Working with teenagers is always a challenge, especially if you are trying to help and support them through their own growing pains. I don’t want to use the word, counselling directly in this context, rather, I would use the word “nurturing”. Nurture in the sense, that when a teen comes to me for support, advice, guidance or just to shout / cry / scream at me, I tend to feel that I am nurturing them to grow and develop and come to recognise their strengths and their own capabilities.
Anyway, one of the teens in my world sat down with me and we were discussing some of the challenges she faces in her life. This involves engagement and acceptance by her mother, always a difficult subject to discuss without too many of the emotions coming to the fore.
Obviously, I could have dived into her memories and perceptions of the issues; getting her to describe the scenarios and situations; the reactions she faced and how she dealt with them. This would then become a point by point discussion.
Instead, I did not want to get into what are called the “why’s and wherefores” of the relationship. Rather, I wanted to get her to reflect on what occurred and relative positioning of her and her mother.
So, using some props [different coloured blocks that were to hand] I asked her to imagine herself standing in front of her mother having a dialogue on a recent issue. Then I asked her to step outside of herself and imagine looking at herself; having the dialogue and reflecting on the tone of voice she was using; the facial expressions she was using; her body position; the angle of her head; how she was using & not using her hands to amplify the conversational points. In effect a 2nd position. For each element, I wanted her to think about how she was positioning herself in relation to her mother and the reaction that she was eliciting from her mother.
Then I got her, to step behind her mother as if she was looking through her mother. In effect, in 3rd position. Now I got her to think about how her mother was acting - the tone of voice she was using; the facial expressions she was using; her body position; the angle of her head; how she was using & not using her hands to amplify the conversational points. For each element, I wanted her to think about how she was positioning herself in relation to her daughter and the reaction that she was eliciting.
You could see the reactions crossing her face as she elicited the various states. It was fascinating and very gratifying to see her work through some of the issues.
We then moved onto her memories of previous situations and how they had impacted the relationship she had with her mother. And this is where is got weird, but positive weird. As she started to think about some of the early life memories, there were confusing and contradictory movements of her eyes and her posture kept shifting, almost as if there was confusion and potential conflict which she was re-living.
I asked her what the issue was and her answer was, “I am not sure the memories are all mine?”
I have read and researched memories and the research suggests that there is a good chance that at least a few of your childhood “memories never actually happened!”. You might think you remember your 3rd birthday party, when what you really remember are the pictures, or you might believe you have a very vivid memory from primary school that in reality happened to your brother or your best friend that you shared everything with, including in that case, a memory.
So why does this happen? Why do our brains seem to be so susceptible to false childhood memories?
Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, has done extensive research on the malleability of memory, particularly in children and false memories from childhood. “We pick up information from all sorts of places and times and use it to ‘create’ our memories,”. Loftus is the author of a well-known study from the mid-1990s in which she successfully “implanted” a false memory in college students about a time they got lost in a shopping mall as a child, even though they never had (Loftus and her colleagues checked with the students’ families). But simply by asking leading questions about the supposed memory, the researchers got several students to tell them that it had really happened. And the false memory doesn’t even have to be very realistic; in a later study, Loftus and her colleagues were able to successfully implant false memories in college students of going to Disneyland as children and meeting Bugs Bunny — which is not even a Disney character.
So I asked the girl, to “Reflect, Remember and Recall” as much as possible the 4 or 5 points to the particular memory that was causing issues and to elicit whether if it was, in fact, real. It was not. She then said that it was, in fact, something that had happened to her brother.
We then moved onto the idea that memories are not “real”, rather they are reconstructions of past events, recreated every time we try to recall the event. If you were to write the event down in as much detail as possible, then leave the memory alone for six months and try to recall it, it will, in fact, be different. That is why, in some respects, the decline in the use of personal diaries and people spending the time to pause, reflect and write down their recollections of the day and how they felt is such a loss to counselling and change work.
We finished the session at that point and she went away with a much better understanding of the current situation she was in and how she could manage the dialogue with her mother in future. As they say, she had all the resources she needed to be able to deal with the situation. She just needed to pause, reflect and recognise them.
For an interesting article on implanting false memories, got to:
As always, I leave you with a quote.
“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe