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THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS from the Father of a Retractor - by Saul Wasserman, M.D.


From the FMSF Newsletter, 1997, Vol 6 No 8

The following observations refer only to adults who fit the typical FMS pattern. Because people enter therapy for many reasons and because their personal and family situations are so variable, what I have to say will certainly not apply in all situations. Further, because these are general thoughts, they are not meant to represent an analysis, advice or clinical direction in any specific situation. I am speaking in a personal, not a professional capacity. With these caveats...

  1. Once established, the sexual abuse survivor belief system is a closed system. Sending cognitive material such as books or articles about FMS is not likely to be productive because it is cognitively dissonant and people are inoculated against it.
  2. The people in the system have usually developed extremely dependent relationships with their therapists as they cut themselves off from their prior belief and social network. It’s unlikely that a person will abandon the beliefs as long as the close relationship remains. This excessive dependency is not sustainable over the long term.
  3. Often the dependent relationship cannot be sustained because the person runs out of money; the accuser doesn’t get better and the therapist tires of the process; the accuser discovers that the therapist is not the idolized figure; or because of the flow of life -- people move away, etc.
  4. Once separate from the therapist, some accusers slowly start to feel a desire to reconnect in some way with the family albeit usually on very limited terms.
  5. Families can sometimes support that process not by challenging bad memories or images but by holding onto, remembering and discussing good memories and images.
  6. Being able to have some form of communication is infinitely better than no communication.
  7. Some retractors report that they first rethought the situation in response to information they got through the media. Discussions about the issue on talk shows and TV programs about the issue do seem to help -- when the person is open or ready to hear them.
  8. It may be better to agree, on an interim basis, not to have confrontations on the issue of the alleged abuse, and focus more energy on restoring the relationship in other areas and ways. This allows the parent to be seen more as a human and less as a monster.
  9. There may have been problems in the parent-child relationship prior to the person entering therapy. Being accepting and open about these rather than being defensive probably helps the reconciliation process.
  10. Sometimes retractors have realized that they have gone astray when they changed therapists and began working with mainline (non RMT) therapists. A mainline therapist may be very helpful.
  11. The process of retraction is emotionally very difficult. It is a process and not an event. It takes quite a period of time -- six months to a year is not unusual. During this time the person going through it is torn with doubt and confusion. The abuse images and memories are quite vivid (more vivid, I think than normal memories) and they persist even when the person starts to doubt their validity. In effect you have to tell yourself that something that seems real is not -- somewhat akin to the phenomenon of phantom pain-pain from an amputated limb.
  12. It seems best not to blast the accuser with the anger the falsely accused person feels. Try to remember that as much as the parent’s life has been disrupted, the child’s life has been more disrupted. Families who have been reunited consistently report that the process goes better when they struggle to hold onto a loving, rather than an angry stance. I admit this is at times not easy.
  13. It’s said that 95 percent of the people who join cults eventually leave them. This situation is cult-like and it’s likely that many (but not all) of the accusers will, if their families live long enough, reestablish contact. If the peak of RMT was 1988-92, and the number of retractors is now increasing, we can estimate that the process could easily take 3-10 years.

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