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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > May June 2018 > Trauma and Taboo

Trauma and Taboo

Traumatic Memories Are Alive and Well and Eating Your Innards Out

The name may have changed, but recovered memories haven’t gone away.

They’re claimed to be destroying our minds and bodies.

The reason has more to do with taboo than trauma.

Corticeps is a nasty but fascinating genus of fungus that burrows into the bodies and brains of insects. As fungal enzymes dissolve and disrupt neurotransmission, the infected insect’s behavior is changed, and it makes itself available to be eaten and eventually excreted by predators, thereby increasing the fungus’s own chances of propagation. Lots of zombie films base their plots on Corticeps-like pathogens infecting humans, munching away on their brains, and changing their behaviors to spread more pathogens, making more zombies. The films are mostly silly and occasionally entertaining.

There’s a subset of psychotherapy called “Trauma Therapy.” It argues that childhood abuse is the human equivalent of Corticeps. Worse, in fact. Trauma therapy argues that childhood abuse not only eats out the brains of its victims, changing their behaviors, but their bodies as well. Like zombie films, the research is mostly silly. Unlike the films, the therapy is potentially dangerous.

Trauma Therapy is the phoenix reborn from the ashes of Freud’s Child Seduction Theory, which presumed that childhood sexual abuse, buried away in the unconscious, was responsible for subsequent mental illnesses. The mechanism for the seduction theory’s amnesia was repression—the belief that those unacceptable memories of childhood sexual molestation could be buried in young minds, eating away at mind and body, and emerging as mental illnesses in adulthood. Even Freud didn’t believe it and abandoned the theory (Freud 1897).

But belief in a connection between childhood sexual abuse and repression wouldn’t die. In America, therapists trained in Freudian, semi-Freudian, or quasi-Freudian techniques kept the discarded theory alive. During the 1980s and 1990s, repressed memories of childhood abuse became the etiological foundation of Multiple Personality Disorder, a disorder said to be obvious in its “hiddenness.” Therapists, whether professional, lay, or religious, all set out to find their clients’ different personalities and uncover the repressed memories of childhood abuse—usually in numbers inversely proportional to the therapist’s level of education.

After numerous lawsuits and professional licenses were lost during the Memory Wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the terms repression and Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) were finally put to rest by the American Psychiatric Association. But, unfortunately, the underlying beliefs remain.

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Progressophobia: Why Things Are Better Than You Think They Are STEVEN PIKER Percival Lowell and the Canals of Mars The Curious Question of Ghost Taxonomy and much more!