In the summer of 2017 I was asked to write scripts, brainstorm graphics, and narrate two videos on recovered memories for the Facebook page of The Keepers, a Netflix documentary.
The show’s seven remarkable episodes interweave several stories spanning decades in Baltimore, including a priest’s brutal sexual abuse of high school girls; the apparently related murder of a young nun, which was never adequately investigated until 40 years later when two retired women devoted themselves to finding justice for their beloved teacher; and one of the priest’s victims who recovered memories of abuse in the 1990s.
2-minute videos can’t do justice to the complexities of “how memory works” and how people come to lose access to memories and “recover” them years or even decades later. But these videos reflect memory and neuroscience research and decades of clinical experience consistent with this process:
Soon after the abuse (or other traumatic event) some people engage in intentional memory suppression, just as we all push unwanted memories out of mind. This is eventually followed by a lack of retrieval that is so pervasive, automatic, and habitual that even upon encountering what we’d think are great “memory triggers” or “retrieval cues,” there’s still no recall. But at some point, perhaps years or decades later, one encounters just the right cues, in just the right context, to make just the right brain connections to finally retrieve pieces of traumatic memory into awareness.
If you’ve experienced recovered memories, see if these videos fit with your unique experience (or not) and feel free to let me know.