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Is it safe to trust our memory?
The simple answer to the question is yes, no and maybe. The problem is that memory is of course imperfect but we have little else that can recall our personal history using all our senses as trigger mechanisms.
Memory in a purely aural culture is more accurate than in a society that uses text. Memories for us all are subjective, in that we remember what our senses tell us from our own perspective about the event. Memory is not like a video camera that records all, for us to replay as we like.
Therefore all memories are distorted to a lesser or greater degree and we must stop thinking of memories as either true or false but rather as valid, productive or responsible. If we remove the possibility of deceit for the moment, we find that there are no absolutes in memory but rather there are perceptions of an event. We have all heard stories of an eye witness being genuinely mistaken about a sequence of events or the differing conclusion reached by pectators at a sporting event.
As all but a few extremists have accepted the fact that memories can be repressed especially memories of a traumatic nature. We have to decide if a memory is either valid, productive or responsible rather than absolutely factual in its content.
Over time all memories become distorted, each time you recall a memory you may unconsciously change it by adding or omitting some detail. We need to understand that this distortion does not make the memory less valid or responsible as evidence say in a court of law. We must also understand that traumatic memories remain in sharper focus even when repressed
I believe that distortion of traumatic memories is possible in several ways. The following list is not meant to be complete or scientifically researched but rather as a thought provoker.
Remember, memories are not a perfect recording system, we may even be at the mercy of unconscious factors that construct an account in keeping with our psychological needs. However, traumatic memories through all the unconsious factors and the distortions are valid and responsible when triggered and interpreted in the correct way by a professional.
© 1999 Watton on the Web part of River Ministries (Norfolk)
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