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Repressed Memories

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"That one's going into the Vault. And... it's gone."
Finn the Human Boy, Adventure Time

One major controversy regarding Abusive Parents concerns people who grew up thinking they have a good family, and then 'recover' memories of childhood abuse. On one side, there is the belief that people (particularly children) can subconsciously choose to forget something that is too painful to remember, and on the other side, there is the belief that therapists or others could potentially implant false memories of abuse into a person's psyche. (Evidence suggests that both theories are actually true, making it very tricky to determine the truth in any given case.)

Naturally, this controversy has shown up in fiction. And since not everyone does the research, there are some common mistakes made.

Assuming it's possible to repress memories, it is a skill that can be learned in childhood if there is repeated trauma. The only known cases where adult or single-event trauma appears to have been repressed occurred in individuals who also recovered memories of repeated early childhood trauma. In addition, it seems to be that the child has to be attached to the abuser and need to trust them, meaning the abuse must come from a parent or other beloved authority figure.

Fictional Repressed Memories are nearly always played for drama, as some character has intentionally forgotten about some event that is in some way important to the plot. Their rediscovery of the truth brings back all the pain that forced them into denial to begin with, commonly resulting in a Heroic BSoD.

Compare Remembered Too Late and Trauma-Induced Amnesia.

Repressed Memories are frequently used as a critical part of The Reveal, so beware: unmarked spoilers are below.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arachnid: Alice blames herself for the suicide of her depressive overworked mother and feels pain whenever it even crosses her mind, to the point she is framed as The Faceless for most of the story. Eventually, Alice wonders why Ayana would kindly gift her an amusement park ticket for her birthday just to abruptly overdose herself on pills the next day. The spider-girl concludes all the traumatic events and attempts of her life so far were the deliberate work of the Organization of assassins that put a hit on her, but she couldn't imagine how absurd the truth behind Ayana's staged suicide would turn out to be...
  • In Fruits Basket, Kyo eventually realizes that he saw Tohru's mother Kyoko die in front of him soon before he met Tohru. He had known Kyoko as a child and ran into her again as a teenager right before she died, which he blamed himself for because he froze and failed to save her. Having misunderstood Kyoko's dying words to him and believing she blamed him too, Kyo represses these memories altogether until he sees his old cap (which ended up in a young Tohru's hands through a series of coincidences) in Tohru's room, which brings the memories back to him.
  • Macross:
    • Macross Frontier: Ranka Lee has repressed memories due to the trauma of being the Sole Survivor (or so everyone thought) of a Vajra attack when she was five. Seeing the Vajra again begins bringing these memories to the surface.
    • Macross Plus also has this with Guld Bowman. In a fit of rage (implied to be brought on by Zentraedi instincts he hadn't learned to control), he assaulted his Childhood Friend Myung, only to stop halfway through in horror of what he was doing. His mind partially blocked the memory of the incident: he remembers that Myung was assaulted and that he was there, but he doesn't remember that he was the one doing the assaulting, leading him to blame Isamu for it. Isamu and Myung both realize what's happened, but for unspecified reasons, do not tell Guld the truth.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, it's implied Shinji's memory of his mother's death was this as flashbacks show he was present when it happened. It's possible he simply forgot because he was very young at the time, but in a dream sequence, he confesses that he does remember bits and pieces from the fateful day, but that he also lied to himself about remembering these small glimpses. Finally, when brought to the place where it happened he knows he's been there before and Akagi mocks him for being unable to recall exactly what happened to his mother.
  • It's shown in Gunslinger Girl that 'conditioning' does not erase your memories, it simply heavily represses them. Claes once beat up Petra when she touched her glasses, because the glasses were given to her by her handler, despite the fact she doesn't remember his existence. When Henrietta is on a mission against the Five Republics Factor, she sees a man in a ski mask which triggers the memories of her past. She flies into a fit of rage, accidentally shoots her handler, and this ultimately results in her death.
  • Osamu from Bokura no Hentai thinks he has memories of a past life where he was a nymphomaniac woman. When he sees a tape of himself as a little kid interacting with an older neighborhood boy, the real reason comes to light: the boy used to dress him up as a girl and sexually abuse him.
  • School-Live!:
    • Yuki represses the memories of zombies. For example, in the anime, she forgot what an instant camera is despite taking a photo a few days prior because she is in denial over her teachers death. In chapter 5 Yuki triggers the memories of Megu-nee twice. The first time Kurumi reminded her of something Megu-nee told her once, but Yuki had trouble remembering it clearly. The second time she triggers herself by saying something that causes a severe headache. It's revealed to us that Megu-nee has been Dead All Along and what triggered Yuki was that she said something similar during Megu-nee's death.
    • Rii repressed the memories of the fact she has a younger sister after the Zombie Apocalypse began. When she suddenly remembers it she's horrified she forgot and tries to rescue her sister.
  • Eccentric mangaka, Rohan Kishibe, of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable cannot remember his childhood that well. It's because he repressed a traumatic memory of his kind babysitter, Reimi, getting brutally murdered by Serial Killer, Kira Yoshikage, with him barely surviving due to Reimi's Heroic Sacrifice. This happened when he was only four years old. It could also explain why he is the way he is today.
  • In Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, some of Konatsu's memories of her Dark and Troubled Past are not exactly accurate. She didn't just witness the deaths of her parents, she accidentally caused them.
  • Takemichi of Tokyo Revengers, after first discovering his Mental Time Travel ability, realizes that he has almost no memories of his middle school days and only remembers why when it's already far too late and he's about to get his ass handed to him by the Tokyo Manji gang.

    Fan Works 
  • Fate of the Clans: While Servants remember events from when they were alive, Alaya seals their memory of prior summonings. Even outside of the War they can only recall fond memories with humans. It's Alaya's way to try having the agents care about humans but having them be unable to recall any bad memories regarding the species. Even some fond memories are hazy and the agents attribute it to having been around for multiple lifetimes. Other memories deemed by Alaya to be potentially damaging to a copy's psyche are sealed and the remander are clouded in order to fool the person into thinking they only forgot some details.
  • A major plot point in each main entry of Silent Ponyville Chronicles.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic Project Mobitropolis Act One: Evil Rises, a major plot point is that Sonic doesn't remember anything of his past beyond a couple of years ago. Sonic eventually remembers that he was created by Robotnik as part of a project to create the ultimate robot, and spent years as Robotnik's terrified lab rat and being mentally conditioned to see himself as worthless before eventually making his escape. The memory sends Sonic into a Heroic BSoD for a while, and when he comes out of it he has to spend the rest of the story learning to conquer the fear that caused him to repress his memories in the first place so he can save the world.
  • In Gensokyo 20XXV, chapter 46, it was noted Reimu actually did remember what had happened in Gensokyo 20XXIV with Ran and Chen's suicide attempts and it wasn't made all that clear up until then, then again, her age regression age was three, if not four, an age in which permanent memories can be formed. However, it is noted that her lack of comprehension and innocence at the time said memories were formed left her unable to cope with them in the future, leading for her to develop mental illness.
  • Much of what Ryuuko remembers in Concerning a Drifter teeters on this, as, due to her trauma and mental illness (due to being held captive and raped for about four years), she can't remember much of anything (positive or negative) and, when she does recall anything, she can't remember it too well or any specifics about the event. The story implies that she probably wanted to forget what happened.
  • In My Name Is Molly, children's memories are repressed when they're given "the Operation" to turn them into Funny Animals. Removing their memories is impossible because that would require a lobotomy. As a result, the characters still lapse into hazy memories of their old life.
  • Viper, Spider, Phoenix: O-Ren Ishii became The Atoner and reinvented herself as "Joan Watson". Over time, she convinced herself that her past memories were either just dreams or deja vu. Her memories were reawakened after seeing Moriarty (AKA, the Bride).
  • Paint It Green, Blue, Black starts when Charlotte recalls the repressed memory of seeing her parents murdered while she hid in a closet.
  • The Bones fanfic The Father in the Details deals with Lance Sweets learning that a lot of the memories he had of his adoptive family were really his things that happen with his abusive birth father Jason Andrew who used to use a whip on him as a child. To make matters worse, Sweets start learning this information after he's kidnapped by his birth father.
  • Naru-Hina Chronicles: Sasuke cannot remember the period of time between killing Itachi and deciding to return to Konoha. Eventually, an interrogation using a dangerous memory-recovery jutsu helps fill in the missing pieces: he was part of an assault on the Akatsuki, personally burned Nagato and all six of his Pain bodies to ashes with the Amaterasu, and the near-fatal injuries he received in that assault led directly to the creation of Evil Sasuke.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne, Selena doesn't remember that her father sexually abused her, and doesn't believe Dolores when she brings it up. Her memories return near the end of the film.
  • The Recovered: The main thrust of the plot is the main character recovering her memories of a childhood trauma.
  • In The Big Cube, Lisa and Johnny conspire to drive Lisa's stepmother Adriana insane so they can get married without her approval. Their efforts cause Adriana to suppress her memories of everything that happened in the last three months, including her marriage to Lisa's father, his death, and all her interactions with Lisa, which is enough to get her declared legally incompetent.
  • In Thunder Alley (1967), Tommy realizes that his blackouts are caused by his repressed memories of causing his little brother's death in a go kart accident.

  • In Book 6 of The Gateway Chronicles, Darcy's mind represses her memories of her (first) death. Considering that she was shot by Colin so her corpse could be used in opening a gateway to Tselloch's world, it's not something she would want to remember.
  • The poem, Repression, has something like this, as, while the subject can't forget the ones who hurt her (nor the related events), even though she wants to, she resolves to scribble out their faces and pretend they don't exist (and that the events related, didn't happen), like the BoJack Horseman example below.
    • Similarly, also serving as a form of Trauma-Induced Amnesia, the poem, What Became Unearthed, has the subject recollecting a traumatic event from her childhood, implying this, especially since the poem mentions said memory haunting her subconscious until they had to be dealt with.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign has a non-parental example. The White Queen doesn't remember why Kyousuke hates her, because she blocked the memories out of shame. She killed his sister.
  • In Kea's Flight, Kea notices a weird dent on the floor and points it out to Lefty, who suddenly regains a repressed memory of an explosion when she was a toddler that destroyed the part of the dormitory where the lounge is now and killed a bunch of other toddlers.
  • Used by Ms. Webb in Magic for Liars against herself via magic charm, assumedly to remove the trauma of discovering a dismembered murder victim.
  • Sleeping Murder, one of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple novels, centres around the newly-married Gwenda Reed moving from New Zealand to England and moving into an old house that feels oddly familiar. It swiftly becomes clear that this is because Gwenda briefly lived there as a small child - and long-suppressed memories of her stepmother's apparent murder start to resurface.
  • Shallan of The Stormlight Archive has several repressed memories from her abusive childhood. Unlike most examples, she's consciously aware of it and has been forgetting things for years out of fear that if she remembered she'd be paralyzed by trauma. In the second book, she admits to herself that she killed her mother after remembering the event wrong for years, and in the fourth book, she learns that she broke her Oaths and killed her original spren Testament. While her Lightweaver abilities help her suppress it, she has to speak truths to increase her power, and accepting her memories are the truths that Shallan must speak.
  • In the middle of the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy, the Sole Survivor of a Ruling Family Massacre, Tashir Remoerdis, is almost immediately rescued by a Herald-Mage who believes that despite Tashir's manifesting telekinesis he can't be the killer, even accidentally. But Truth Spell doesn't do any good because Tashir has blocked out the memories of just what happened, and he has to be taken back to the scene of the massacre for anything to come back to him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Dark Page", Deanna Troi's mother Lwaxana repressed the memories of her first daughter Kestra's death by drowning. Deanna was an infant at the time and was never told about her deceased older sister.
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • Subverted in "Retrospect", when Seven's supposed repressed memory of being violated turns out to have been reconstructed from having watched people being assimilated when she was a Borg drone.
      • In the Voyager novel Mosaic, it's revealed that Janeway has strongly suppressed the memory of the accident that killed both her father and her fiancée, because she feels guilty for hesitating when there was still a chance to save one of them.
      • "Flashback" involves Tuvok suffering a serious medical condition as the result of a repressed memory from his time serving aboard the Excelsior during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country beginning to surface. It turns out there was a false memory created by a sort of brain parasite to disguise its existence, specifically designed to trigger memory repression so that the host wouldn't recall the memory and potentially realize it didn't fit with reality.
  • Soaps like to pair this with Rape as Backstory to explain why it was never mentioned before:
    • General Hospital's Karen Wexler couldn't understand why she kept freaking out every time she and boyfriend Jagger tried to have sex. Until her mother's sleazy ex-boyfriend returned to town. She began having frightening flashbacks of him approaching her bed and finally remembered that he'd molested her as a child.
      • A non-sexual example from the same show involved Holly remembering a twin sister that she'd been separated from.
    • One Life to Live's Viki had this so badly regarding her father's sexual abuse of her that she sincerely went about singing his praises every chance she got. Her rival Dorian Lord finally got fed up and told her the truth.
  • Criminal Minds deals with the psychologist-implanted version in one episode. A child psychologist in the eighties accidentally (or possibly not) convinced a group home full of young foster children that they had repressed memories of abuse at the hands of their caretaker. One of those children, as an adult, wound up in marriage counseling, where the familiar setup caused him to once again begin "recalling" false memories to justify his marital issues.
  • A late-episode reveal in Law & Order: SVU makes a Bittersweet Ending nosedive into outright Downer Ending. A woman came forward to reveal that her father had molested her as a child and raped her when she was 18. Through the course of the investigation, it appears that he's now molesting at least one of her younger sisters. The middle sister accompanies the oldest to confront their father and accidentally shoots him trying to protect her older sister when the father seems to be threatening her. Then the woman explains that she only remembered the molestation recently, in therapy, under the "guidance" of her therapist, which places the accusation in serious question. Then they get a hold of her medical records, which reveal that she couldn't have been raped — she's a virgin. After that, it starts to come together that the entire "memory recovery" was a crock.
  • In the TV movie "Shattering The Silence", a woman realizes that she has this regarding her father sexually abusing her and her sister and realizes that this is why her sister has been estranged from the family for years—she remembered and left home as soon as possible.
  • In the Smallville episode "Memoria", Lex is undergoing medical treatment to recover six weeks of his life that he forgot because of unwillingly undergoing electroshock therapy. However, instead of the lost time, he begins reliving repressed childhood traumas. Specifically, he relives the events leading up to the death of his infant brother Julian, who he remembers accidentally killing when trying to stop him crying. However, it turns out his mother Lilian was actually responsible, due to a severe bout of postpartum psychosis, which caused her to deliberately smother Julian. Lex had taken credit to protect his mother from his wrathful father Lionel. Lex is deeply saddened that this effectively destroyed his relationship with Lionel, just when they were possibly getting close.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Nightmare as a Child", Helen Foley repressed the memory of witnessing Peter Selden murder her mother in her bedroom when she was ten years old.
  • In one episode of Ghosts (UK), it's revealed that Kitty was repressing her memories of her sister so that she remembers her as a good sister (when in fact, she was shown to be abusive, placing a prized vase where she could accidentally break it so that Kitty couldn't go to an important ball).

  • "Sun Ra" by the Belgian band dEUS from their album Pocket Revolution was written by lead singer Tom Barman to reflect on all the embarrassing memories that keep haunting people later in life.
    Now all the evil things I done
    And all the harm I ever did
    Stand right before me
    Eyes wide open
    Where were they hidden?


    Video Games 
  • Grandia III: Alfina discovers that she has repressed a memory of Emelious' Start of Darkness, namely him carving the other half of the Communicator mark on his hand. She recalls it in a sequence where she explores her subconscious, and while her normal memories are represented with doors, this one is a secret passage, hidden behind a curtain.
  • OMORI involves a boy named Sunny who became a shut-in after the suicide of his sister Mari and escapes into a dream world where his split personality, the titular Omori, goes on adventures while suppressing anything that might reveal the Awful Truth of that incident — that Sunny himself accidentally killed Mari and in a state of shock then covered it up with his friend Basil, who likewise acted irrationally as he believed Sunny was possessed into pushing Mari down the stairs. Refusing to go outside and fix Sunny's relationship with his former circle of friends leads to him only having garbled memories of what happened while Omori takes over his mind to "protect" him. Pursuing the truth leads to Sunny overcoming his guilt, helping Basil, and confessing to his other friends, but not before Omori attempts to take over his mind and commit suicide as punishment for his crime.
  • In Resonance, Anna has repressed the memory of Javi, her real father (previously believed to be an uncle) killing the man she believed was her father.
  • In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland has repressed memories of the past three years of his wife's unspecified terminal illness and subsequent change in personality; as well as of killing her within the past week. He comes to Silent Hill under the pretense that she died of her illness three years ago, but seemingly sent him a letter beckoning him to their old vacation spot. (The letter's blank.)
  • Ashley Riot of Vagrant Story has repressed all his memories of his experience as a Riskbreaker. Sydney forces him to relive the experience that caused this, causing the memories to begin emerging again, and it's used to justify your gaining abilities automatically with each level - "Ashley has recovered this ability from repressed memory."

    Visual Novels 
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, this apparently the case for Rosa Ushiromiya, which is why the players only learn in Episode 3 that when she was a pre-teenager, she had found Beatrice II in Kuwadorian and helped her escape, only for Beatrice to fall off a cliff and die. It seems it takes a lengthy talk about an unknown woman secretly living on the island to make her exhume her memories of the event (as foreshadowed early in Episode 2).
  • Shirou of Fate/stay night repressed the memories of his family during the fire ten years ago so that he would not be tempted to turn back and find them. During the Fate route Kotomine tries to make him remember, believing that remembering what he lost will make Shirou accept the Grail.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies, the black Psyche-Locks seen in the final case (as well as the last case of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney) are revealed to indicate that the person can't even consciously remember that they are keeping a secret; because of this, unlocking them is an incredibly tricky business that might lead to a psychological break from whatever trauma caused them to forget. It's implied that in Apollo Justice the reason for the locks is Kristoph either being so paranoid about keeping his crimes secret that he started keeping them secret from himself, or that he's so deeply in denial over his inferiority complex that he doesn't even know that he hated Zak Gramarye because Zak implicitly confirmed Phoenix as the better lawyer by hiring him over Kristoph, and in Dual Destinies the locks are because Athena saw something very Harmful to Minors as a kid ( she witnessed her mother's murder and stabbed the killer) and has Trauma-Induced Amnesia.
  • In Little Busters!, Komari regularly has dreams of an older brother she doesn't remember. These turn out to be memories she repressed because his death traumatised her so greatly, compounded by the fact that, just before he died, he tried to convince her that it was all just a dream. Whenever the memories are triggered, she undergoes a Heroic BSoD for which the only cure is to repress the memories once more. Until Riki comes along, anyway.

  • In Sluggy Freelance, Torg represses/alters his memories so that he doesn't have to face the fact that Zoe and Riff most likely died in the Mark-19 explosion.

    Web Original 
  • The Creepypasta "I discovered something horrible on an old family VHS tape" plays this both for horror and for Tear Jerker—the protagonist discovers through the titular tape that his father used to abuse both him and his mother and that he blocked out the memory when he was a little kid.
  • In Matt McMuscles' The Worst Fighting Game episode on Expect No Mercy, Matt remembers buying the game for his Windows 95 PC when he was younger, but as he reviews the game more and more, he comes to realize he repressed the memories of how bad it was until he had to play it all over again.

    Western Animation 
  • Tangled: The Series: Cassandra repressed the memories of her real mother because seeing her abandon her to run away with another baby was too much for her. She still has serious hangups about wanting to be loved and respected by others because of the experience, even if she doesn't remember.
  • Teen Titans: Slade implies that Terra forcibly erased her own memories after being revived by unknown means since she felt the damage she had done after betraying the team would have caused more pain for her.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Blunder Years", a stage hypnotist hypnotizes Homer into thinking he is twelve years old again; however, this causes Homer to start screaming in horror. The family eventually figure out that Homer has repressed a traumatic experience from that age. Upon further probing, he finally remembers what it was: discovering a rotting corpse abandoned in a quarry.
    • In "Three Gays of the Condo", Homer is in Bart's bed crying after a fight with Marge, and Bart tries to escape the annoyance by repressing the event.
      Bart: I am at Disneyland! ...Disneyland!
  • In an episode of American Dad!, it is shown that every year, Stan takes Francine to a hypnotist to repress the memories of them fighting. The hypnotist later hypnotizes her to remember all those repressed memories in revenge for Stan not answering his request to buy a sandwich for him every year.
  • In Bojack Horseman, Beatrice Horseman, Bojack's mother, is a rather odd case as she's currently suffering senile dementia and can't recall specific details anyway, however, some of the ones that have significant part in her memories (like Henrietta, her ex-maid and Hollyhock's mother for example) have their faces scribbled out, because she doesn't want to remember them.
  • The page quote comes from Adventure Time, where Finn (a young teenager abandoned as a baby and Happily Adopted By Dogs) has a mental vault where he can consciously deposit memories he doesn't want to have. Jake recognizes this as an unhealthy coping mechanism and tricks him into opening the vault and actually dealing with the trauma.
    Jake: I think you're burying memories in some sort of mental vault—
    Finn: Oh, yeah, the Vault! That's where the stuff I can't handle goes.
    Jake: Okay, so you know you're doing this?
  • Harley Quinn:
    • In her Journey to the Center of the Mind, Harley's repressed memories are locked up in a replica of Arkham Asylum. There, she's repressed her memory of the Joker shoving her into a vat of chemicals that bleached her skin white. The part she repressed was that she jumped in willingly, since it had always been easier to give agency to the Joker and blame him for her turn to villainy. After confronting this, she takes responsibility for her life choices and re-defines her origin story as the day she walked out on him.
    • Inverted when they enter Bruce Wayne's mind and find themselves stuck in an endless loop of his parents being murdered by Joe Chill in what Dr. Psycho calls a "reverse repressed memory" that blots out all the others. Even when Harley manages to break Bruce out of the loop, an invincible manifestation of Joe Chill follows them to every memory they visit to bring him back to Crime Alley.