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Fear Of Remembering Things

Question:

I am afraid to go to a therapist for fear of remembering things that I have tried to block out of my mind. People keep telling me until I seek help I will never get better. I have been on antidepressants for many years now but I still have the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am an adult survivor of child abuse and I am nearing 40 now. I just don’t know if I could handle remembering everything.

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Answer:

There are two basic ways to cope with trauma. One way seeks relief through exposure and recovery of ‘repressed’ memories, while the other is content to let sleeping dogs lie and works to improve life as it is today, working around those skeletons in the closet. There is an idea out there that the only proper way to manage trauma is to face it down, but that is not always the best way to handle things. Whether you should open yourself up to exploratory counseling to recover and conquer those old memories or not has a lot to do with your own attitudes and your stamina and how well the rest of your life is going. If you are barely holding things together emotionally, are generally afraid of what you’ll find and don’t have much tolerance for pain, then it is perfectly reasonable and even advisable for you to avoid confrontation. If you go for therapy in such a case, that therapy ought to be about helping you to learn how to develop better coping skills and routines, rather than exploring the past. Denial is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be your friend.

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p> If on the other hand, things are going well in your life, you have a relatively high tolerance for pain, and you want to understand what happened to you in detail and to confront the past so as to “overcome” it (or at least lessen your fear of it), then a more exploratory therapy could possibly be a good idea. Even so, you want to be gentle and respectful of trauma memories at all times. Such memories represent very painful troubling episodes in your past life, and have the potential to disrupt and disorganize your present life if they are not approached with care. See my past essay about the therapeutic window for more detail.

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p> In any event, I do think it is a good idea to seek out the aide of a therapist if you are having a difficult time. A therapist could be of great service to you in helping you to better manage your life as it exists today (without getting into past abuse), for instance, helping you cope better with that ‘weight’ which is perhaps a form of depression. Should there come a time when you would want to explore and come to better terms with abuse memories, the relationship you might build up with your therapist could help make that exploratory work feel safer.

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