Shortly after the last post about Truth, a reader, we’ll call her Jackie, sent me an e-mail about a memory. The way she remembers things, she paid for half the cost of her first bicycle, a blue Schwinn. In a conversation with her mother some years ago, she mentioned this memory.
“I don’t know why you think that!” snapped her mom. “Your father and I bought you that bicycle for your birthday, and you certainly didn’t help pay for it! What on earth gave you that idea?” For the sake of peace, and because Jackie suddenly doubted her own memory, she deferred to her mother’s version — as usual.
“I still remember it the original way. I don’t know why I let her talk me out of believing in my own memory,” she wrote.
This story has several implications. First, Jackie’s original memory persists in spite of the challenge. That’s a sign it’s probably valid. In any case, it’s her memory, and it’s important to honor your memories, and not allow anyone to talk you out of them against your sense of truth. She doesn’t have to mind-wrestle her mother to reclaim her memory. All she has to do is give herself permission to believe in her own truth.
Assuming Jackie is correct, and that she did pay for part of the bike, how could her mother’s account be so different?
The answer may lie in a phenomenon psychologists call cognitive dissonance. According to Changing Minds.org, cognitive dissonance is “the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.” The need to resolve this tension often affects the way memories are formed or stored, and the way they are eventually recalled.
Let’s assume Jackie’s mom had a deep-seated need to be recognized as a “Good Mother.” The memory of that bicycle gift may have lain dormant for years — such gifts are usually more poignant to the child than the parent. When Jackie reminded her of it, cognitive dissonance may have shaped the emerging memory on the fly to support her Good Mother self-image. (Do Good Mothers make their kids chip in on their own birthday gifts?)
Why would she insist Jackie was wrong and had to change her own memory instead of just letting it go? This would be a good question for Jackie to pose to herself in her journal, listening closely to what her "inner voice" tells her. If Jackie scans her memory for other evidence of Mom’s attempts at mind control, she may gain deeper insight into her mother’s way of dealing with life and people, their relationship, and her own way of dealing with conflict.
Rather than further armchair analysis and speculation, I’ll leave you with a suggestion that you put on your detective hat and look for possible sources of discrepant memories. I cover other possible causes in my essay, Mayhem at Camp RYLA that may help you uncover clues. You may discover that your memory has evolved over time, or you may find fascinating insights into other people’s minds. Whatever the outcome, let your curiosity drive you to greater insight and understanding rather than anger.
And then write your story, your way. Gently and respectfully suggest that she write her own version.
Write now: about a memory that has evolved over time. How and why did it change? Or write about conflict with a parent and how you responded.