horrible things to his kids? Are there fights, sometimes ending in violence? And what happens when that person blacks out?

Now the role of denial in alcoholism is much better understood than it is in survivors of ritual abuse, perpetrators, and family members. I think that’s because amnesia and multiplicity are much more central in ritual abuse and denial tends to be overlooked.

Let’s take a ritual abuse perpetrator who is also an alcoholic. (I am using the masculine pronoun, although we all know that there are many female perpetrators, probably just as many as male.) Chances are that he is amnesiac for his ritual abuse activities. If confronted, he would be baffled and think the person who was accusing him was crazy or had some ulterior motive to cause trouble. Why would anybody make up something like that? It would make no sense to him.

Of course, it might be possible that some of this information had leaked through to him. Perhaps he dreamed of orgies. This bothered him because he had never been to an orgy and had absolutely no desire to go to one. But he might have an uneasy, irrational fear that the accuser could read his mind and he might react defensively out of shame and fear. Whereas, if the action is conscious, no matter how much the person tries to push it away, he would know, on some level, that the accusation is true.

So, I believe that the closer the information is to the surface, the more angry and defensive he would be.

Now, although he may tell himself his drinking isn’t to the point of being alcoholism, the drinking is not close to the surface, it’s on the surface and he is conscious of it every day. In other words, he knows, but, in order to justify holding on to his addiction, he denies its severity and minimizes it, both to himself and to others.

When he is confronted, he may be defensive, angry, and argumentative. Unless he is ready to give it up because it is causing him too much pain, in which case he will react with relief. Relief, of course, isn’t available to a person if he is amnesiac and doesn’t know of his behavior.

Writing this has sorted some things out for me. I hope it helps to sort things out for others, too.

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Upcoming Holidays

11/22 US Thanksgiving
11/23 Full Moon
12/21 Yule/Winter Solstice
12/22 Full Moon
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/25 Christmas Day
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates important to Neo-Nazi groups
11/9 Kristallnacht
(Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lamas, Halloween, solstices, equinoxes, and full moons.)