It's only fair to share…


Every one of us at some stage has faced the situation where we swore to having experienced a past situation in a certain way. Yet in doing so we faced opposition and conflict by others who also swore to a different reality. In this scenario no one party was lying but what may have occurred was we may have found ourself recalling past events through a faulty brain process we can broadly term mis-attribution.

Anyone who has faced this situation may well have been labelled a liar by others, in arguing the correctness of the memory concerned. However lying is a conscious choice and a concealment of the truth whereas mis-attribution is a natural sub-conscious process that is part of our human condition.

Mis-attribution is not lying but an honest but distorted reporting of our truth when it occurs. In general mis-attribution can be categorised as falling into 8 broad types, which reflect different neural correction and retrieval issues of memory. The 8 types are:

  1. Forgetting through transience – this is where memories become less accessible over time due to changing neural connections and associations linking to that memory over time.
  2. Absentmindedness – these are lapses of attention that result in forgetting to do things. This is often a short-term memory phenomena where a current memory state gets interrupted by another thought and we forget to go back and attend to that original thought action.  For instance we may remember to get our wallet when about to leave the house and then suddenly remember the back door needs locking, which we do, but then walk out and forget our wallet.
  3. Blocking – this refers to information that has not faded out of memory as such, but is temporarily inaccessible but known to exist in the mind of the person concerned. This frustrating event can be where the answer or word is on the tip of my tongue but try as I might I just cannot recall it for now.
  4. Mis-attribution – is not an omission of memory but a recall of something out of context, or attribute the memory to an incorrect source. This is how some people for instance often dream and imagine great events they would like to have happened to them, and then go on to report to others how it actually did happen to them. It has several forms.  For instance a recent client would have a drink of Hennessy brandy or Guinness stout and then dream and report to others that they were flying around the world working for them in senior roles!  Another client was convinced that they had paid for an item when they received an invoice in the mail. After much debate the shop owner showed him video footage in-store proving he did buy the item but not pay for it but leave a Tab. The man then realised he had paid a different bill somewhere else and had mixed up whose bill he had paid.
  5. Suggestibility – Is the introduction and integration into reality of implanted memories that are produced by trance induction, hypnosis, leading questions or suggestions. The “false memory” controversy of sexual abuse memories in clients of therapists is one example of this category. Hypnotic auto-suggestion is another.
  6. Bias – is the way in which our current knowledge and beliefs can skew or distort our memories. This is the accepted process of how what we know, believe, and feel in the present can powerfully influence a reframing of the past and how we then report that past in a new way through a new perceptual filter.
  7. Persistence – is the unregulated and unwanted memories or fragments of experience, often traumatic, that people cannot forget. These typically powerfully charged emotional memories then flood and affect our current disposition and reality as well as the past and the future. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder victims often suffer from this issue.
  8. Trauma Amnesia – In intense experiences such as sexual abuse of children, violence that implies death, or other highly charged emotional events that take us out of our nervous system Window of Tolerance, in terms of our ability to cope with sensory stimulus, the whole mechanism of timeline recording of events by the brain may be impaired.

In dissociative or “leaving the body” events in trauma where the overwhelm is intense, the memory may either become amplified and distorted in those moments, or they may not be recorded for later recall at all. This later outcome is a form of amnesia not reflecting an ability to recall but reflecting the fact there may not be anything recorded to recall.

We all could probably scan this list and identify with situations where we feel this happened to us. In these situations we are not lying but actually reporting the truth, as we know it. The problem is our faithfully recalled reality is faulty and not concealed as a conscious choice.

So be careful when you go saying “Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!!” as you may just be wrong by labeling another person in this way.

Click the following link to view the full version of the article Liar Liar Pants On Fire!!   When Your Brain Distorts Your Reality

Richard Boyd is a Body Psychotherapist, counselor, author, and the CEO of Energetics Institute and Corporate Energetics”MBA,BBus,AdvDipCEBPsych,Cert Coaching AICE,AIFM,ExtDISC Certified

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