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Bipolar Disorder And False And Displaced Memories?

Question:

My son was diagnosed at age 12 with ADHD and, at 15, with Bipolar Disorder. He is currently on medication.

First, a little background. I divorced his father, also Bipolar and very abusive, when my son was 7. I remarried two years later. Ever since the divorce, my ex has constantly belittled me and my new husband to our three children, constantly asking them if my husband was abusing them, telling them they didn’t have to listen to their step-father or like him at all.

Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services kept showing up at our home nearly every other week because of my ex’s reports. They were asking questions and talking to my three kids. Every time, they left and said they found no evidence of any abuse and apologized for bothering us.

Since my ex remarried 4 years ago, he has little to no contact with his children, who are now 23,20 and 18. He called for his summer visitation and Christmas breaks, but my son, especially, has felt that he’s second-best to his father’s new family. He begs for any small bit of attention from his father.

Flash forward to now: last night my son, now 18, claimed that my husband punched him and threw him across the room when he was 10, and he just never told me. This memory does not make any sense to me. If this were true, he would have told the numerous officers and CPS workers he had contact with. He would have told his father who would not have let it go. The troubling thing is, this something that his father HAS done. My question is, is it possible or probable that, in wanting to be loyal to and feel close to his father, that he could have transferred this horrible memory over to associate it with his stepfather?

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Answer:

There is a concept in psychoogy called “confabulation” where two similar memories become combined into one memory but with lots of distortions. This does not happen voluntarily and is, in fact, very common. Therefore, it is possible that your son has confabulated or combined his memories of his father with those of his stepfather.

It is important for you to understand that it is unlikely that you will ever get to the factual truth about this and that, in the end, it really makes no difference. Your son is 18 years old and what did or did not happen during his childhood is in the past. Anyway, each of us remembesr the past differently and families are famous for getting into arguments over remembered events because each family member has a variation of the memory.

It is both sad and upsetting that this young man is  not able to feel close to his biological father. I would assume that he feels rejected by his dad and resentful and jealous of his newer family. There is nothing much you can do about this except be warm, loving and accepting of your son.

I doubt very much that any of these memories are related to ADHD ir Bipolar Disorder except that his father’s rejection could be a source of depression.

If he is not in psychotherapy it would probably help him to start seeing someone so that he can begin to deal with these emotional issues. Medication for Bipoar or ADD is not the same as psychotherapy but, with those diagnoses, it is a good idea for him anyway.

Love your son and be close to him and do not worry about this childhood memory.

Good luck to you.

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    Dr. Schwartz,

    Thank you very much for your kind comments. I really appreciate them! My son is in therapy, and I will definitely be encouraging him to mention this in his next session.

  • Gerald Evans

    I am reading many comments that describe the problem we have with our 32 year old, still at home, can't hold a job, son.

    But I see NO solutions. We are 69 and 73 years old with 89 year old mother living with us. Our son has large room in basement where he stores all his "junk". He is driving us crazy. He hates us, his mother especially. He has destroyed a playstation III, a new electrict gutiar. Boke all glass in his room, cut his arms, cheeks and wrists. A call to 911 (3 in 1 year) puts him in hosp for week at most. He returns home with same problems, he WILL NOT TAKE MEDS. He thinks there are bugs,video cameras all over the house. He wants to buy a "REAL GOOD RF DETECTOR'' in order to find these "BUGS".

    I fear our friends will pick up a news paper one of these days and read where this adult son distroyed his family.

    He needs to be put away.....but where?......how......I see no answers......

    Fearful Dad

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