By Dr David Laing Dawson
When we remember an event we are synthesizing bits of information and feelings into a plausible whole, and when we speak that memory we organize those bits into a narrative to suit the present context.
We adults may catch ourselves in an implausible narrative and then correct it. (It could not have been my sister because she was not yet born and we still lived in the farmhouse in Harrisburg.)
But if the current context reinforces that narrative, responds to it positively, then it becomes memory and the basis for the next elaboration, especially for children and teens.
I have been thinking about this because of two very removed events: Though I have known about the culpability of my profession in the transformation of a device of fiction (dual or multiple personality) into a diagnostic category, I was not aware, until recently, of the role a Canadian psychiatrist played in fomenting the pandemic of “satanic ritual child abuse and sacrifice” that caused so much grief to parents and child care workers in the 1980’s/90’s. (Please note that though hundreds of parents and professionals were accused of this, and some sent to jail, it did not happen; there is absolutely no evidence it ever happened in North America in the 20th century) . These were all creative tales spun by children under the influence of naive and prurient therapists.
I remember almost falling off my chair when I heard, at the time, a prominent child psychiatrist pronounce that “Children don’t lie”. Not only do children and teens lie but they are especially susceptible to the implications of their context, the perceived wishes of the interviewer, the adult in the room, and to including bits of information from story books, folk tales, TV, film, video games along with actual experience to formulate a narrative. And the child and adolescent brain is not good at screening for implausibility.
Which brings me to Donald Trump and some of his most recent statements. The first is an interview in which he substituted the word “orange” for “origin” several times without, apparently, hearing himself do this. The second is his repeated story of his father being born in Germany, “a …wonderful.. place in Germany”. You can almost hear his brain struggling with some cliches such as “a little village” before leaving it at “wonderful”. (His father was born in New York City in 1905).
Two possibilities for that first one: Either he does not hear himself when he speaks, or his narcissism won’t allow him to catch and correct: “Did I say orange? I meant or i gin.”
For the second, well, he tells whatever story he feels will reap kudos, admiration, and praise from his current audience and he sticks with it because he has a child’s screening process for implausibility and no one, apparently, except the “fake news”, will point these falsehoods out to him.