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[This excerpt is from Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma , pp. 122-123, by Michael Yapko, Ph.D. Simon and Schuster, New York. Copyright (c) 1994. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Read our review or order it from]

An excerpt regarding the myth of body memories:

A woman in her late twenties whom I will call Andrea came for therapy. Andrea told me she had previously seen another therapist because she was suffering from bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by deliberate purging (i.e., self-induced vomiting, inappropriate use of laxatives). Andrea was intensely preoccupied with the idea of maintaining a specific body weight, and went to the extremes of binging and purging in order to satisfy her desire to eat without gaining weight. Bulimia is a very extreme and destructive pattern, with many long-term health risks.

It has been frequently stated in the recovery literature that bulimia is associated with repressed memories of sexual abuse, despite some recent evidence that that is not necessarily the case at all. In any event, Andrea's previous therapist diagnosed and treated her from an abuse framework. Even though she did not believe she had been abused, her therapist told her that her body was clearly manifesting its memories of having been abused. Her feelings of disgust and shame when eating were symbolic of her reaction to being penetrated, and her need to purge was symbolic of her struggle to get out her terrible feelings of self-loathing for what had happened to her. Pressured to accept these interpretations as body memories, in this case the feeling of emptiness leading to binging and the bloated feeling of a too-full stomach compelling her to purge, Andrea continued in the therapy with the goal of trying to recover memories of the episodes of abuse assumed to have occurred.

Andrea described her experience to me in this way: "She [the therapist] was so sure that I was abused and that's why my body is all screwed up. She told me that that's what bodies do--they hold on to the crummy feelings even when your mind forgets . . . My problems with food made sense all of a sudden, but I still can't find any memories like the ones she said must be somewhere in my mind. Even after we did a lot of imagery, I didn't have any memories, but my stomach really does some pretty big flip-flops . . . She said my body memories are getting ready to become real memories . . .

Believers in the validity of body memories as firm evidence often know they are walking on thin ice, and many rationalize further by saying, "The memory of abuse is stored as a sensory impression as an infant or young child and is then interpreted later when the person learns language and can understand the meaning of those sensory impressions." It's an interesting hypothesis, but how do we prove it or disprove it? And in the meantime, how can we justify talking to clients about body memories as though they were objective evidence of abuse?

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