Mark Pendergrast

"Pendergrast is an affable guide on a wondrously labyrinthine tour. He explains complex phenomena with remarkable clarity, in a relaxed tone, and with a sense of humor." —Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mark Pendergrast, the ultimate free-lance journalist with an eclectic mind, writes about deceptively narrow topics that in fact have figured in world history for millennia." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mark Pendergrast speaks at universities, schools of public health, business conferences, management seminars, and psychological meetings. His presentations are tailored to his audience but are always entertaining, thought-provoking, and challenging. Contact him to arrange an event. Click here for links to speeches, TV, and radio appearances. Click here for comments on his presentations.

Forward by Melody Gavigan

Anyone could have a false memory. In fact, inaccurate memories occur to everyone , in some form, because every act of memory is simply our best effort at imaginative reconstruction.

My first therapist, who was so successful at implanting the memory that my father molested me, never used sodium Amytal, hypnosis, guided imagery, or any memory aid other than pressure and suggestion. My first false memory was a vague image that anyone might have–a dark outline of my father looming above me. That picture was all I had to go on for a long time, until I sought hypnosis, and then the vague picture became a series of sharp, horrible images. I thought that the original picture was obscure because I was just not trusting enough yet, and I didn’t feel safe enough to get it all out in the open. I didn’t think I’d get better, or that my symptoms would go away, until I could successfully “abreact” the episode, reliving it with full emotion. For three years, I completely believed that my father had committed incest on me.

Misinformation from therapists or books can provide a powerful formula for changing any person’s entire belief system. That is what Victims of Memory is about–how perfectly normal people like me could come to believe in such horrible delusions, and how responsible therapists and critics can bring an end to this madness. Mark Pendergrast, himself an accused parent, has written a much-needed book. As an investigative journalist and scholar, Mark has delved into the complicated social, cultural, and individual factors that lie behind the accusations. If I had been able to read a book like this before seeking therapy, I believe I could have been spared years of anguish.

Everyone involved in this mess is suffering–not only the accused, but the patient who recovers the memories, as well as other family members and friends. We are all left with the residue of what I call emotional vigilantism.

The accused are marked forever, even if they were lucky enough to have been vindicated. The self-identified “incest survivors” who believe that they were abused for years, but had completely forgotten about it, struggle with the loss of their families and of their very identity. They have been forced to rewrite their pasts.

Others who continue to suffer are the “stragglers”–those who never progress beyond vague feelings, but who waste years in recovery groups straining for a memory of abuse so that they can hang their problems on it.

The retractors must rebuild their lives and change from helpless, frightened victims to realistic adults taking responsibility for themselves and their problems. Fortunately, for me and many other retractors, a new personal power comes from within. I know now that I am the master of my life–not the victim of some external events that supposedly happened to me 30 years ago.

The therapists, too, are going to need our compassion as they struggle with the terrible things that they have done to their patients. I wouldn’t want to bear their guilt.

The phenomenon of recovered memory is much more widespread a problem than most people realize at this point. Even though the media are just now giving it the attention it deserves, we have a long way to go in understanding how memory works and separating facts from popular beliefs. Our culture appears to be searching for simple solutions to very complex problems, and it is all too easy to latch onto early sexual abuse trauma theory as a one-size-fits-all answer.

There are no simple answers. Victims of Memory provides no fool-proof solutions, but it is a giant first step towards understanding a seemingly inexplicable phenomenon, one that will engage psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and other scholars for many years to come. They will all want to understand how, in a technologically sophisticated culture near the end of the 20th century, millions of perfectly sane people came to believe in monstrous events that never took place. We who have lived through it can bear witness. I was one of those who accused my innocent father. Mark Pendergrast, who can personally tell us what it feels like to bear the brunt of such an accusation, has written a wise, compassionate book for all of us. Read it with care. This book could change your life.

— Melody Gavigan
Editor, The Retractor Newsletter

To send a message to Melody Gavigan: