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  • Writer's pictureMichaela Buck

False memory syndrome - my point of view

My most important statement up front:


The False Memory Syndrome does not exist.


It was brought into the world to protect perpetrators and perpetrator structures. Unfortunately, its proponents have done and are doing everything they can to give it a professional, scientific and serious air. If you search the German-language Internet for information on the subject, you will find, for example, an article in a major German magazine and the website of a registered association. They all point out that there is a high probability of being falsely accused of sexual abuse, often after therapists have persuaded the person to commit sexual abuse.

What is "false memory syndrome"? Supposedly it is the allegation that sufferers falsely = untruthfully remember their own experienced sexual abuse, thereby falsely accusing perpetrators.


The ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) published an article entitled "Rise and Fall of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation" on 21 January 2020. Source: https://news.isst-d.org/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-false-memory-syndrome-foundation/

I strongly recommend that you read this article.


In the following, I summarize the most important points. In italics, I add my own position:

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, or FMSF, was founded in 1992 by Pamela and Peter Freyd after Peter Freyd was accused by his daughter Jennifer of sexual abuse during her childhood. The foundation's goal was to assemble a broad academic group to discredit victims and portray them as victims of therapists who had been fed false memories by therapists. To add to the serious veneer, a "scientific and professional advisory board" was formed. Ralf Underwager, one of the founding members, was quoted in the media as saying that 60% of women who had been sexually abused in childhood said that the experience "was good for them." The organization became known for recommending that its supporters sue therapists. They attacked professionals who worked with survivors of child abuse. However, it failed to get its so-called "False Memory Syndrome" accepted by any of the mainstream ICD or DSM diagnostic systems.

Disturbingly, this alleged syndrome was picked up and disseminated by much of the media.

There was also the establishment of societies of this content abroad; they are still active in Germany, Great Britain, and France.

For a while, the power of the FMSF was such that it seemed that the only people with false memories were those who reported child abuse. Likewise, it seemed that the accused abusers could only have accurate memories if they denied the abuse.

It is breathtaking how a false or non-existent syndrome was given its own foundation. How this could happen needs to be addressed. It is interesting to note that this dissemination would not have been possible had it not been for some particularly generous donors. We can only speculate about their motives.

At the end of December 2019, the FMSF announced its dissolution in a small notice at the bottom of its website.

Why do I believe that false memory syndrome does not exist?

Why do I think false memory syndrome does not exist?

If you don't have any memory snippets, triggers or confusing physical symptoms, possibly including diagnoses such as depression, panic disorder or autoimmune disease, it won't occur to you to seek trauma therapy. It is now accepted that traumatic memories are stored in the body and brain, and are not necessarily accessible to explicit memory. Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine have done pioneering work in this area. Stephen Porges' polyvagal theory also supports this view.

The brain has a protective mechanism against impressions that are experienced as overwhelming: dissociation. It creates detachment and allows us to move on and survive. Through careful work in trauma therapy, it is possible to piece together the dissociated parts as well as the perceived fragments into an overall picture. In doing so, however, perpetrators and perpetrator structures (not every perpetrator acts alone) run the risk of their crimes becoming visible. This is where the so-called false memory syndrome comes in...

I do not accept this and uncompromisingly take the side of the survivors.



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