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 Does Memory Repression Happen?

Copyright © 1997, Dorian Scott Cole

While writing the screenplay Cult of Superstition, I remember I had a really good idea. It was a way for the lawyer to expose the young woman who was having false repressed memories. For several months I was very pleased with myself. This was something very important to me. My screenplay didn't make it to film, but another did. It was over a year later that I watched the film. During the courtroom encounter, the lawyer used the very same method I had written to expose a false repressed memory. I was irate! I fumed - the other writer had taken my idea! 

But knowing my memory is not the best, I thought I had better check things out. I checked the book I had used for a reference - actual case histories including the courtroom drama. The lawyer in the case had used the very method I thought I had written. 

How had it happened that I thought I had come up with that idea? Had I forgotten reading it? Had it not made much of an impression on me when I did read it? Had I repressed the idea for some reason? I suspect that in the reading of 25 books in preparation for writing that screenplay, that fact had gotten fragmented or lost in my memory. Memory is far less perfect than we would like it to be. It isn't infallible. But years ago, before my brain became cluttered with so many facts, I would have been able to tell you the source of any idea, and do so very accurately. 

After checking so many sources and writing this story, it seems to me now that there is very little doubt that both memory repression and false repressed memories do occur. People who repress traumatic experiences are likely to be aware that they are repressing something - especially the feelings connected with it, if not the actual details. People who generate false memories are likely to fabricate deeper and deeper yarns. 

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