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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]


Some abuse experts suggest that the great majority of adult Americans come from "dysfunctional families" where some level of abuse, however mild or severe, was present. Where this idea comes from is not clear, but there is no question that whenever you broaden criteria for membership, more people join the club. Some go so far as to rank the petty disappointments, humiliations and rejections of life as abuse right alongside serious cases of violence or incest. Such superficial examples trivialize the depth of pain that survivors of serious abuse suffer. They also illustrate the point that old memories can be redefined in light of new perspectives. Why do so many people inappropriately jump on the recovery movement bandwagon? Quite frankly, I think that when you appeal to the lowest common denominator in people, you will always get a big response. Television programs that are crude and vulgar are big hits. Movies that are sexually explicit or graphically violent are instant box office successes. Many recovery experts shine their spotlights on people's emotional needs, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. They soothe people with acceptance and cajole them with permission to "let it all hang out." Any time you offer to free people from personal responsibility and let them loosen their restraints, you'll have lots of followers. Some leaders of the abuse recovery movement give powerful emotional validation to those who already feel justified in identify mg themselves as victims-abused by their parents' insensitivity, neglect, or rejection. Who wasn't painfully disciplined at times? Who wasn't told "no" when he or she wanted to be told "yes"? Who has never been hurt, humiliated, or ignored, and who hasn't suffered all the rest of what happens that is painful in human relationships? Such leaders provide definitions of abuse that will cover these instances, too, even if you were not violently or sexually assaulted. They offer sympathy in these generally unsympathetic times, and they promise eventual salvation if only you believe. Their widespread acceptance is one indicator of how poor many people's self- esteem really is.


Adding new perspective to old experiences can literally rewrite them. "Modest upbringings" may become redefined as "poverty," a "hard-working father" may be redefined as "detached and Unavailable," and a "loving and protective mother" may become a "co-dependent." (They used to just be "Mom and Dad.") Once the new labels stick, it's hard to lose sight of them, and they tend to create new issues that justify lots of therapy by standing out suddenly as if in neon. Many therapists argue smugly that this is what achieving mental health is all about. Meanwhile, though, research shows that people are more anxious, depressed, and substance-dependent than ever. While the number of therapists in the country has roughly doubled in the last decade, the mental health of the country has not improved accordingly. All sorts of issues can get stirred up in you as you learn to rewrite your own personal history with new perspectives obtained in therapy. Therapy can be especially powerful in this rewriting process when it involves the questionable premise of unquestioningly bringing to light and beheving repressed memories.

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