Daddy Issues: Can We Create False Memories Of Our Parents & Childhood?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

It’s been said that one’s perception becomes one’s reality. If that’s true, could it be that some of our earliest memories are in fact fabrications of our own making? In the third episode of a series based on daddy issues, this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast deals with the memories we hold on to from our pasts, and how sometimes in reality they may not be exactly what we remember them.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back to Daddy issues week. I hope this has been stimulating for you and not-
Tana Amen: Fun wouldn't be the word, but stimulating.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But not traumatic. But you have a review you want to read.
Tana Amen: I do. This says, "Life changing information and entertaining," by Eureka Kid. "I stumbled onto this podcast after a head injury and learned more from these short stories than any doctor I saw in person." I love that. "Great resource for anyone who wants to protect their brain or improve performance, and the Amen stories are really entertaining." I keep saying you married me for a never ending source of stories.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's actually not true, but I like the stories as well.
Tana Amen: You're always pulling them out of me. When I first met you, I wouldn't talk about anything. Do you remember that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: No, I'm a psychiatrist.
Tana Amen: I know. Which is why I didn't want to date you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: For whatever reason, all I have to do is just sit there and people tell me their whole life story.
Tana Amen: That's totally why I didn't want to date you. I'm like, "He's gonna psychoanalyze me. I don't want to do this." And then before I know it, you're like, "Oh why don't you come on stage and share that?" "No." So, but you know what they say. Pain shared is pain divided. So.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So daddy issues. In the last episode, we talked about the impact of your dad's mental health and emotional health on you. In this issue, I really want us to talk about how to change the template. And sometimes the template of what you remember is flat out wrong.
And I've seen this with my patients over and over again. And I shared a little bit about my dad and how he was never there and he didn't go to any of my games. And I held on to that bitterness for a long time.
And then there's this story when I was younger, we had a goat. Goat's name was Sugar. White, beautiful, fun, playful, who ate my dad's roses. And then one day, Sugar wasn't there anymore.
Actually Sugar got the death penalty for eating the roses. And we found out that we were maybe having Sugar for dinner, which was just horrifying. And so I had held onto these bad memories.
Tana Amen: I remember when I met you. You said, "My dad killed my goat and fed it to me." What? That's like Hannibal Lector-like.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. So some of my siblings don't remember it the same way. But that was very traumatic for me, and that sort of fit with him being irritable and not being around. But then he put all the home movies, there are a lot of home movies when we were little. And there were more home movies of him going to the park with us.
Tana Amen: Right. He was there a lot.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I had completely blocked that out because it didn't fit the story-
Tana Amen: You told yourself. Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I was telling myself about my dad. And so I really sort of had to back up, reassess that memory is a tricky thing. And memory tends to be filtered by the story you're telling yourself.
Tana Amen: So I have an example of this. So, and I want to say two things about this. One thing is, as children, your perception is your reality. But you can change your perception, right? But when you're children, your perceptions of the world is sometimes bigger and scarier than it is, which is why you have parents that protect you and that's why you need that.
That's why when your parents are not there, you have attachment issues and whatever. You need your parents to protect you from this world that feels big and whatever.
But I have a funny story about this. So when Chloe was about six and I was working on Love and Logic, and those were sort of my nightmare years with parenting. I was learning Love and Logic.
And she got in the car after school and just was in one of her moods, throwing this fit and being very, very rude. And so, which at that phase, she had a tendency to be very, very rude.
So I used one of the Love and Logic strategies. I probably didn't do it perfectly, but I was doing the best that I could. And I pulled over and I said, "You know, sweetheart, I'm not gonna drive and keep driving you around. I don't do that for people who I think are rude to me, right? So you can, you've got choices. So I'm not gonna drive. So you can sit there until you want to be polite, you can step outside the car."
We were like right next to a park. "You can step outside the car until you're ready to be polite, or you can deal with the consequences when we get home. I don't know what they are, but I'll tell you what they're gonna be."
And much to my surprise, which is typical of my daughter, always surprising me, she got out of the car, but rather than going to the park and like hanging out like I thought she would, she didn't. She took off.
So she takes off down the street walking, and I thought, "All right. Let's see how far she goes with this." Because usually she doesn't like to be very far away from me. She's kind of an anxious kid.
So she's walking, walking, walking, and I'm following her in my car, all right? When she gets down to the bottom where the busy street is, I roll down my window and I'm like, "That's enough. Now it's a safety issue. You can't go any further. So you can either get in the car and be polite, or deal with the consequences when we get home." She got in the car. She was quiet.
So her recollection of that story is so different. We were talking one day and she goes, "Yeah, I remember the time you left me." And I'm like, "What time was this? I've never even left you with a babysitter, let alone left you. What are you talking about?"
She's like, "No, I remember. You left me. I walked by myself." And I was mind blown that she can't remember me following her. Mind blown. And I have memories like that as well.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So it's her interpretation of what happened.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Now there's something very important I want you to think about. When you have children and they're at these ages, whether it's two or seven or 14, unconsciously you are going back in your childhood and reliving what was life like for you at that age.
And a lot of parents, they have no idea this is going on. And if it was an age you got bullied or an age you had body image issues or an age you had public speaking problems, unconsciously you're beginning to feel anxious-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And upset. And you actually have no idea why. And then you're becoming more reactive with your own children, and that dynamic becomes more problematic.
Tana Amen: So the important thing that I learned about that thing that happened with Chloe was, it made me stop and ponder how many details from my childhood were distorted because I was scared, because I was alone. How many of them got distorted? And so they feel very real. They're my perception. They're my reality.
And I even started fact checking some of the big things with my mom. She's like, "Yeah, no, that's accurate. No, that's accurate." But those little details in between matter. And if I was distorting those, like Chloe did, right? Then that means that I can change that perception.
So we can always change our perception. But it just cracked that idea, that it's set in stone. That's what happened. So I think that that's really an important thing to think about.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So here's the big Aha that I've found, is that when I started looking at the brains of my patients, it began to dramatically change their perception of their parents.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Dr. Daniel Amen: That when they went, "Oh my dad was a Vietnam vet and he had PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. I wonder what his brain would have looked like or would look like even now, to explain his erratic difficult behavior." And I have seen so many tears happen when people realize, "It wasn't that he just didn't like me because I was inferior. It was because his brain had been hurt."
Tana Amen: Yeah, no, I like that. Now if you had a father who, let's say he didn't have a brain injury or something. Let's say that he just grew up in that environment. So it wasn't because he was an alcoholic, it wasn't because he had a brain injury. But he grew up in the environment that was modeled for him. What about someone who just kind of is a jerk? What do you do?
Dr. Daniel Amen: So this is the discussion my wife and I have virtually every day.
Tana Amen: Do not throw me under the bus.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I would go back to, how would you ever know unless you looked? Because one of the things that we-
Tana Amen: My dad didn't have a bad brain though.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Your dad did have a bad brain.
Tana Amen: Well he did. He had the, because he was beginning to not remember stuff.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.
Tana Amen: Didn't have a brain injury.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Your dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease when we met him.
Tana Amen: Yeah. But that was many years after I... , yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And he actually had pseudo dementia, where his emotional brain worked way too hard.
Tana Amen: Right. But that's when I was 38.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And if we go back in your dad's family.
Tana Amen: Depression.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right? You are so hung up sometimes on, "He was bad."
Tana Amen: No.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When in fact, he-
Tana Amen: No, no, no.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Was sick. And if you look at his family history, he is loaded for depression and difficult behavior. Now doesn't excuse everything, and that's where you and I often fuss about things, right? What about responsibility?
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What about free will? What about, you know, you should have done better? And perhaps he should have, right?
Tana Amen: Right. He didn't have a terrible brain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But his emotional brain worked way too hard-
Tana Amen: No.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Putting him at risk. Let me finish. Putting him at risk for depression.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When you're at risk for depression, you're at risk for negativity.
Tana Amen: Boy, did he have that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're at risk for the world, the glass is half empty.
Tana Amen: The sky is falling.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Which then puts you at risk for substance abuse or puts you at risk to actually flight into religion. You know, I'm like a huge fan of religion.
Tana Amen: But he used it as a weapon almost.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But he often used it as a weapon.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I just, the scans taught me that there, that behavior is complicated. And I, rather than judge people as good or bad, it's, I just, when people's behavior is off, and his behavior was off, it's why? And if that's the one thing I take away from the imaging part.
Tana Amen: I like the curiosity.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's rather than judge people as bad, to just go, "I wonder why that happened."
Tana Amen: No, I like that. I like the curiosity.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Then you know, as we've done, we've talked about forgiveness a lot.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the scans have just been sort of a gateway for me.
Tana Amen: I totally agree.
Dr. Daniel Amen: To, and when I scanned my dad. So you know, my, growing up my dad's two favorite words were, "Bullshit." That was number one. And number two was, "No." Any time you asked him a question-
Tana Amen: They still are.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The answer is no. I mean it's just an automatic response.
Tana Amen: There's, still it's hilarious. He's hilarious though.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so when I asked him to be scanned as part of my normal group, because he's normal, you know. He's actually highly successful, he said no. For like 12 years, he said no. And when he finally said yes, because I think my mother withheld sex from him or something, he finally said-
Tana Amen: That was too much information. Really?
Dr. Daniel Amen: He finally said yes. My mother is like, "Why don't you help your son? What's the matter with you?" His sigulet was overactive. It's the most overactive sigulet in someone who was 72.
Tana Amen: It was so funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And once, people who have an overactive sigulet-
Tana Amen: They're stuck.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Worried, rigid, inflexible, things don't go their way, they get upset. And their favorite word is no, no way, never.
Tana Amen: But I have to say our dad is actually also one of my favorite people. He's hilarious. Like he's actually hilarious.
Dr. Daniel Amen: He is. He's awesome. I love him. All right. So if this has been helpful for you, please write down that one idea that you got from the podcast that maybe behavior is more complicated than you know.
Tana Amen: And my challenge is, ask yourself, is it possible that your memory, that there's a crack in it? Is it possible that it's not exactly how you remember it? Is it possible that because you were a child and the world seemed big and scary, that the details are distorted? You don't have to even answer what they were. Just is it possible?
Dr. Daniel Amen: And we'd be grateful if you left a review. Hopefully a great review. And you shared #BrainWarriorsWay on any of the social media platforms. Thanks so much.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying The Brain Warriors Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode, and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're interested in coming to Amen Clinics, give us a call at 855-978-1363.