Repressed Memories: Why Didn’t I Remember Sooner?

The day my heart shattered was one of those moments frozen in time, much like 9/11. She was in her late twenties when she told me about the molestation that occurred 15 years earlier. She shared it in snippets over the following year with each revelation cutting deeper than the last. How could this be? How could a close family member have sexually abused “my baby”? How could I have missed the signs? I have never doubted her story. In retrospect, I see it clearly. Yet, the sordid details of his betrayal still defy comprehension.

I had been having flashbacks myself for quite some time but didn’t realize that was what they were. I attributed them to imagination and wondered what was wrong with me. I thought perhaps they were connected to something I read or saw in a movie. I felt guilt and alarm whenever the flashbacks occurred and had been fearful of the unknown much of my life. Then one day in answer to prayer, their reality was confirmed as detailed recollections of my own trauma came more clearly into focus. I was mortified! The repressed and disjointed memories came together to reveal the tragic story of my own abuse that occurred at least 30 years prior to my daughter’s. It took several years for me to process and actually own this truth.

One thing that made acknowledging the truth so difficult was the nagging question: “How could I forget something so important that could have prevented my child from also being harmed?” It was hard enough to reflect upon the signs of her abuse missed years earlier, but when I realized it happened to me first many years before that, the guilt was overwhelming! Counselors admonished, “You can’t blame yourself for what you didn’t know,” but I wanted to know why? I reasoned, “God is all-knowing, so why didn’t He help me remember sooner so I could have protected her?”

I have always heard that “God’s timing is perfect,” yet in the case of child abuse I did not believe that. In addition to Christian counseling, Transformation Prayer Ministry has helped me discern heart-felt beliefs and to practice listening prayer. As I voiced my guilt-laden concerns to God several years ago, utilizing this model of prayer, I heard Him say to me, “Joy, the betrayal was so deep that you couldn’t begin to face it without knowing My heart for you in a truer sense first.”

As I reflected upon this, I realized that experiencing God’s love for me and then discovering I could trust Him to carry me through such excruciating emotional pain made my recovery possible. Aside from that, suicide or a nervous breakdown seemed more probable. I no longer think remembering my abuse before I knew “my God had arms,” would have made me a better mother, nor can I be certain that “knowing” would have kept my children safe from every potential predator. However, I can say with certainty that knowing the love of God now has enabled me to draw upon His strength to support my daughter, as well as other family members, today.

This week during my morning quiet time, an interesting scripture caught my eye:

At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at His command they encamped…When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out…Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. (Numbers 9:18-22)

The Israelites were on their way to a land God promised them. As I read this, I envisioned my kids in the back seat of my car on the way to a promised vacation. “When are we going to get there?” they would ask repeatedly! Can you imagine waiting in a desert for a whole year—without explanation—until God (in the form of a cloud) decided to move again? I think we often assume God is opposing us when His ways aren’t clear to us. At this point in the story, however, waiting upon God wasn’t a punishment at all; rather it was evidence of their trust. In waiting for God and trusting His timing, they were assured of His presence to guide them even when His purposes weren’t discernible.

Hebrews 13:8 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I believe He can reach back in time to heal just as readily as He could have reached forward in time to protect. I am learning to trust Him one day at a time, especially during those times when understanding seems to lie beyond today.

Can you relate to my struggles? What role has guilt played in your journey?

3 thoughts on “Repressed Memories: Why Didn’t I Remember Sooner?

  1. Yes, I can relate to your struggles, as I’m sure so many others can. The guilt from “not knowing” can sink a ship, UNTIL, you understand you can’t know the true intentions of another being. For me, it was remembering an incident that happened when I was 4 or 5 yrs old. I was probably 13 or 14 when I really “thought” about it. I wondered “why” someone that I loved so dearly, that NEVER EVER DID THAT TO ME AGAIN, would have done that in the first place. (What happened did not “hurt/damage” my inner being, but regardless, it was wrong.) I CONVINCED myself, that this loved one thought about what he’d done and realized that he’d crossed the line. That he would never do that again. That thinking by me, as I found out much later in life, was wrong. He violated many that still suffer today. I can only hope they find help and guidance through counseling and blogs such as yours. Your way of relating stories with scripture is very helpful and thought provoking. Thanks Joy!


    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story. As I continue to reflect upon my own story and seek prayerful counsel, I find more damage than I could have initially imagined, but I’m also finding more truth that leads to freedom and greater love than I knew before too. I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing your heart with the readers of my blog. It’s my hope that we can all encourage one another. I’m praying blessings over you and those you love!


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