Did it Really Happen? On “Forgetting” Abuse.

jog down

Cecil Murphey with a personal story about denial and facing hard truths.


Trigger Warning: The following blog may contain sensitive imagery.

I “forgot” about my abuse. I didn’t remember anything about my childhood before I was 11 or 12 years old. Forgetting, a form of denial, is a common coping mechanism. Looking back, the clues were there, but I didn’t know. Several times a month a dream recurred. In it, I walked through our home where I had lived until we moved when I was 15 years old. When someone unexpectedly touched me from behind, I jumped. In a movie, a sinister figure chased a boy in the dark and I cringed in fear.

One day, as a middle-aged adult finishing a 12-mile run, a memory flashed through my brain. Tears flowed and the first painful linking of my past forced itself on me. Then I knew: I had been sexually molested. Over the next months, other incidents seeped into my consciousness.

I kept trying to convince myself that the abuse hadn’t happened. About that time, the false-memory syndrome became national news. Apparently, a few therapists had inadvertently planted false memories in their clients. I hadn’t gone to a therapist, but I wanted mine to be false memories.

But they were real.

I’m an imaginative person and, despite the inner turmoil, I tried to banish those experiences as self-inventions.

“They’re not true,” I cried. “I’ve made them up.”

But they were real.

Once I faced the truth about my tormented childhood—and for months it was a struggle—the healing process began.

“They were real,” I said to myself repeatedly. “They happened.”

Those two, simple, oft-repeated sentences opened the door into my long-hidden pathway of denial. Later, my three sisters corroborated my memories, even though they weren’t aware of the abuse.

Now I know. They were real.

Yes, I was molested. Those things happened. Because I accept that fact, I am overcoming the pain.

Cecil Murphey has written two books on sexual abuse. The first was When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed. He is the author or co-author of several best-selling books including 90 Minutes in Heaven, which was on The New York Times’ best-seller list for five years and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story www.menshatteringthesilence.blogspot.com
–Photo: lanier67/Flickr
About 1in6

The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.


  1. I knew about false memories–and tried to convince myself that mine were false. I had never been to a therapist or spoken to anyone about my sexual assault. I had buried it so deeply, I didn’t even remember until the day the memories started pouring out. So there was no one to implant memories.
    Eventually I spoke with a sister who had been assaulted by the same pedophile. She confirmed several details. Another sister confirmed that she didn’t know about the female relative assaulting me but she had suspected.
    Too often men aren’t believed–and their pain intensifies.

  2. I would love to hear advice on how to talk to a loved one who has gone through this. I have had 2 BFs who confessed sooner or later that they had been abused as children. I didn’t know what to do.. I felt so angry at whoever had hurt them and wanted them to know it wasn’t their fault and that I supported them but was worried I’d say the wrong thing.

    • Hi Rowan,
      Cecil Murphey, the author of this post, has published a book on that subject. When a Man You Love Was Abused, A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation. You can find it on Amazon or in book stores. It might be very helpful to take a look as it addresses the very issues you mention.
      His website is listed at the bottom of the article and it deals with many of pertinent topics. Cec credits his wife’s unconditional love and acceptance for helping him as he began to deal with his long forgotten abuse.
      God bless you, Rowan,
      Gail P. Smith

    • Thank you for your comment. Please feel free to visit our website for information regarding your inquiry. https://1in6.org/family-and-friends/ We hope you find it helpful.

      Thank you to The Good Men Project, Cecil Murphey and our readers.


      1in6, Inc.

  3. The media loves those stories so much that we DO have to be careful about false memory either planted by a “therapist”, by other adults around the child to deal with their anger, or by a child itself, without realizing their consequences, by patching together all the horror stories we see in the media or that the kid can see in his entourage.

    I have seen examples of the three cases. I’ve seen an abusive mother threaten her 6-year-old into falsely accusing someone. That kind of stuff may be made in the name of protecting children, but the main idea is often to cash in on other people’s stories of exploitation. All this hysteria isn’t good anddoes have consequences on someone’s psychology. False memories are a kind of abuse, though it does not contain the oh-so-eye-grabbing word “sexual”, it is still a form of abuse.

  4. “A memory flashed through my brain…”

    Keep telling your story…and don’t let anyone tell you what happened to you didn’t happen….

    Abusers want abuse survivors to just shut up and believe all the lies they were told so that they can get away with their crimes….

    Yes, it is hard facing the truth about one’s childhood….abusers want victims to stop calling it abuse…..

  5. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I had about three abuse incidents when I was a boy, so my heart goes out to you. As an ex-mental health worker who became a sociologist, however, I think we really do have to be careful of false memory syndrome. The nursery school abuse cases, in particular, were instances of bandwagon-joining self-interested moral entrepreneurism, and are a national shame. Other similar phenomena are “ubiquitous Satanism” and multiple personality disorders. These were used to commit massive insurance fraud.

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