Despite what a lot of people might think, the human brain is extremely malleable. With coaxing or some sort of manipulation, it can be very simple to convince a person that a certain memory occurred in their lives when in reality, it did not. This sort of phenomena is called False Memory. Entire events of a persons life can be inserting into someones memory when in reality, it could be completely false. While repression (the “forgetting” of an event, usually after an extremely emotional trauma) can occur, more often then not these memories (usually false) are brought to light in therapy or from help of an outside source.
This can become difficult when it comes to crime cases and confessions or accusations. For example, in 1989, Eileen Franklin-Lipsker was at the park watching her young daughter play when she received an abrupt and violent memory of her father sexually abusing and murdering her 8 year old friend in 1969. This friend had gone missing that year, and was found dead 3 months after she went missing. Eileen immediately called the police and informed them she remembered this incident from 20 years earlier, stating that she watched her father do it and was told she would be killed if she told anyone. Repressing this obviously traumatic event and recalling it years later arose some tentativeness, and Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who was called to be an expert witness for the defense. Elizabeth had been studying memory for 20 years, and she found it odd that each time Eileen was asked how her memory came back, the reason would be changed each time. She told the courts that our memories are highly suggestible, and that using this woman’s recall of memory might not be the most reliable thing. However, the courts disagreed and convicted the Father of the young girls murder.
The truth finally came to light 5 years later, when Eileen’s sister testified that Eileen had been going to hypnotherapy around the time her “memory” came back to deal with depression that she had dealt with since she was a teenager. The therapist had diagnosed Eileen with PTSD, and had fabricated the memories that caused the trigger.
This shows just how susceptible our memories can be to the dangers of fabrication. This does not say that Repression is all a lie, but it should be looked at with extreme caution. Events can be completely encoded, forgotten and then later recalled, but the chance of these memories being fabricated into false memories is just as possible. This can lead to problems when it comes to court cases and even a person’s personal life. While childhood amnesia is also a possibility in the case of Eileen, given that she was younger when it occurred to her, the combination of hypnotherapy and the influence of the therapist points in the other direction.