> No More Secrets And Lies: The Independent Thinker and the Science and Sins of Memory

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Independent Thinker and the Science and Sins of Memory

I Can Think for Myself - An Imaginary Dialog

"How does my dad know what I'm thinking? He doesn't know. No one knows but me."


"He reads all these books on parental alienation, or whatever it's called, and then he thinks this is why I don't want to see him anymore. If you ask me it's all a bunch of bunk. Other people say so too. Parental ‘whatever’ isn't even a real problem."


"Yeah, it's a made up 'problem' so dads can abuse their kids, and then when their kids try to get away the dads say, 'Oh, look, she doesn't like me anymore. She was poisoned to hate me.' That's what I think anyway."

"So you've read about parental alienation?"

"No. But I know about it. I don't wanna read about that crap, but I know about it cause my dad tried to make me believe it when he told me I was being brainwashed by my mom."

"But then how do know it's a made up problem?"

"I heard it somewhere. Can't remember where. I just know it's a bunch of bunk that dads use so they don't have to get caught abusing their kids."

"Did someone tell you this?"

"No. I knew it myself."

"No one told you about parental alienation or about your dad?"

"I don't think so. If they did, I already knew it anyhow. I could see it for myself."

"See what?"

"How my dad is."

"Which is…?"

"You know, just not a very good person and everything."

"Why is that? Did he do something to you?"

"No, but he's just not a very good father, which is the same thing, I guess, cause he keeps trying to always get in touch with me like call me up and come over when he knows I don't want to see him. And he mails me letters. Even puts money in them trying to buy me. He does this stuff even when he knows I can't stand him and don't want to see him. How sick is that?"

"How does he know you don't want to see him?"

"Well, my mom and I told him a hundred times that we don't want him around anymore, that we can't stand him."

"Why your mom?"

"Cause she hates him too."

"Is that why you hate him?"

"No. Like I said, I have my own reasons."

"Which are…?"

"Oh, things like him not keeping the house very clean and not cooking very well, ever. That's why my mom and my aunt told me not to listen to anything he says. But I knew this already."

"But don't you miss him?"

"Hell no. What for?"

"He's your dad."

"Not anymore he isn't."

"Is that what somebody told you?"

"No, it's what I think. Nobody tells me what to think. I can think for myself."

The Independent Thinker Phenomenon

This is an imaginary dialog with imaginary people, not a conversation I had with anyone — not my kids or anyone's kids. But it's a conversation I could imagine having with any alienated child including my own children. I’ve included it to illustrate an important part of parental alienation syndrome, one of the symptoms of this syndrome that I believe make the task of reclaiming your child's mind the most difficult. It's called the Independent Thinker Syndrome and is one of the eight primary symptoms, or manifestations, of parental alienation first described by Richard Gardner.

Richard Gardner was a psychiatrist who wrote extensively about parental alienation after noticing a disturbance whereby the children he was seeing became preoccupied with what he called an "unjustified deprecation and criticism of one parent." He saw how, in post-divorce custody arrangements (like mine), parents could successfully manipulate a child to turn against the other parent and he called this phenomenon the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and listed eight manifestations that are symptomatic of it.

These eight manifestations are (1) a campaign of denigration against the targeted parent, (2) weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the rejection of the targeted parent, (3) a lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent on the child's part, (4) absence of guilt regarding treatment of the targeted parent, (5) the independent thinker phenomenon, (6) reflexive support for the alienating parent, (7) use of borrowed scenarios and borrowed language, and (8) the rejection of the targeted parent's entire family.

The independent thinker phenomenon is the manifestation whereby alienated children forget they had ever been poisoned to hate their parents. They fail to remember the source of their poisoning and come to believe they had always believed the disparaging comments about the targeted parent  on their own. They have little if any recollection of ever being programmed -- they honestly don't --  and they strongly assert that the decision to reject their parent is completely their own.

Examples of the Independent Thinker Phenomenon in My Children

I saw all eight of these manifestations in my girls during the last three years — ever since they decided they didn't  want me in their lives anymore. In fact it's how I finally figured out what was happening to them; it was how I was able to make sense of their seemingly overnight change of heart towards me and their decision to never = want to see me again.  And as I've mentioned previously, once I began noticing these symptoms, they explained my girls' behavior and their mother's behavior down to a "T" and even made it possible for me to predict the behaviors, or manifestations, I would see next. And that was a bit shocking. So shocking, in fact, that once these symptoms began falling into place I actually thought their mother was reading from the same books I was.

But one manifestation had me concerned than the others. The independent thinker phenomenon was especially baffling and hard for me to understand. And even though each manifestation plays an important role in alienating children from their parents, this one is the first line of defense, or wall, parents run into when they try to push through the already built-up wall of hatred toward them by their children. It thwarts any attempts at having any rational discourse with their children or any efforts to help these children understand the truth about where they got their wrongful ideas.

And the reason it does this is because, at this point in the child’s programming (which has been going on long before this), the indoctrination can begin to take a backseat as the child begins to embody the new beliefs about their parent on their own, while forgetting where these beliefs came from. At this point the child no longer requires the continuing pressures of badmouthing, limited contact, threats, or any of the other alienating strategies used to get children to reject a parent. These children are now capable of rejecting their parents on their own.

Mystery Science Pizza

This was something I didn't understand when I first encountered Mary's and Grace’s extreme rejection of me. And for the short period of time I was still able to talk to Grace (before her animosity towards me grew so severe she wouldn't see me anymore) I tried to address this issue with her. I saw something serious happening to her and realized I had to have a conversation with her to try to straighten things out.

I went over to her mom's house one evening (where she was living all the time at that point) and took her out to eat, and we sat across a table from each other and talked. I thought all I would need would be a chance to sit down with her and explain what was really going on. I thought all we would need would be some time to talk through all the craziness. And since Grace has always been a very science-minded girl, I thought I could appeal to the scientist in her and demonstrate how her beliefs about me weren't even based on actual evidence — on empirical evidence.

Ever since she was a young girl Grace has always had an interest in science, especially astronomy, cosmology, and physics. When she was in the 5th or 6th grade I got her the Carl Sagan Cosmos series of documentaries and she and I would watch them over and over along with documentaries about topics like string theory or quantum mechanics or other things I never understood, but I think she did. And I think all of this fueled her desire to want to study astrophysics later on in college.

I thought I would be able to explain to my very rational and logical daughter how, since she had never witnessed seeing me behave in the manner she was being told I had, it was possible that what she was thinking about me wasn't true. I thought she would surely see that her beliefs about me weren’t even her own, and that the reasoning process used to incriminate me didn't even meet the kind of criteria she would have used to draw conclusions about data in her high school science lab, let alone in her relationship with her father.

It seemed simple to me, because in one sense it was simple. It was a lot of lies, at least on the surface, and I thought these lies could easily be disproved and this intelligent girl would then see how the arguments used to poison her against me were erroneous. And once she saw this, she would "see" that I wasn’t the incarnation of evil her mother and her aunt were trying to convince her I was and our lives would soon be back to the way they had been.

But she never saw any of this and our lives were never the same. By then she was already at the independent thinker stage and it was too late for me to make any difference. And while we sat across the table from each other eating pizza at Pagliai's Pizza parlor in downtown Mankato in early 2011, she'd smirk at my attempts to stop this runaway train of decedent thought she now had about me and she would smile a sinister and disdainful smile as if to say, "Who do you think you are trying get me to love you?" and "How dare you try to change my thinking about you."

It was a horrifying attitude my daughter was now embracing and a very foreign and scary position she was now defending that I'll never forget as long as I live. And it completely broke my heart and sent a chill up my spine as if I were witnessing my child being transformed into a zombie or a lost child in the grips of a cult.

I'll never forget that experience, and I wasn't only brokenhearted but I was frightened to the core at this bone-chilling, macabre sort of person my daughter had now become. And it wasn't until I read more about parental alienation in general and the independent thinker phenomenon specifically, that any of this made any sense — that I finally understood what was going on with her.

And it wasn't until even much later than this when I remembered a conversation she and I had had just before she left my life, that  her new attitude toward me made even more sense.

The Play is Not the Thing

Grace is not only a little scientist, she's also an artist. She's starred in theater productions ever since her childhood, beginning I would have say, when she and her sisters played on a little stage I made for them in our living room when it was too cold to for them to play outside. This little stage was complete with a curtain, a raised platform, and even a backstage area where they could wait in the wings before entering their stage. They spent hours with their friends making up little plays and then standing up on the stage and putting on their little productions while we parents watched.

Her theater world is varied and vast and it began for at an early age. She's probably been in ten to twelve plays throughout the various troupes and local colleges in the community. Her mom and I would take her to auditions, help her with her lines, and she'd carry her scripts back and forth between our homes. I remember playing many different parts in her scripts to help her learn her lines. She's played every role from the Cratchit children to Dorothy in a Wizard of Oz production.

She's an awesome little actress, and one of the last conversations we had before she left my life for good was about her acting career. We were having one of our wonderful discussions one day when I asked her if she remembered what it felt like to be up on stage during her first play when she was very young. I was particularly interested in finding out if she remembered what she was thinking about as she stood up there on the stage looking out at the audience. What was going through her mind? Was it scary for her?

I miss our wonderful discussions.

But as she started to describe that first experience on stage, she hesitated. Something was holding her back and she kept getting stuck as if the memory of the event was being blocked. And then she told me the most amazing thing. She said she remembered being in the play, but for some reason her memory of it wasn't quite what it should be. It was a memory of her watching herself up on the stage from the point of view of the audience rather than of her looking out at the audience from the point of view of being up on the stage, where she actually was. And this was very odd, and we weren't quite sure what to make of it. We thought it was not only bizarre but also quite interesting, and like most things that intrigued us, we sat down and talked about it.

But the more we talked about it, the more I began to have an equally odd sensation about a memory of my own when I was a young child in a play. And then, just like Grace, I recalled having the same type of "wrong" memory of myself in a play I was in where I was standing at a podium narrating a Christmas play for my third grade Catholic school class. And to my amazement, the memory I had of myself in this play is also one of me seeing myself up on the stage from the point of view of the audience and not of me looking out at the audience from the point of view of being on stage myself, which is where I was.

By now Grace and I were even more puzzled about our new and very strange experiences: each of us having similar wrongful memories in similar theater experiences and at similar ages. And so that evening I did a little research to see if I could make sense of any of this. My own psych background told me that memory isn't infallible and that there probably was a very plausible explanation for what she and I had experienced.

And what I found was very interesting. Apparently there is quite of bit of information on the phenomenon of "remembering" events that never occurred, or "false memories" as they're called. And this information explains why both Grace and I had remembered our performances in our plays the way we did. Apparently we had adopted the memories our parents had of us watching us up on stage. Our memories of ourselves were most likely the ones our parents had because their point of view was the one talked about the most in the years following our little performances. Dialog such as "You looked so good up on stage," or "We were all so proud of you," from parents and friends formed these altered memories of the event for us over time.

A few days later I told Grace all the things I had learned about memory and how "false memories" probably explained how we could have memories of events that weren't even our own. I told her that most likely from the years of listening to our parents tell us their version of the play, we forget our own version without even realizing it. Our objectivity of the event faded and died out because someone else's view of the same event was repeated and reinforced — the only point of view ever discussed. And since these memories were highly-charged and emotional and lauded in front of our relatives and friends, we probably enjoyed thinking about ourselves in the way our parents portrayed us, further reinforcing these "new" memories.

But then somewhere along the way our parents' point of view was the only memory that remained — the only one I had any more of me in the third grade play and Grace had of herself in that first play of hers. And it never occurred to either of us that there was anything wrong with this or that these were someone else's memories. As far as we knew this was how we had experienced these events never realizing we were looking at the events through someone else's eyes. We never realized we had the wrong memories until that day Grace and I talked about this.

Grace thought all this memory-science stuff was extremely interesting, and she completely understood how all of this was possible. She saw very well how a memory could be altered like ours had, and I remember the two of us even wondering if the same thing had happened to other events in our lives, or if it could happen again. And that thought was a little scary for us.

It wasn't until, I suppose, a year after Grace and I had had our little conversation about our failed memories, that it struck me how similar her memory of her play was to her new memories of me, her dad. We had both wrongly remembered the plays we were in because we were encouraged to think about them from our parents' point of view, and innocently enough, neither we nor our parents knew what was happening, probably because there wasn't anything life-changing or shocking that resulted from this. It caused no problem in our lives.

But now, to find out that the same thing had happened to Grace and to Mary is extremely shocking and extremely grim. Wrongfully remembering who their father is causes massive problems in our lives and is a life-changing event for the whole family. My girls are now being told how to think about me from their mother's point of view and they don't realize this.

Until the day Grace and I had talked about how her memory of her play had changed, I didn't realize mine had also. Neither of us realized this until the moment we were having that conversation which, ironically, was one of the last conversations she and I ever had. And that is rather strange in itself — that the phenomenon that caused Grace and me to have incorrect views of our plays was now the very same phenomenon at "play" in Grace's incorrect views of me. In both cases, the memories weren't from anything experienced by the person holding the memory — they were memories that came from another source. And neither she nor I knew we had been living with the wrong memory until we had discussed it, looked at the reasoning behind it, and then objectively assessed whether it was true or not.

And shocking as this is, it does explain the huge resistance I saw in my girls and the odd conversation I had with Grace where I brought everything to the table trying to convince her that she had been duped and made to think false things about me. And it explains how she completely forgot she had ever been told these things in the first place. It explains the independent thinker phenomenon.

Sins of Memory

The more I read about parental alienation the more I understood the girls' constant and absolute refusal to have anything to do with me or remember our past together. But the fact that they couldn't even recall they that they had been subjected to months — possibly years — of bad-mounting about me was mystifying. I couldn't see how my two intelligent and loving children could hold such dramatically alien views about me and not even realize where they got those views. This didn't seem possible. It didn't seem right. Something more seemed to be at play.

By then I was familiar with how the independent thinker phenomenon could cause the brainwashed children of cults and things like parental alienation to forget they had ever been brainwashed. But I didn't fully believe it, or didn't believe my children could be susceptible to something like this. I thought my children were different, that they were the exception, and that the nature of our relationship made them immune to something as severe as this. I didn't understand how children who were this close to their father could completely forget that someone had told them lies about their father, especially lies that implied so much to their lives. I didn't know this was possible until a friend of mine told me about a book she was reading called The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, by Daniel Schacter.

Using the analogy of the Seven Deadly Sins, the author writes about the different ways memory can get us into trouble and emphasizes that we should try to avoid committing these "memory sins." He cites studies from cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging that are used to detect "brain mechanisms at work in false and correct recognition" and what he calls "probing the neuropsychology of why people misremember." According to him, there are many memory error examples exactly like those my children are experiencing, especially the sins he calls "misattribution" and "suggestibility."

Misattribution is a special memory problem where people forget the source of their memories. It explains not only what happened to Grace and her memories of her first play, but what happened to Grace and her memories of me, her father.

Suggestibility is "the incorporation of misinformation" into our memories due to things like leading questions, comments, deception, or suggestions. This memory error explains how it's possible for us to "edit or entirely rewrite our previous experiences," and how "Our memories are sometimes permeable to outside influences, [and how] feedback from other people can result in suggested false memories of events that never happened." Suggestibility can be a special concern in legal contexts.

Together these two memory errors explain how our memories can be influenced in ways as significant and life-changing as that of forgetting a parent. And they've been known to produce inaccurate eyewitness testimony leading to convictions of innocent people, such as the five kids in the Central Park Five incident who were imprisoned for a crime they never committed. After intensive interrogations by the New York City police, these kids came to believe they had attacked a woman in Central Park. And believing this, they confessed to the crime and spent years in jail before the real attacker came forward and admitted to the crime. They had been duped. They were minors.

The "sins" of memory described in this book explain exactly what I was seeing in my girls and account for the behaviors they were exhibiting towards me. They explain the independent thinker phenomenon that was at the heart of the wall I was running into when I sat down with Grace to talk to her about her obliviousness to the fact that she had duped about me. They also explain the memory problems she and I experienced when we were young actors.

But most importantly, they explain the comments from alienated parents on this blog and all over the world who describe how they've had to stand by helplessly watching their children's minds being rewritten in the same horrible way.

Sins of Abuse 

And all of this naturally brings me to the question in the back of my mind whenever I discuss parent alienation. And that is my concern about the ethics and the emotional and psychological issues involved from doing something that's equivalent to introducing dementia into the mind of child. I think it's child abuse and many experts would agree with me.

But it's worse. There are studies now that show that this type of child mistreatment can reach an even further low when the victims are people who have neurological disorders such as MS or nonverbal learning disorder, like my daughter Mary has. These people who are missing the myelin sheath covering the nerve cells in their brains have a much higher potential for memory errors than people without this disability. And intentionally introducing false memories into the minds of these children with the sole purpose of obfuscating their memories of a loving parent, and with full knowledge that they are exploiting a vulnerable population, makes parental alienation possibly even a criminal issue.

When I had my conversation with Grace in the pizza parlor about how she had been a victim of parental alienation and I was explaining to her how her memory could be altered, she wouldn't accept my explanation, even though she was perfectly okay accepting the explanation months before for how her memories of her childhood as an actress were altered in the same way. Only months before we had talked at length about how the memories we had of the plays we were in were not even our own, but now there was no getting through to her.

Connecting to our past depends on memories of our experiences — our life itself. And purposely cutting those experiences down, however it's done, is stealing the mind and depriving people of important connections in their lives. It's mistreatment of children, to be sure, and I believe that the layers of machinations a child's mind goes through to get to a level where they forget their parents, equals the layers of abuse they've been dealt.

Rewriting Grace's and Mary's memories of a life they had with their father creates nothing less than a death to a once loving relationship they enjoyed with a loving parent. It denies them not only of any memories of a life they used to have with me, but any hope of a life they could have. 

I want them to remember that life we used to have together. I want them to remember growing up with a father who loved them unconditionally and still does. I want them to remember how we used to play together every night, and how I would read to them, sing to them, and hold them when they were crying. I want them to remember the early mornings before school and the late nights before bed, and all the love.

I want them to remember the truth about who they are and I don't think anyone should be able to define this for them.


Daughters said...




John Brosnan said...

Sometimes we don't know if we're thinking for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

My 5 year old son and I were living in a tiny one room apartment. There was very little space. In the kitchen there was a round table, and once the chairs were folded some walkable space remained. My son learned this "catch me game" at his father's and wanted to play it at our home as well. I was already ill and fervish every day, so the thought of running after a child was not very appealing. Anyway, it became a huge thing. It became our game. Every single evening for many years afterword I'd come home in the evenings, he was already waiting for me on the couch, hiding from underneath a blanket. I'd enter the room calling his name, and I could hear him giggling. All of a sudden he'd leap off the couch, we'd knowingly look into each other's eyes, then he'd start to run like mad around the table. I'd chase him, both yelping and laughing out loud, and after a dozen twirls around the table I'd grab him, drag him with me to the couch, wrestle a bit and tickle him on his back, which he just loved. Afterword we's sit back, panting, out of breath but happy, and we'd start talking and talking. My son loved to talk and we talked all the time.
This went on till he was 12, until the day he was not returned from his vacation with his father. Whe I finally managed to find him two years later, he had become a stranger and was accusing me of abuse, although he could never say what I actually did. Several years went by. Every now and then he'd contact me and more or less he'd ask me to apologize for the abuse. I kept asking what abuse, please tell me because I don't know what I did wrong. At that point I was doubting myself: How can a child have such vivid memories of being abused? Was I totally gone? One day, over the phone, I guess he had his guards down when I asked once more please tell me what I did wrong. Suddenly he blurted out "You chased me around the round table and you beat me up! I know, I remember!". I was so startled, so shocked, I honestly thought that he was joking and I started to laugh. But he wasn't laughing, and I could hear him breathing hard, then the line went dead.

Luciana Rossi

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