Dissociative amnesia (also referred to as “abuse amnesia”)

By Dana Morningstar

Dissociative amnesia is when a person “forgets” certain incidents surrounding a traumatic event or events—in this case, abusive behavior. Abuse amnesia can range from “forgetting” whole episodes to certain things that are said, and the sufferer tends to remember the abusive person in a positive light. Abuse amnesia is not normal forgetfulness, as the person is only unable to recall events surrounding the specific traumatic event. Many people who continue to go back to an abusive partner report feeling frustrated and crazy because they forget about much of the abuse and hold onto the good times...only to then be abused again.


This level of “forgetting” can really make a person question their sanity, as oftentimes they forget (or not easily remember) pretty major things.


This level of “forgetting” can really make a person question their sanity, as oftentimes they forget (or not easily remember) pretty major things.


This is a critical concept to be aware of, and you can prepare yourself for it, as this happens to the vast majority of people who have been in an abusive relationship of any kind and of any degree.


What’s worked for me, and what I encourage others to do, is to write out a “for when you miss him (or her) list” stating all the hurtful or hateful things they’ve done, and then go back and read this list when you are missing them, or if they try and reopen contact and you are feeling tempted to respond. I highly recommend making this list in a bullet-point format so it’s quick and easy to read, because when that abuse amnesia sets in, it can set in like a strong craving, and coupled with nostalgia, it can be really hard to resist. Reading your list can help keep you grounded and on track by keeping yourself away from abusive people.


Example:Kalle broke up with Derek a month ago due to his controlling behavior and over-the-top rage that was often directed at her. The first few weeks, she was more angry than sad and vowed never to have anything to do with him again. However, by the end of the month she found herself really missing all the good times they had, and his company. She found herself thinking that maybe they could just be friends, and then sent him a text saying, “hi.” She felt terrible about her decision to text him, and part of her hoped he would text back and part of her hoped that he wouldn’t.


Example: Travis walked out on Sarah several months ago out of the blue. Their relationship had always been full of highs and lows, with her finding out about something Travis was up to—whether it was his ongoing cheating, lying, or racking up debt she didn’t know about. Whenever she mentioned any of this to him, he’d either give her the silent treatment, begin yelling at her, and spin things to where it was all her fault. Sarah didn’t expect Travis to leave, as things between them were seemingly fine, but she knew from experience that whenever he broke up with her out of the blue, that meant he was cheating on her, and that it was his way of justifying his behavior, by telling himself (and her) that they weren’t in a relationship. She was hurt and angry…and vowed to herself that she wasn’t going back to him. She was doing fine, until he sent her a text telling her how much he messed up and how he wanted them to go to counseling. Sarah felt herself being pulled back into the fantasy of thinking that this time things would be different, and then pulled out her “for when you miss him” list and began reading through all the deception, hurt, heartache, and false promises of change she’d heard from Travis before. Once she reminded herself that she’d been down this road with him before, and that her experience with him had been that he didn’t change—he just got better at hiding what he was up to—Sarah decided to block his number and block him on all of her social media accounts.

Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”

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