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Recently someone asked me:  why do I have such a hard time trusting my abuse memories?  It reminded me of an earlier time in my healing, where I agonized over this very question.  I didn’t want to believe my story, and discounted it as often as I could, wavering back and forth between believing and not wanting to believe.  I never really didn’t believe;  I just wanted to not believe it, and was looking for anything to prove I’d made it up. So I had a very hard time believing my memories.

At first I would read quotes like this, which would throw me into despair:

Know then: that which is in the hands of people, that which they believe, is liable to error. For, in proving or disproving a thing, if a proof is brought forward which is taken from the evidence of our senses, this method, as has become evident, is not perfect; if the proofs are intellectual, the same is true; or if they are traditional, such proofs are also not perfect. Therefore, there is no standard in the hands of people upon which we can rely.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 297-299)

Then I read further:

But the bounty of the Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension which is infallible and indubitable. This is through the help of the Holy Spirit which comes to man, and this is the condition in which certainty can alone be attained.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 297-299)

Because this quote said the “Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension which is infallible”, and because I was so desperate to trust what I remembered, I thought if I wrote to the House of Justice and asked if I could trust what I remembered, then the Holy Spirit would work through them and confirm my memories for me!

They wrote:

Your therapist is also in the best position to assist you to distinguish between those events which have occurred, and any other im­pressions in your memory which may not be based on actual experi­ences.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1992)

Sadly, because at this time, therapists were being accused of planting memories, creating the “false memory” syndrome, I didn’t feel I could trust my therapist’s judgement, so I was happy to find the following quote:

Consequently, it has become evident that the four criteria stan­dards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions (senses, intellect, traditional or scriptural and inspiration) are faulty and inaccurate. All of them are liable to mistake and error in conclu­sions. But a statement presented to the mind, accompanied by proofs which the senses can perceive to be correct, which the faculty of rea­son can accept, which is in accord with traditional authority and sanc­tioned by the promptings of the heart, can be adjudged and relied upon as perfectly correct, for it has been proved and tested by all the standards of judgment and found to be complete. When we apply but one test, there are possibilities of mistake. This is self-evident and manifest.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 255)

Every time I thought I might be making it up, I went through this process almost as if it were a checklist:

  • Does this memory have proofs that my sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell perceive to be true?  For example, in considering an incident of sexual abuse, I  can see the event in my mind’s eye; and hear what was said echoing in my head.  I can’t have Ivory soap in the house or drink apple juice (the smell and taste are triggering) and I can’t let anyone touch or hug me (because if they touch me, they will have to have sex with me).  So it passes this test.
  • Can my reasoning powers accept that it could be true?  My father was cross-addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs, so it’s possible that he was not in his right mind at the time; also it’s possible that he doesn’t remember either, because he blocked it out; or was in an altered state when he abused me.
  • Is it in accord with traditional understandings?  Statistically there’s a high correlation between alcohol and sexual abuse.
  • Has it been sanctioned by the promptings of the heart?  For this one I imagine someone putting a gun to my head and asking me if it was true – and I always say it was.

So because it passed all these tests, I could feel fairly certain that I could trust this memory.

I also liked this quote, which describes the process by which a memory is made:

Man has also spiritual powers: imagination, which conceives things; thought, which reflects upon realities; comprehension, which comprehends realities, memory, which retains whatever man imagines, thinks, and comprehends . . . For instance, sight is one of the outer powers; it sees and perceives this flower, and conveys this perception to the inner power — the common faculty — which transmits this perception to the power of imagination, which in its turn conceives and forms this image and transmits it to the power of thought; the power of thought reflects, and having grasped the reality, conveys it to the power of comprehension; the comprehension, when it has comprehended it, delivers the image of the object perceived to the memory, and the memory keeps it in its repository.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 317)

Have you ever had trouble trusting your own memories?  How has this helped?  What other tools have helped you?  Post your comments here: