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Could a trauma I don't remember affect my ability to trust today?

answered 08:20 AM EST, Sun February 24, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
I just found out that I was sexually abused by my uncle when I was 5 years old. I don’t want to get too graphic but he was naked and he was making me touch him. My mom walked in on it. They decided at the time not to press charges but that explains why my aunt and uncle were the only members of our extended family who never once came over to our house for family gatherings. My mom says we talked about it a lot as a family at the time but then they decided to just try to forget that it ever happened. The strange thing is that I can’t remember this event at all. I have no recollection of any of it and if it wasn’t my own mother who told me about it I would never even believe that it was possible. I have had a lot of trouble sustaining relationships and I have trust issues. My mom says she told me because she is worried that what happened to me way back then is causing my problems today. I am very disturbed by all of this but I do not think that my current troubles could be caused by an event I have no recollection of. Is it possible that I am affected more than I realize? I am not sure what to do with this information now that I have it.

Art Matthews Says...

Without going into a discussion of psychological theories related to memory and trauma, the short answer is "maybe." If you think about an infant's experience of the world, everything is quite new and each experience is a new learning opportunity. A toddler might happen on a hot iron, burning a finger. That child then learns to distrust irons until s/he grows old enough to understand how an iron works and how to avoid getting hurt. But the exact memory of getting burned initially might get lost amid so many other life experiences.

What has that to do with being molested as a child? What you experienced so long ago might have been a very mixed experience for you. On some level, the physical sensation might not have felt unpleasant, but the context in which you experienced it may have been very frightening and confusing. A person you should have been able to trust took advantage of a power differential and introduced you to something you were not prepared to handle. The attention paid in the follow up conversations may have caused you to feel uncomfortable and ashamed, followed by the secrecy of not recognizing that anything happened.

All of this experience and the mixed messages afterward might have led you to feel uncertain about relationships and how to trust people. You created a "rule" that others can seem to be safe people but still not be; therefore, having a close intimate relationship causes confusion and anxiety. "Should I trust this person? How much? How do I know when not to? What if they hurt me?"

And then again, maybe that experience so long ago wasn't recalled because it was over before you felt traumatized because your parents rescued you and you felt safe again. Perhaps your difficulty with relationships and trust comes from later experiences, low self-worth, social anxiety or some other cause.

What I believe would be more beneficial to you than chasing down rabbit holes to find out why, is to work with a good therapist to work on learning to trust and figuring out what's going on in your current relationships. If you were to look back and determine the why, you would still have the work of fixing it to do.

The benefit to you of not trusting others is that you can protect yourself from getting hurt. But that protection comes at a price you are no longer willing to pay. Working with a qualified, licensed mental health provider will help you see you no longer need this level of protection, you can risk getting hurt emotionally and you could survive a loss should it happen. Don't let the revelation of this past trauma allow you to think of yourself as irrevocably damaged goods.

You like so many others before you, you can overcome and live a different and more fulfilling life. It's time to stop avoiding your life out of fear of getting hurt. It's time to start healing. Begin by researching and contacting therapists and make an appointment. You can do it.

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Page last updated Feb 24, 2013

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