How do you respond to revisionist family history? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 39 Old 12-15-2009, 11:12 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm curious. I spent the day with my mother and at one point she made a statement about how she did something during my childhood that was, to say the least, soooo different of my memory that I was momentarily stunned. Then she wanted me to agree with the memory. First I danced around it and then changed the subject as fast as I could.

I totally understand that people can have different perspectives on an incident but this was more of a large sweeping statement about how she "always" did thus and so and, well, it just wasn't true. Neither me nor any of my sibs remember such behavior.

There's also the issue of how far to push -- ya know, is it worth an argument? You can't really "prove" this type of thing, one only has memories. I have a good relationship with my mother and this memory dispute is not about anything traumatic. But I can certainly understand that in other family situations such differences in memories could be a genuine cause of conflict and concern.
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#2 of 39 Old 12-15-2009, 11:31 PM
 
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So far, I just look at her like she has three heads. My mother does this a lot. She seems to need to rewrite history to make herself out to be a better mother than she ever was. Her choices hurt me in some pretty huge ways, so I'm not going to just nod and go along with it. On the other hand, I don't see a point in wasting my time and energy arguing when she has such a selective memory and it will just happen again. So, I stare at her like she has three heads until she changes the conversation or I walk away to do something else. So far so good... Well, except for all the pain from biting my tongue.

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#3 of 39 Old 12-15-2009, 11:41 PM
 
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I can relate to what you are saying. There is someone like that in my family too. Unfortunately, this (and other things) keeps us from having a truly wonderful relationship. I love them bc they love me and my kids and I keep the relationship on a surface level to avoid dissapointment and hurt on my part.

If you and your mother have a good relationship overall I would take it for what it is and let it go.

If you feel like it's something that needs to be clarified for your own heart and mind, do so in a way that is not accusing them of lying (not that you would) as that would only lead to trouble.

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#4 of 39 Old 12-15-2009, 11:44 PM
 
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I don't argue with my mom. If she said something like that I would flee or "pass the dip" or something.


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#5 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 12:25 AM
 
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My mother's entire memory/history is colored with this. It is how she justifies herself and her actions. Really there is nothing I can do about it. She does not allow any other mention of facts or other perspectives. I think if she did she would have to admit she wasn't the person she views herself as.



I choose to accept it and make sure myself and my family are protected from it (and the repercussions) as much as I can but that's all I can do.

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#6 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 12:36 AM
 
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My father does this all the time. I've come to a point where I just smile and nod and change the subject as soon as I can. He will never change, I can't change how he sees the past, and I don't want to jeapordize the relationship I have with him. As long as it doesn't affect my kids then I just go along with it and complain about it to my husband later.

If I thought I could somehow talk it out with him, or that talking about it would do any good at all then I would try that. However I know my father well enough to know that he just wouldn't get that. I'm finally in a comfortable place with my relationship with him and I know exactly what I have to put up with to have that relationship. Sounds disturbed I know, but its what I have to do to stay sane and keep a good relationship.
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#7 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 01:04 AM
 
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My mother's entire memory/history is colored with this. It is how she justifies herself and her actions. Really there is nothing I can do about it. She does not allow any other mention of facts or other perspectives. I think if she did she would have to admit she wasn't the person she views herself as.



I choose to accept it and make sure myself and my family are protected from it (and the repercussions) as much as I can but that's all I can do.

Sara
This. My mom has a lot of mental health issues, which I think contributes to the way she lives a life / has a past of her own creation, based on how she wants things to be. It can be very hurtful, but I honestly think she has gotten to the point where she actually believes the stories she's made up. In her mind she IS the long-suffering victim, the selfless martyr. I keep a healthy distance.

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#8 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 03:43 AM
 
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the way i look at differing memories is that whatever the other person remembers is their truth. that is what is important.
heres an example from my life:
When I was in high school my parents bought another house in another town. They moved into this house after I left for college.
I remember them basically moving into that house and leaving us grocery money that I bought food with and cooked for my brother, taking him to school, getting us both up etc (i was a senior, he was a freshman).
My parents do. not. remember my version, instead they think they might have gone up there during the day on weekends but never slept there (as they didn't even have a bed there).
Maybe my version signifies that I felt emotionally distant or something.. who knows.

I'm still not exactly convinced that my truth didn't happen. Logically, I can't see that it could have, but I remember it!

That was a long winded way of saying that the TRUTH of the past is subjective, and its how each person felt about/remembers that past that is really important.
Does this make sense?
OP, I'm sorry you're having trouble with your mom. I wouldn't count on changing her mind about the past, but if its important to you that she knows how you remember the past, talk about it! otherwise, skirt the issue.

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#9 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 05:23 AM
 
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Most of the time, when my mother starts revising the events of my childhood, she does not ask for comment so I just ignore. When she does try to draw me in to her version of events, I just say "that's not how I remember it" and leave it at that. I know she knows that she was abusive, and I have told her that I forgive her, but she so desperately wants the past to be different that she keeps trying her version on for size. It makes her feel better.
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#10 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 09:29 AM
 
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My mom does this. She also stockpiles incidents to justify her (basically omnipresent) anger, like 30+ year old incidents, while refusing to ever acknowledge anything she's ever done that might be hurtful. (For example, she will occasionally remark about how "difficult" I was at 12-13, with various details about how I'd do this or that, but the one time I spoke at any length about how badly bullied I was that year in school and how I received no support or help, she literally stopped speaking to me for several months.)

I will never win with her, so for really drastic things I reality-check with my brother. The rest I let go.

My MIL has a different version of this - she spins reality as it happens, so she'll have a conversation where, for example, someone expresses willingness to get together with another relative (saying, "Sure, we should do dinner sometime with them,") and then she'll call that person and say, "They're just so excited to see you. They can't wait. They've been asking when we can get together!" It's kind of odd to see this pattern unfold with her.

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#11 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:31 AM
 
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My inlaws do this constantly, if they dare to talk about the past at all. Dh just ignores it, mostly because he's past caring. Long ago he would argue about it, but they never even tried to see what he saw so he just gave up. They truly believe that his childhood was puppies and sunshine...but I think they have to believe that, otherwise they will have to deal with exactly what kind of parents they were.
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#12 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:41 AM
 
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My MIL has done this for as long as I have known her and DH says she has done it as long as he can remember. She has a personality disorder, most likely NPD, and as others have mentioned about their relatives, she is heavily invested in appearing to be a perfect person and garnering praise from those around her.

We made a conscious decision not to buy into her attempts to create a history where she was/is perfect and (usually) everyone else has done something wrong, especially when we had children, and it had the potential to impact them. When she does this, the affected person looks right at her and says "That's really your memory? I don't remember it that way at all."

She was raging angry when we first started doing this a few years ago, but she has since learned that we will not back down, we will push the discussion, and we will embarrass her with the truth if she persists. I can't say that it has stopped her behavior, but at least she seethes silently rather than either preening as people pretend to support her fiction, or picking a fight while insisting her memory is "correct."

YMMV

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#13 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:43 AM
 
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the way i look at differing memories is that whatever the other person remembers is their truth. that is what is important.


This is how I survive interaction with my sister. We are only two years apart, but it is as if we were brought up by different families on different planets. Her "memories" of childhood are so COMPLETELY untrue, that I have a very hard time talking with her. I tell my dad that "her perception is her reality", whether or not it has any relation to what really is or was reality.

I would not be at all surprised if she were to "remember" being molested or abused by my dad, which did NOT happen, but mentally I think she needs to demonize him in order to compensate for other things in her life.

Luckily, I only see her once every year or two, so interaction is kept superficial and to a minimum. I don't correct her too often, because of the extreme negative reaction. I just move on and change the subject.
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#14 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:51 AM
 
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My mother has recently started doing this. It's totally out of character for her. I haven't known how to respond. What a helpful and informative thread!
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#15 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:54 AM
 
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Wow, this seems common. My DH has this problem to some extent with his mother. He has a few traumatic memories, but she denies them and says they didn't happen. The incidents would have been traumatic for her too. He doesn't know if she's sincerely blocked it out of her mind or is being revisionist. Fortunately his sister can corraborate a few things, so he feels confident he's not crazy. She feels the same way, since he can corraborate a few of her memories. Their memories don't always overlap but they've corraborated enough that they are confident that they at least have the big details right even if they know they might have combined some incidents into one or confused which person was there other common memory errors. He's decided to drop it since he gets the support he needs from his sister.

I didn't grow up with any siblings, so I can't corraborate any memories. I didn't have a traumatic childhood, thank goodness, and my mother was loving. However, she does have some... personality quirks?... that have caused me some anguish in my adult life and make me question my sanity sometimes. But thankfully DH has independently seen some of these things, so I feel reasonably confident I'm not crazy even though he wasn't there for my childhood. So I think for DH and I the key is to try to be sure we're not crazy, and then let it go, knowing it's our mothers that have it wrong for whatever reason.

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#16 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 11:57 AM
 
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My father does this all the time. I've come to a point where I just smile and nod and change the subject as soon as I can. He will never change, I can't change how he sees the past, and I don't want to jeapordize the relationship I have with him. As long as it doesn't affect my kids then I just go along with it and complain about it to my husband later.
My dad does it too and I approach it the same way.

Part of me thinks he wants to minimize his past behavior surrounding certain things. The other part wonders if he really had no clue how bad his behavior was and maybe he really thinks X event was just honky dory.

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#17 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 12:02 PM
 
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I find my stepmother does this frequently... but the thing is, she didn't become my step mother until I was like 12, so it's not like I was a small child when she was around, I am defiantly old enough to remember correctly... I was over there a few weeks ago and my Dad asked me what I was doing about DSs shots and I said my piece about how I felt about flu shots and since I have never had one, I don't plan on giving them to him. Well, my step mother went on and on about how she ALWAYS took my sister and I to get our flu shots when we were younger and I just don't remember...um hello I was like 13! Of corse I would remember getting shots! And I we never got them! (sigh) she does this often... so I just ignore it and go about my business.

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#18 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 12:13 PM
 
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My mom does that ALL.THE.TIME. She exaggerates a lot of everyday info as well and it has just caused me to be very distant from her. With a bit of maturity, I have realized that it's best not to argue. Everyone else knows her habits and knows to accept anything she says with a grain of salt so if she says something unfavorable about me, it's easier just to smile and roll my eyes than to argue.

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#19 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 03:27 PM
 
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OMG...I thought my bizarre family was the only one that did this. My grandmother does it, but it has spread through the generation to my mom, uncles, one of my cousins and one of my sisters. It does not even have to be very old memories, sometimes just stuff from last month, so I know I am not that crazy. I am sorry that everyone else has to deal with this, but I am kind of psyched that I am not alone?

So what is the most outrageous revisionist history that a family member has come up with? Currently, mine is my mom telling someone she could have been a professional ballerina.

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#20 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 03:53 PM
 
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That sort of thing is actually what finally ended my relationship with my grandmother.She said some really horrible things to me when I was a kid.Things like telling me I shouldn't touch my sister when she was born because since my mother was a whore my baby sister came from the devil.That was when I was 8.When I was in my 20's my grandmother had a change of heart and all of a sudden my mother was this great person in her eyes and even though I was grown living in my own house I needed to be asking my mother for permission to do things because she would know what was right.I let it go for a long time.Eventually I couldn't take it any more.I told her I needed to talk to her about the things she said in the past.She denied it all.I told her if she was ever interested in having an honest conversation with me she should give me a call.I never talked to her again.

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#21 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 03:59 PM
 
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Honestly I think most people do this. They've done studies about memories and they aren't very trustworthy in general.

I remember terrifying traumatic abusive situations that my mother doesn't. That doesn't mean they didn't happen, it means my mom was too preoccupied or the particular incident didn't strike her as upsetting or memorable.

I'm the memory keeper in our family. I frequently relate stories (true ones lol) and everyone just sits there for a minute and then a light goes on (sometimes not always) and they say "You are so weird, how do you remember that? I've never thought about that until you said it!"

One example is my father, he is mentally ill, violent (to us all) and extremely emotionally abusive. He also is an addict (can't name a substance he didn't enjoy on the regular) and was very abusive and violent during our childhood. My sister found his drunken/high antics funny whereas I would cry inconsolably and still to this day get panicky around males that lose control by drinking/doing drugs in excess.

So when we rehash memories, she will remember something as funny, or embarrassing, and I will remember it as a stain on my innocence or whatever.

I just think a lot of the human mind is a mystery, and I think sometimes it goes into denial to protect itself.

Mothers carry a lot of guilt. Perhaps over the years some women need to remember things the way they wanted them to be because they can't live with the way it really was?
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#22 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 04:13 PM
 
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This. My mom has a lot of mental health issues, which I think contributes to the way she lives a life / has a past of her own creation, based on how she wants things to be. It can be very hurtful, but I honestly think she has gotten to the point where she actually believes the stories she's made up. In her mind she IS the long-suffering victim, the selfless martyr. I keep a healthy distance.
This is my mom exactly. She exaggerates things that I do wrong to make herself look better (like when she loves to tell the story of how I served "crunchy macaroni" for dinner when actually it was just al dente and she's used to boiled-to-mush food) or deny things she did (like when she claims my sister said something she said or just denies it altogether). She also goes on and on about what a rebellious teenager I was and how I slept around as a teen. I didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs. I went to school and made honor role. I went to church three times a week, was part of a youth group, and led the bible club my senior year. I lost my virginity at 18 to XH. I just don't see what she sees.

Generally, these "memories" only come up when we're arguing, so I call her on it. It rarely makes any difference, but at least she knows that I know she's full of it. She knows it didn't happen that way and even if she can convince everyone else, she won't convince me.

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#23 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 04:33 PM
 
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Ah yes my mom likes to recall how adorable and polite we were as kids. Especially compared to my sister’s teen daughter. And how she served us nothing but home cooked meals – even though she worked full time. And that she did everything for her parents, including working in their yard to keep it oh so beautiful, every weekend. Seriously, every weekend? Hmm I don’t remember that. In fact I only recall you doing it once and you made a really big deal out of it.

And those home cooked meals included a lot of TV dinners LOL

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#24 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 04:51 PM
 
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My parents do this to some extent too..though with them there's the added wrinkle that they divorced when I was 4, and they tend to give completely contradictory versions of past events, particularly from when I was a small child (and they tend to be flattering to themselves, and not so much to the other parent).

Luckily for me this is usually about minor points of childrearing and nothring serious or harmful.
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#25 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 06:36 PM
 
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My 15 yo does this. She remembers things that never, ever happened.
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#26 of 39 Old 12-16-2009, 07:08 PM
 
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My dad's sister does this; she wants their childhood to have been this perfectly ideal thing where they all got along so well. In reality, my grandfather was kind of a nasty guy and my dad's childhood was a bit neglectful.

My aunt loves to go on and on about all of the great family time they had as kids. My dad ignores it, then later shrugs it off and says all of the good stuff must have happened when he was away being raised by natives. Or sleeping. Or having long visits with out of town relatives. He knows what his sister is doing and why, and doesn't mind just ignoring it.

DH's sister is similar, with similar motivation (she really wants a past in which she and DH were SO close as kids, but they weren't). We also ignore her version of history.
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#27 of 39 Old 12-17-2009, 11:17 PM
 
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My inlaws do this constantly, if they dare to talk about the past at all. Dh just ignores it, mostly because he's past caring. Long ago he would argue about it, but they never even tried to see what he saw so he just gave up. They truly believe that his childhood was puppies and sunshine...but I think they have to believe that, otherwise they will have to deal with exactly what kind of parents they were.
Wow. I think we have the same husband.

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#28 of 39 Old 12-17-2009, 11:47 PM
 
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My 15 yo does this. She remembers things that never, ever happened.
My 19 year old DS does this as well and will argure with me until we're both blue in the face about it.

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#29 of 39 Old 12-18-2009, 12:03 AM
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My 15 yo does this. She remembers things that never, ever happened.
I do this too!

I remember conversations quite clearly from when I was 7 or 8 that my parents have no recollection of.

The thing is, they are conversations that are pertinent only to me.

Hmmmm...I wonder why I'm the only one who remembers them?

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#30 of 39 Old 12-18-2009, 12:13 AM
 
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I encounter this situation a lot with my mother. I think in our case, the difference in how situations are remembered, if at all, stems from the fact that there was a period during my early teens when she became very physically abusive toward me. Mostly, she doesn't recall any of the abuse-and likes to tell stories of what a horrible, hateful child/teen I was (Luckily for my own piece of mind there are countless people who were adults and knew me at those times that can completely obliterate my moms versions of events). I think it's either because a. she has truly blocked it out of her memory, or b. she is deeply regretful and it is easier for her to act like it never happened. Either way, I have long since forgiven her and made my peace with her regarding it. My mom was dealt a s*** hand, grew up in a mentally/verbally abusive foster home, on her own at 16, totally screwed over by my dad...she honestly never had a positive example of how to be a parent or have a functional relationship with anyone, but has honestly always done the best she could-even as poorly equipped as she was. (Wow, that ended up being a lot heavier than I intended...)

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