Don’t go to another counselor until you read this.
Years ago I was approached by a young lady looking for advice. She was clearly frustrated, her eyes filling with tears, as she began her story. She grew up in a large family with a father who was fairly distant and cold. She had years of pent up frustration at the distance and lack of understanding in their relationship. However, this time he had crossed the line…
At this point, in most conversations about a painful situation, people tend to protect someone and downplay something serious or they tend to exaggerate an event.
Early on I did something I have since regretted and learned to STOP doing. Hold on, you’re not going to like this…I had to STOP fully believing their stories.
You read that correctly. I have wrongly reprimanded people that didn’t really deserve it and have neglected to engage when I later realized I should have all because I believed people without looking for the truth. Listen to Dr. Julia Shaw, a memory expert and researcher at London South Bank University: “Much like our ability to switch the name John with Jack without realizing, we can quite easily change details of more important events in our memories without noticing. We can come to remember seeing and doing things that never happened, and the sneaky part is that in our minds these errors look and feel just like our other memories. These kinds of memory errors are called ‘false memories,’ and they are the subject of considerable study around the world.”
This gets even scarier!
Listen to what happened during one of the research projects: “I recently conducted a study that elucidates this, published in the academic journal Psychological Science. Through a series of three interviews, my participants came to believe they experienced a highly emotional event that never happened.”
She goes on in her research to share that this is accidentally done all the time in highly emotional questioning situations like police interviews or counseling sessions. Yep, you heard that right. Bad counselors can actually make your events MORE traumatic. Every time you recreate the event, the mind can literally paint a more superfluous image. Your ex grows ever more into a monster. Your childhood becomes just as bad as living in a concentration camp. You mix real events with emotions and retell the story over and over again with no objective guidance and end up with a new “real” memory based on something that isn’t actually true. This sounds terrifying. At this point I should interject. DON’T go to bad counselors that may “seed” your memories. They can make a bad situation much worse in your mind and in your heart.
So, how can you tell if a counselor is bad?
Pay attention to how counselors probe your memories. Closed questions are less than ideal. “What was the color of his shirt?” Leading questions are dangerous. They write memories as the brain tries to fill in the gaps. “He was angry, wasn’t he? His fist was closed, wasn’t it?” Dr. Shaw’s research led me to two conclusions: 1) The best way to probe a memory is to just listen. Don’t over ask or “seed” their memories. 2) If possible corroboration is absolutely much better. Find out who else was there or if the event was recorded. It’s best to compare stories like a good police officer asking each witness separately and drawing core conclusions off of the similarities. Look for real evidence.
Back to the story.
As she shared what happened her emotional response didn’t seem to align with the reported misbehavior of her dad. Yes, her dad is kind of a jerk. Abusive? Her unseeded stories never revealed physical abuse, not even a spanking. She didn’t even recall a time he raised his voice.
Oh, I could have seeded that memory! I could have added things like, “He was really angry with you, wasn’t he?” That would have been absolutely wrong on my part, but bad counselors do it all the time.
I stopped the conversation. I didn’t want to proceed and make things worse. I needed another perspective. So here is what I asked.
“Do you trust your siblings?”
She responded. “Yes, absolutely!”
“Can I ask them about this?”
She said, “Yes.”
All of us gathered in a room as I asked her to recall the situations again. At least one of them, if not more, were present as she remembered her dad’s “cruel” and “harsh” rules. As the family conversation progressed it didn’t take long for a sister to speak up and say, “That’s not exactly how it happened.” That sister then told the story with less creativity. Yes, dad said you had to be back by 11:30, but there was no door slamming, no shaking of the fist, and no yelling. I noticed when the other witnesses, who she knew and loved, spoke into her life, they didn’t feed a false memory, they helped her build a memory closer to reality. Then we used the example and teachings of Christ to build a right response. I didn’t ask her to do what SHE felt like doing. I asked her what she thought JESUS would have her do in that situation.
In the Bible the heart is to be formed not by looking within, but by finding anchors outside of ourselves. Jeremiah states that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). Our hearts (and minds) are prone to lie, especially to ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul says that a renewal of our mind, by committing to the ways of Christ, gives us the capacity to test what will really honor God (Rom. 12:2). John says that by following the work and way of Christ we are literally set free from the deception within and without (John 8). Like being lost at sea, one can get caught in deep cyclical bondage as their mind constantly replays and rewrites their story, led by an imperfect creative mind. They even pay people lots of money to listen to them replay events over and over again. The Bible says there is a guide who can successfully pull you out of yourself. You will have to do what is objectively right over how you may feel, but he knows the way. Restitution of relationships, the way to racial equality, dealing with past hurts or current issues of the heart can all be safely and wisely discerned. The guide knows you and knows the way you’re to take. Choose to trust him. John 1:14 says that the Word, literally Truth, came and made his dwelling among us to show us the way. Since our minds are objectively and scientifically proven to be unreliable, who will you follow? Pop psychologists come and go. New self-help strategies that fly off the best seller list are quickly forgotten, but that man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived thousands of years ago has given unimaginable hope to billions and still guides today. Yep, I choose to trust him. That’s my guide. Even over my own heart.
*The opening story was purposefully adjusted to protect the family involved.
I take on the western view of inner peace in this quick easy read found by clicking here: http://a.co/eeltLmR
(It’s 99 cents on Amazon. I would make it free, but Amazon won’t let me.)
Below are a few places to explore our memories!
Introduction of false memories: (Scary stuff) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfPLTtlo2oY
The Memory Illusion. Here is an introduction to the book and a link to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72dhjGWB0gg
Scientific America: A great resource with other resources. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-memory-illusion/
Ted Talks: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_the_fiction_of_memory?language=en