When Moira was seven her mother beat her black and blue with a hairbrush because she was tired of combing the tangles out of her hair. To this day Moira cannot stand to brush her hair and wears it as short as possible so she can maintain it. Her mother claims her daughter made up this incident and refuses to talk about it, but Moira feels very hurt that her mother can deny such a traumatic event in her life. Is Moira making this up or is her mother lying? Maybe neither.
Wherever there is an ACON telling their story, there is sure to be a parent nearby calling them a liar. Most nice people would never expect this from their parents, but welcome to narc-ville.
Because narcissists are right-talkers, they will argue about the facts and their “problem child” to anyone who will listen including a stranger in the parking garage. Narcs are convinced they have the truth and speak very convincingly. This often leaves the relatives and friends wondering which side to believe.
Sometimes ACONs write to me saying they have heard so many arguments from their parent that they have even begun to doubt their own memories—except they still have this queasy feeling whenever the trigger shows up. So how can we know the truth?
1. Consider the Source
First things first. We can often discern the truth by a process of elimination. Have your parents ever lied to you or asked you to lie for them? If the answer to this question is yes, then do NOT take their word for it—trust your memory.
It’s important to forgive, but never forget. Don’t forget these are the people who shift the truth to save face and they especially want to save face when it comes to their own reputation. Remember narcissistic parents are more concerned with their own image than a relationship with their children.
2. All Memories are Subjective
No one’s memory plays like a video, but that’s okay because you are not a machine, you have feelings and your feelings are a good indicator to tell you if your memory is telling the truth.
You might forget the room it happened in or even the face of an abuser, but if your body remembers this pain and your mind says it happened, it’s likely to be true so trust your gut.
3. Memory is What We Make of It
Many ACONs never told a soul what happened to them until they were in their forties or fifties and suddenly realized life is too short to be silent any longer. Psychologist and counselor Dan Allender suggests we are less likely to exaggerate our painful stories and are more likely to downplay them. Memory is trickier than most of us realize. Our memories are always biased and they can be awakened or minimalized which furthers complicates the situation. This is especially true in cases of abuse that result in Stockholm syndrome where victims feel an empathy for their captors and downplay their own neglect and abuse.
Many young children have no other resource but their parents. In order to survive they must make the best of a bad situation and to do this they subconsciously choose to think the best of their parents–even when their parents are beating or starving them.
Allender says that memory is also strengthened by an adrenaline rush. The person who experiences an adrenaline rush is more likely to remember better than someone who was not so pumped with adrenaline. Consider the case of a parent beating a child. The adrenaline rush of being chased and beaten will likely preserve that memory better in the mind of the child than the parent. Most Americans can remember where we were and what we were doing on 911, but who remembers the day before? The adrenaline rush we received while watching the planes fly into the twin towers has preserved our memories.
It’s also important to note that in extreme cases of horrific events like witnessing the loss of life, adrenaline might allow us to forget completely. Our memory can be enhanced or disabled by the adrenaline rush during such events.
4. Facts Are Not All the Truth
Facts are part of the truth, but they can’t tell us how someone feels.
There’s a world of difference between facts and truth,
facts can obscure the truth.
The deepest problem between our story and the story of our parents is personal truth. Our parents remember what mattered to them and we remember what mattered to us. Anyone can claim to have the facts, but if a parent is high on the narcissistic scale, they might lack the empathy to understand our pain and continue to dismiss it.
If you feel tempted to ignore your pain and people-please just to make your parents happy, remember you are then ignoring the truth. Truth is more than an isolated event. Truth is your reaction to the event and your parent’s reaction to your pain. This is why the truth is so complicated.
If our parents really want the truth, then they need to be willing to listen to the truth of how we feel when they try to shape us into their image by proselytizing us or yelling at us because we don’t live up to their expectations.
The only true way of honoring our parents is to tell the truth as best as we can remember it, then tell the truth as we know it in our own hearts. Of course if we are Christians, then this is even more important because our first obligation is to honor our Heavenly Parent. God asks us to tell the truth and share our honest hearts because Jesus is the truth and embraces all truth. God is always on the side of the truth and He always cares about the truth of our hearts.