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[This excerpt is from Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma , pp. , 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]


One of the biggest mistakes that the falsely accused and their families typically make is to look for the answers to their questions in the history of their relationship with the accuser. They wonder whether they gave another of their children preferential treatment, whether they should have taken more family vacations, or whether they should have been more loving, and so forth. They erroneously believe that the past will somehow provide an explanation for the present. While this is sometimes true, more often than not the relationships of the past have little bearing on the insanity of the present. Raking up the past in the search for clues is to rewrite the past, just as the accuser has done, since in the process memories are inevitably filtered selectively to fit the current picture.

The accuser is responding not to the past, but rather to the needs of right now. Family members ask, "How could this have happened? We were always so close." I often believe them. They frequently present letters, cards, and pictures, even recent ones, in which the accuser expresses love and affection, even appreciation, for them. And then, inexplicably, things change.

We might just as well ask, how does it happen that a young man who grew up on a farm in the Midwest goes off to college and ends up becoming a Hare Krishna? There is nothing in this man's background that would have predisposed him to choose to be a Hare Krishna specifically. But he's at an impressionable age when he is searching for answers to life's toughest questions: "What is the meaning of my life?" "Why am I here?" "What will make me happy?" "What do I believe about life and death?" So, one night he goes to a Krishna meeting at the suggestion of an interested friend. Lo and behold, he meets people who say things that somehow fit his needs to understand himself and to find purpose in life. He doesn't immediately become a member, but he starts to attend more and more of their lectures and meetings. He learns how to think, dress, conduct relationships, pray, contribute, and how to do everything else the "right" way, meaning the Krishna way. Over time--but faster than anyone else can understand--he has become deeply immersed in his life with Krishna.

It is easy for us to dismiss such groups as the Hare Krishnas and the Moonies as fanatics or cultists. But, many "mainstream" religious and spiritual leaders are equally skilled in manipulating people's need to believe, and the process by which they win converts" is similar, even when their values are more accepted socially. Therapy that provides a rigid belief system is no different. The answer to the question why someone would make a false allegation of abuse lies not much deeper than the therapist's explanation to the client: "From your symptoms, it is clear that you were abused." It provides a clear and specific scapegoat--someone else to blame for one's own failures. It provides a specific identity--that of an "abuse survivor." It provides an instant support network of empathetic and sympathetic people in this cold, impersonal world, namely all the others who show up at recovery meetings. It provides an apparently safe outlet for exploring and communicating one's feelings.

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