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Do elderly parents re-write history?

 
 
msolga
 
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 02:37 am
I'd be interested to know if any of you have had an experience similar to mine with their parent/s:

Years ago my mother reacted in a very rejecting & hurtful way in response to a situation I was experiencing. I was hoping for support at the time, as I was feeling particularly vulnerable & alone. Her reaction profoundly influenced my relationship with her & my feelings about her.
The odd thing was, when I tried to discuss this episode with her, not too long ago, she has absolutely no recollection of it. In fact denied that she could EVER have been so hurtful, virtually accusing me of lying, or inventing a story. She honestly believed I had made it all up!

When discussing my bewilderment at my mother's recollection of the event with a good friend, she (my friend) said she had experienced the very same thing with her father. Her belief was, that as parents age they sort of "filter out" any memories of their past actions that might cause them distress or discomfort. Rather like only wanting to see the only "good" side of their actions & deleting the worst.

Have any of you had a similar experience?
If so, what's your understanding of why this happens?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 02:43 am
Not sure if it is just elderly people, Msolga. I think we all do it, to some extent.

Also, as I understand memory (and I am waaaay behind current research on this) a lot of older memories are memories of memories - so you can imagine us choosing not to dwell a great deal on memories which do not feed our self-image, or which we regret.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 02:47 am
And - I am sorry you had such an experience with your mother, and are unable to deal with it now with her.

Her memory may come back, I suppose, with the jogging you gave it?
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 02:56 am
dlowan

Obviously the memory of what happened had far greater importance for me than my mother. It stayed etched in my brain for years & years. In fact, at the time I'd vowed never to have any contact with her again. It was very painful.
So it was extremely odd that she had absolutely NO recollection of what was a huge drama & upheaval at the time. My friend had a very similar experience. Disturbing, because resolution & reconciliation can't occur when only one person recalls what happened & the other denies it completely.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 02:59 am
[quote="dlowan"Her memory may come back, I suppose, with the jogging you gave it?[/quote]

No, she will never recall what happened. I really don't think she wants to. Very unpleasant stuff.
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dlowan
 
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Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 03:03 am
Hmmm - well, analytic thought posits repression or suppression of unpleasant memories - and her forgetting might suggest that the memory was extremely important, or painful, for her, too - so much so that she needed to defend her self against it.

It is difficult to know another's heart, no?

I have had experiences of people whose loved ones deny such events - and who, with time to mull, were able to recollect and deal with the material.

Does your mother habitually just deny unpleasant things? Is she able to move through this?

Your own memory is likely to have its own distortions, by the way - memory tends to be very imprecise, generally, and subject to our revisions!
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dlowan
 
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Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 03:06 am
Could someone else, a family member perhaps, who DOES remember the events, act as a support for you with your mother? Reinforce to her that it happened, and deal with it as an event that has shaped your relationship in the here and now? I have known that to work sometimes...
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 03:18 am
Er ... Yes, I'm afraid she is rather a "habitual denier", dlowan. For a variety of reasons, some of which are understandable.
The episode I mentioned in my introduction was in relation to my decision to leave my marriage. I had realized it was a big mistake, was miserable felt extremely remorseful about it. My mother's reaction was to suggest that it was all my fault. That I was causing her & my father great distress by my actions. That my husband was the salt of the earth & I was a bad person, etc., etc .... And not to bring my problems home to her.
I was simply telling them what had happened, but got far more than I'd bargained for! Shocked
I'm certain that the episode had a far bigger impact on me than her, whatever MY memory has done with what occurred.
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msolga
 
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Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 03:23 am
Only my parents & I were there, dlowan. My father contacted me a few months after the episode, saying that no matter what had happened that I was still their daughter & they loved me. And to please come & see them again.
My mother can't remember any of this either & says if my father was still alive today that he would verify her claim that the original episode never happened. She is adamant that it didn't. So nowhere to go with it all, I'm afraid. Best to leave it, I guess. Rolling Eyes
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msolga
 
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Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 03:36 am
The friend I mentioned earlier was physically attacked by her father when she was 16 years old. This was years ago. Her father apparently bullied the whole family, mostly verbally. To this day he denies that the incident never happened & is calling for family unity as he is now very ill.
I'm just perplexed at the selective memory that some people seem to have, especially in regard to things that reflect badly on them. And it saddens me that there might never be reconciliation between the 2 parties. A simple "sorry" could achieve so much! <sigh>
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dlowan
 
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Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:04 am
Indeed - sigh.....
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:05 am
Very strong reaction for her to have. Did it surprise, as well as shock, you? Is there some belief system, or history, that makes any sense of it?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:12 am
Mind you - my father used to have those weird tantrums all the time - so I just never told him anything! It meant he never got discommoded by changes - even when I changed jobs for better ones, he would scream and rant and rave....parents be odd.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:13 am
It's really very simple, dlowan. She doesn't like me. It was one of those families where one child was one parent's & the other child identified with the other parent. (What fun!) I was my father's daughter. My sister identified with my mother.
Families!!! A pox on them!Rolling Eyes
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Vivien
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:15 am
Sorry i can't help with your problem but the problem is your mother and her inability to accept being in the wrong - let it go. At this age she won't change and it isn't worth disturbing YOUR peace of mind. I'm sure you have learnt from her behaviour and never treat your family in this way so at least there was a positive outcome in that - if that makes sense.

My father is a (benign) control freak and i have consciously tried not to be with my daughters - rules and guidelines and right from wrong etc but not control.

My mother had me in stitches the other day - we were discussing some worries over my youngest daughter and she came out with 'you never caused us a moments worry' Shocked - now that IS a selective memory! mind you my dad caught my eye and grinned!
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:23 am
Quote:
The episode I mentioned in my introduction was in relation to my decision to leave my marriage. I had realized it was a big mistake, was miserable felt extremely remorseful about it. My mother's reaction was to suggest that it was all my fault.
Quote:
That I was causing her & my father great distress by my actions.
That my husband was the salt of the earth & I was a bad person, etc., etc .... And not to bring my problems home to her.


msolga- I agree with dlowan about people who repress memories that are too painful to contemplate. In addition, the part of the quote that I wrote in bold suggests that your mother is a very self centered person. Instead of being able to empathize and support you in your time of travail, her reaction was to bemoan what the incident was doing to HER.

I can certainly relate to that. I have played out that scenario with my mother many, many times. Whenever I had a problem, and came to her for emotional support, her first reaction was to focus on how the problem had upset HER. After awhile, I learned not to go to my mother for emotional support.

So, it sounds to me that your mother has quite a conflict, with which she is unable or unwilling to deal. By acknowledging the incident, she would have to face up to the fact that she let you down emotionally when you really needed her, that she did not do her job as a mother. Therefore, she shuts the whole thing out of her mind.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:28 am
dlowan & vivien

Thank you for your thoughts & concern. Much appreciated.

One thing that the 3 of us have in common is that we never caused our families any problems! Because we told them nothing! Probably because the didn't want to know! Laughing
Funny how one off-spring has the problems & the other is "doing just fine", huh? I guess, on the positive side, you get to have a private life, yes? I think the the "episode" I described was the only time I ever attempted to talk about any difficulty I was having with my parents. Obviously that wasn't a good move!

Actually, Vivien, I let the difficulties with my mother go, years ago. Pointless to persist, really. The reason it's in my mind at the moment is because she's seriously ill & I'm perplexed that I have almost no emotional reaction to her situation. Very odd.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:39 am
Phoenix

Thanks for your thoughts & for sharing your own experience.
The REAL conflict for my mother is acknowledging that she cares for one of her children (to the point of obsession about her difficulties in life) & has almost no emotional involvement with the other - me.
For her to acknowledge that would be too hard, I know. It's enough for me to know that this is the reality of the situation & to have stopped (years ago) being totally confused by the difference between her words & her actions. Strangely enough, it was actually a relief when I finally understood that that's how things were between us. So much made SENSE once I understood that.
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:46 am
Quote:
The reason it's in my mind at the moment is because she's seriously ill & I'm perplexed that I have almost no emotional reaction to her situation. Very odd.


Not odd at all. You have probably learned that your best defense against her behavior was to insulate yourself from her. If you permitted yourself to feel, the anger would most likely be overwhelming.
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CodeBorg
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Aug, 2003 04:57 am
Sorry this came out so long(!)... threads movin', no time to edit down.



It's definitely not just older people, and it's not always subconscious. Sometimes it's deliberate.

When I was 11 our family went on vacation and my parents, being photo buffs, were constantly taking pictures. They weren't participating in the activity, being with us or enjoying the scenery themselves, but walking around framing everything for the perfect photograph -- the picture that would prove they enjoyed themselves and had a successful "vacation".

I remember fighting with my brother all day, and being angry at my parents for being so clueless and isolated from their own experience. So when they posed us next to a beautiful piece of driftwood on the beach, I memorized that moment in my head. They were grumpy and aggravated, but determined to get a beautiful, artful picture of us smiling happily on the beach. A story.

The way they carried themselves, I could plainly see they were manufacturing their memories for the retirement home, right there on the spot. Their belief was being created. So in retaliation, I told myself I would never forget this moment, and how miserable everyone really was that day. I memorized it. At least I would know the truth about how people felt that day.

A few months later, I asked them about that day and sure enough, they looked at the photo, smiled, and remembered what a wonderful time we all had. Such a wonderful looking beach. See? Everybody was smiling. I was aghast.

They manufactured false memories of happiness, and I reinforced exagerrated memories of miserable arguing, to compensate. Who won? Kodak. I haven't spoken to my folks in ten years.

How can you talk with someone who lies to themselves, to their own heart, and blatantly twists and reframes everything you tell them? There's no way to understand each other! It's just la-la land. Nothing can be communicated unless people have a grip on something solid, and acknowledge each others framework too.

It's truly a very scary thing to watch people change their own mental processes and understanding of reality. They become gone. They're just gone. Everybody does it to some degree, especially those who cling to ego, image, excuses, or judgemental models of reality, but the scariest possibility in life (to me) is to lose ones mind!

How can I avoid creating false memories myself? The only preventative thing I can think to do -- is to pursue life with open expectations, no big agenda, not caring to "accomplish great things", smooth things over, achieve egotistical goals, or conform to any particular image. I'm just me. Messed up, struggling, goofy/polished, ugly/cute, smart/stupid, radical/wimpy, considerate, whatEVER. I don't even know what people think of me, so clueless, so how can I try to conform to one fairy tale or another?

When I'm open to any experience or feeling, then I'm not trying to construct something in my head. It is what it is.



I've known a number of people with similar "mind-bending" experiences,
especially in times of great stress. It reminds me of an aunt who went through some horrible experiences and suddenly "got religion". Suddenly, by the will of God this, by the will of God that, the blessing of Our Lord heavenly savior every other sentence ... really.

I have to think that sometimes people just need to and have to. Some things are too much to cope with. With my aunt, I don't know if I should cringe, smile or cry. She makes do. She gets by. We do what we can.
I just try to be gentle.
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