Narcissistic Abuse and Altered or Repressed Memories

narcissistic abuse and altered or repressed memories Amy Dodd Pilkington

I have been abused by multiple narcissists in the past and relived the resurrection of repressed memories many times. If you’ve ever been a victim of narcissistic abuse, you likely understand altered or repressed memories.

Manifestation of altered or repressed memories

The manifestation of these memories can vary. Sometimes it comes back like a flood and the wave of memories can be overwhelming. At other times, the memories trickle in like a dripping faucet. I don’t know which is worse – feeling all the things at once or dealing with small pieces at a time and waiting to learn how bad the memory will be.

It is odd the things that can trigger a memory. A sound, a touch, a smell, an action, or a single word, even, can bring back memories. It can ruin some things when something you like or enjoy brings back a disturbing memory. It can also lead to depression and even suicidal ideation.

Explaining altered and repressed memories

For those of you who don’t understand altered or repressed memories, let me explain it a bit. It tends to be the people who don’t understand it that scream, “Why didn’t she report it?” “How does she remember something from 20 years ago?” and “She must be lying if she’s only remembering it now.”

There are repressed memories, and there are altered memories. Many of these memories are painful, and we would prefer to forget them and leave them that way. Unfortunately, that is rarely what happens.

Repressed memories as a coping mechanism for narcissistic abuse

Our mind is a powerful thing and in the interest of self-preservation it can completely block out memories to handle things we cannot process or cope with at the time. Sometimes our minds do indeed block things out. That’s a repressed memory. No memory of the event or time exists for a period of time–or possibly a lifetime.

Repressed memories are a coping mechanism for trauma. I have some repressed memories that I still cannot remember even decades later despite knowing what happened. For example, my cousin was my best friend when I was a small child. He died of cystic fibrosis when we were both very young. I know I went to the funeral because I have been told. I have no memory of it. It’s likely better left that way.

Altered memories caused by gaslighting and fear

Altered memories are often the result of narcissistic abuse and/or fear. Gaslighting can create altered memories of events over time. A person can find it hard to piece together what really happened or if something actually happened. Fear of an abuser can also alter memory. An attacker can invoke such intense fear through threats that memory becomes altered.

I have experienced altered memories as a result of abuse and gaslighting. Some memories were fuzzy as an abuser gaslighted me into believing certain abuses never happened. It was only once the abuse was repeated that I understood my memories were real and not imagined. The abuse did happen just as I thought it did.

Trauma affects memory and memory can be triggered

Over the past few years, I have relived a lot of trauma in my head in an attempt to finally make peace with everything in my past. I feel I’m almost there as long as repressed memories don’t resurface and cause a setback.

We never know what will trigger a memory. I’ve had someone touch me, triggering a repressed memory or clearing up an altered memory. Smells brought back memories. Have you ever smelled perfume, cologne, or food that triggered a memory? Sometimes the memory associated with a smell is good, and sometimes it is awful. Loud noises trigger PTSD in some people. It jogs the memory. So many things can trigger a memory we don’t really want.

My experience with altered and repressed memories and narcissistic abuse

I’ve had many memories trapped just below the surface beneath a veil so thin that I knew something was there. Pieces bled through and eventually, it all leaked out or the dam broke and flooded me with memories. I’ve never been able to fully repress any memory other than my cousin’s funeral. Not even a small piece exists in my mind.

Altered memories are completely different for me. I know what happened. My mind knows. It also knows what an abuser told me happened or didn’t happen. The memory of reality exists, but it’s questioned because of successful gaslighting.

Narcissistic abuse affects memory

I have always had something happen that confirmed my memory was correct. Some took years, but they were all confirmed by the actions and words of others. Not one bit of my memories was false or made up by me. A new version was told to me repeatedly or in such a threatening manner that my mind decided to go along with it rather than face further harm.

Narcissistic abuse and altered or repressed memories can cause a victim to relive a traumatic experience at any time. The pain of reliving these memories is as fresh and real as when the traumatic event occurred.

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I am now more capable of spotting narcissists in order to avoid narcissistic abuse. The memories I’ve relived were painful, but each piece provided closure and allowed me to heal. Perhaps I am finally at the end of reliving repressed memories. Perhaps I will never again have to live with the confusion of altered memories.

If you’re dealing with any of these things, I’m here. I’m happy to offer support.

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