Yes, victims of abuse sometimes forget the abuse they endured. This is called “Betrayal Blindness.” For example, Betrayal Blindness can happen to people who were sexually abused as children, even in situations where the child was old enough to remember other events from the same period of time that the abuse took place. It can also happen to adults who are abused during adulthood, such as in the case of victims of domestic violence.
Typically, the more intimate the relationship and the level of dependency between the abuser and the abused, the more likely it is for the victim to forget the abuse they have experienced. The reason for this is that someone who is dependent on their abuser cannot afford to be aware of the abuse because awareness can put their relationship with the abuser, and thus their very survival, in jeopardy.
For example, a young child whose father sexually abuses them cannot afford to remember their abuse if it will make them reject their father. They need to remain attached to their father because of their dependency on him in order to survive. They are motivated to forget their abuse to be able to remain attached to their father.
People sometimes remember the abuse they’ve endured as children, or as adults, once they are no longer dependent on their abuser. Their memories can come back in bits and pieces, when they return, sometimes over a period of weeks.
Memories of abuse often motivate people to seek counselling because they want to understand what happened to them. They may also wish to work through the current-day trauma that comes with remembering.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I invite you to read Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell’s 2013 book titled “Blind to betrayal. Why we fool ourselves: We aren’t being fooled.”
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
Liked what you read? Sign-up to receive my free monthly blog updates straight to your in-box.