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I told my therapist that I was haunted by my experiences. I ruminate endlessly about details. I analyze the events in my life with tedious devotion. My therapist said: “You are obsessive.”

The therapist focused on one outcome of my experiences (obsessiveness can be a symptom of trauma) or was perhaps saying that because of the symptom of obsessiveness I ruminate on trivial details about my past that other people would not think about. Either way, she seemed to be saying that my memories haunted me, downplaying the significance of the actual experiences that I was remembering.

I have a problem with saying that I am simply plagued by memory and not by the lived experiences that I remember and their sequelae.

Traumatic experiences have effects beyond painful memories. Traumatic experiences give rise to defenses, such as isolation and splitting. Trauma “facilitates ego deficits like those of the borderline personality as it molds the child’s efforts to avoid anxiety.” McCarthy, J.B. “Abusive Families and Character Formation.” Am. J. Psychoanal., 50(2):181-6 (1990). Some abused individuals project their rage and later become paranoid or antisocial, whereas others fragment. Id. Trauma impedes individuation. Id. These consequences of trauma exist independent of memory of the trauma.

Dr. Shengold points out that it is important, also, to look at the interplay between trauma and intrapsychic fantasy. He points out that, for example, a boy who is beaten by his father during the Oedipal period will experience a distinct outcome mediated by intrapsychic fantasy that will color the unconscious registration of the beatings. This unconscious registration of trauma will have dynamic effects independent of whether the individual remembers the beatings.

I suffer from memories, but I also suffer from experiences whether or not I remember those experiences.

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