Selective Amnesia: "I Have No Idea What I Did Wrong!"
“I Have No Idea What I Did Wrong”
“I Don’t Understand Why You Won’t Talk To Me”
“I Don’t Know What Happened- She Just Stopped Speaking To Me”
by Rev. Renee Pittelli
HE SAID TO THEM, “YOU ARE THE ONES WHO JUSTIFY YOURSELVES IN THE EYES OF MEN, BUT GOD KNOWS YOUR HEARTS. WHAT IS HIGHLY VALUED AMONG MEN IS DETESTABLE IN GOD’S SIGHT”….Luke
THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS AND BEYOND CURE. WHO CAN UNDERSTAND IT? I THE LORD SEARCH THE HEART AND EXAMINE THE MIND, TO REWARD A MAN ACCORDING TO HIS CONDUCT, ACCORDING TO WHAT HIS DEEDS DESERVE.”…..Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV.
ALL A MAN’S WAYS SEEM INNOCENT TO HIM, BUT MOTIVES ARE WEIGHED BY THE LORD….Proverbs 16:2 NIV.
A couple of months before we were to move a few hundred miles away, my birth-father, who had spent seven years driving past and watching our house, parking across the street, and stalking us, finally accosted my husband in our front yard. He requested to meet secretly with my husband, and told him not to tell me. Never mind that my son and I were standing on the porch in plain sight watching him. Evil people assume that everyone else is as sneaky and secretive as they are. In fact, they assume that everyone is just like them in every way, except dumber. My husband, of course, proceeded to tell me everything and never did contact my father for their clandestine meeting.
A few weeks later, I wrote my birth-father a letter. A 10-page letter, to be exact, detailing a couple of dozen of the hundreds of episodes of abuse he had inflicted upon me and my family over the course of over 50 years. I told him very plainly that none of us wanted anything further to do with him and he was to quit stalking us and not to contact me, my husband, or children again. Anticipating the possibility of needing evidence for a future restraining order or stalking charges, I sent this letter certified mail and still have the signed return receipt proving that he received it.
We moved to our new home and 2 ½ peaceful years passed. Then one morning, the phone rang. It seems the husband of one of my evil ex-cousins, Miss Budinski, who disowned me when I finally began setting limits on my parents (For more on the mindboggling psychotic antics of Miss Budinski, see the articles 'The Devil's Advocate: Handling The Family Meddler...Oops, I Mean 'Peacemaker'' and “They Can’t All Be Wrong And You Right…Or Can They?” on our website), was demonic enough to get my unlisted phone number online for my internet-ignorant birth-father. So dear old dad finally found us, and decided to give me a call.
He started out with about 2 minutes of crying about how it was good to hear my voice again after ten years, and that he wanted to be back in the family. I had thought it was only 8 years, but after doing the math, I realized he was right about it being 10. It was very creepy to learn that after all this time, he was still obsessed enough to keep track of these things, instead of moving on with his life. Control freaks who lost control of you in round 1 are always looking for an opportunity to start round 2. They just never get over it. And it’s interesting to note that, when it suited his purposes, dear old dad’s memory was remarkably accurate. No amnesia problem here!
On the odd chance that he was genuinely remorseful and might have actually changed, I said that I was willing to listen to what he had to say. About 30 seconds of dead silence ensued, followed by his statement that he had NO IDEA what he had done wrong!
A bit taken aback, I inquired as to what was unclear about that 10-page certified letter he had signed for, and no doubt read over and over, which was still only the tip of the iceberg. That letter was sent only a couple of years before. Surely he remembered it, since he had no problem recalling 10 years ago. In fact, it was probably sitting on the desk right in front of him, even as we spoke.
His reply was the typical abuser tactic- that it was all in the past and I should let bygones be bygones. I said not without an apology and some proof that he had changed. He continued to claim that he had no idea what he did wrong, contradicting himself, and getting caught in a lie - because he had just said that the things he did wrong were “all in the past”, which proves he DOES know what he did. Otherwise, WHAT exactly was he talking about that was “all in the past”?
DEJA-VU -or- JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
Since his ploy was to deny knowledge of anything he had done wrong, I decided to test the waters by telling him about just one instance and seeing what his reaction would be. I pointed out his final act of treachery and abuse before I cut ties with him completely- stealing the money that my mother put in a trust account for me, which she had inherited from her mother, and which did not come from him or his side of the family, and never was his in any way (see the article “ A Portrait of Evil” on our site).
Upon hearing this, he immediately began ranting, raving and screaming that he FED my mother all the years they were married and so was entitled to any money she inherited from her parents, and that she had no right to leave it to anyone else. (I know, I know, ladies- now you have an idea of what I’m dealing with here…)
I asked if he didn’t even think that episode merited an apology, since it was ME he had stolen from, and not my mother. He thought for a minute, and then slowly and slyly offered, “I’m sorry that 'the relationship went bad'. Is that a good enough apology for you?” This is typical satanic conniving and “bargaining”. Of course I said no, I wanted a specific apology for his behavior and the things he had done.
He then arrogantly said that he had nothing to apologize for. I replied that in that case we had nothing further to say to each other. Whereupon he again became enraged and abusive, just like he always was, began screaming at me and demanding information about my children, called me “pig-headed” when I wouldn’t give it to him, and hung up the phone on me. At warp speed, I was transported back in time 40 years! And this entire conversation, all the way from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, took place in less than five minutes!
There is much more creepy evil to this story, including the totally psycho “Christmas presents” he sent my kids two weeks later, which you can read about in the article “Some Things Just Never Change ” on our site, but for now this brief account will give you an idea of the point I’m trying to make.
HOW QUICKLY THEY FORGET
Selective Amnesia is the abuser’s phony defense of very conveniently forgetting anything that does not support his case. Suddenly he can’t recall anything he ever did wrong, only whatever he can manage to twist to make himself look innocent, and make you look like the villain.
Many of us have had our abusers claim innocence and pretend they have no idea what we are talking about when we rebuke them for their behavior. If we are finally driven to cut ties with our abuser, or strangely enough, even if she is the one to cut ties with us, sooner or later, she will claim to have no clue what she did wrong.
The main characteristic of Selective Amnesia is that it only goes one way. Rest assured that your abuser will have no problem at all remembering how you threw a ball in the house when you were 7 years old and broke her favorite vase, or how you tripped on the sidewalk when you were 4 and bled all over your new white blouse on the way to church, causing the whole family to be 10 minutes late. You were “always a problem”, and she will miraculously have an infinite variety of memories at her instant disposal to prove this point.
In order to avoid accountability whenever you confront her about her behavior, your abuser will deflect the conversation and attention away from what SHE did, and focus it on YOU. She will have a photographic memory of every childhood or adolescent mistake you made, total recall of every time, from the moment you were born till the present day, that you sassed her, embarrassed her, talked back, or stood up to her, although she will not remember what she was doing to you that forced you to stand up to her. Of course, she will twist and embellish these incidents to make you look even worse. And she’ll also throw in a few completely fictitious episodes just for good measure.
But remind her of anything she did wrong, and she will suddenly develop brain damage. A look of bewilderment and hurt may cross her face as she tearfully denies what you are saying. Or her head may turn a shade of purple you’ve never before seen on human skin as she screams that she never did any such thing and you are a liar. Either way, it will be an Oscar-worthy performance. How dare you accuse her of mistreating you after all she’s done for you?
You may be momentarily confused, thinking that, perhaps because the abusive incident you mentioned was a few weeks or months ago, maybe she really doesn’t remember. This is because of a normal person’s natural tendency to give others the benefit of the doubt and not assume malice.
However, if you test her, you will no doubt find that she doesn’t remember anything she did to you yesterday, either. She might not even recall torturing you in some way just a few minutes ago. And if by some chance she does remember, a lot will get lost in the translation. She is not going to remember it the same way you do- it will get twisted, denied, and added to until it sounds like either you’re completely delusional, or you are the one who wronged her.
If that tactic fails and you persist in holding her accountable, her last ditch strategy will be to tell you it was “in the past”, and YOU are wrong for not getting over it by now. AHA- so she admits there was an “it”. If “it” was all in the past- then what IS “it”? WHAT exactly is “in the past”? How can she say “it” was in the past if she denies remembering “it”? She will try this even if “the past” was five minutes ago. Of course, technically, EVERYTHING we’ve already done is “in the past”, so by this logic you will have no right to rebuke her for ANYTHING she’s EVER done without being accused of carrying a grudge, because it’s ALL “in the past”. How convenient. You just can’t win.
BEATING YOU TO THE PUNCH AND DRAGGING YOU THROUGH THE MUD
Most estranged abusers will then take it a step further, and go running to the rest of the family, like the juvenile little crybabies they are, with lies about how you ditched them for absolutely no reason, when they never did anything wrong. This is part of the smear campaign an abuser will wage against her victim, getting to other people first before the shell-shocked victim can pull herself together, and lying about everything that happened between you, to make herself look like a saint, and you look like the one who is at fault.
I speak from experience, because this is what my birth-mother did to me. After SHE ended our relationship, leaving me stunned and brokenhearted, and before I could gather my wits about me, she went crying to the other relatives that, after 47 years of loving and caring for her, I had just stopped talking to her for no good reason.
Now to my normal relatives with half a brain, this didn’t even make sense, and they did not believe her lies. But the jealous, holier-than-thou phonies, who were just looking for any excuse to judge and disapprove of me, chose to believe her and disown me and my family. “Punishment by Proxy” is typical in a Lord of The Flies dysfunctional family.
The truth about why my relationship with my mother broke up is that I had finally begun setting limits on my birth-parents’ abuse. So Mommy Darling decided to stop speaking to me rather than stop abusing me and exposing me and my children to her husband’s abuse. But somehow my ex-mother neglected to mention that little detail while she was busy trashing me and lying about me to the few relatives who could be easily influenced into taking her seriously. She took full advantage of the knowledge that her audience was too ignorant to question that her accusations against me just didn’t add up, and that it was obvious she must have been leaving something out. This is one example of an abuser’s Selective Amnesia.
Another example is the abuser who will look you dead in the eye and claim to have no clue what he did to upset you, even though he has been plainly and clearly told, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he did. This was my birth-father’s tactic. My 10-page letter spelled out in minute detail abuse after abuse, he signed a receipt for the letter, which I still have, and yet he still claims to be clueless. This is because HE IS LYING. The only reason he “doesn’t remember” is that he CHOOSES not to remember, because it’s not advantageous to him to admit the truth.
THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, OR SICCING THE FAMILY MEDDLER ON YOU
Some abusers will confront their victims in person and claim innocence. Then when you give them specific examples, they deny, lie, blame you or someone else, and in general refuse to take responsibility, apologize, or make amends. They are just looking for an excuse to keep you talking and interacting with them, so they can argue with everything you say instead of showing any remorse (see the article
“Desperate Measures” on our site). Once again, you will be the one put on the defensive, trying to justify and explain your position, while they tell you it never happened, they don’t remember a thing, or it’s in the past and you need to get over it.
Other abusers, however, either can’t handle a direct confrontation with you, or realize that you will refuse to speak with them. So they will enlist other people to do their dirty work for them, a Devil’s Advocate, if you will. They may point-blank ask another relative to contact you on their behalf. Or, they will go on and on, crying a river to anyone who will listen, pretending they love and miss you so much and have no idea why you won’t have anything to do with them, and in general acting as pathetic as possible. They will keep this performance up until some meddling busybody takes pity on them and decides to “intervene” (translate: butt in) by calling you and either volunteering to “help” you patch things up, or criticizing YOU for hurting your abuser. (see the articles in “ The Silent Partner & The Silent Majority” section on our site).
When this happens, the family budinski may pretend that she just can’t stand to see the family having problems, and took it upon herself to call you without your abuser’s knowledge. This is a LIE, told to make you think the “well-intentioned” budinski really is neutral and is not taking sides, and that you can trust her not to repeat whatever you might say. But you can be sure that she will report every detail back to your abuser, who knows perfectly well that she is calling you because he either put her up to it or manipulated her into doing it.
Almost every abusive family has at least one attention-grabbing narcissist who will be more than happy to exploit your situation so that she can take the credit for trying to “make peace” between you and your estranged relative. She will just soak it up as others praise her for having the courage to get involved and trying to “help”.
It makes her feel important to have everyone know about the noble and selfless thing she did. She will pry and ask you all kinds of nosy questions that are none of her business in a sham attempt at 'finding a compromise'. Then she will be the big-shot with the inside information that everyone else wants to hear. So she will be sure to announce it at every family gathering, discussing your conversation, in appropriately hushed tones and with a look of somber concern, with anyone who seems interested, and repeating everything you said, whether in confidence or not. She will use your pain to get attention and make herself look like a hero. A meddler is not the family “peace-maker”, she is the family GOSSIP. Of course she has to broadcast her “selfless” act, because, after all, if no one knows about it, what’s the point?
Trust me on this. I guarantee that if you confide in the meddling budinski, you will be a topic of conversation at every family gathering for at least the next five years, and probably much longer. The best defense against this abuse by proxy is to refuse to discuss the relationship between you and your abuser with any third parties. Remember that just because the donkey brays, doesn’t mean you have to answer him. Just say “Thanks for your concern, but my situation with my mother is between her and me, and I’m not going to discuss it with you. It’s private.”
You can also say “Despite what he’s told you, my father knows exactly what he did, and when he’s ready to make amends, he’ll have to call me himself. My advice to you is don’t get involved and don’t believe everything you hear.” Hopefully, your meddling go-between will take the hint and back off before you have to tell her point blank to mind her own business.
**For a in-depth discussion of the Devil's Advocate phenomenon, including my own testimony about meddling relatives who even went so far as to bring my mother to tears on her deathbed, see the article 'The Devil's Advocate: Handling The Family Meddler....Oops, I Mean 'Peacemaker' on our site.
FOUR BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SELECTIVE AMNESIA
1. Abusers will only choose to “remember” whatever will make them look innocent, and make you look bad. Anything they don’t want to remember will be conveniently forgotten. Except for the things they will claim are “in the past and you need to get over it and let bygones be bygones”. However, be aware that, by the abuser’s definition, “in the past” includes abuses she inflicted upon you yesterday, an hour ago, and five minutes ago. EVERYTHING she even halfway admits to will be “in the past", and therefore off-limits for you to confront her on without being accused of carrying a grudge.
2. When your abuser claims to have no idea what he did wrong, HE IS LYING. He knows perfectly well what he did. He will try this ploy even if you have told him point blank and in no uncertain terms exactly what he did wrong, argued with him and protested his mistreatment for years, and repeated your complaints dozens of times. And yes, even if you have written him a detailed, 10-page letter listing a few decades worth of examples, which he has no doubt read a couple of hundred times. He has seen your distress every time he hurt you. In fact, that was his reward for hurting you and the reason he continued to hurt you. Because he loved knowing he COULD. You probably complained, rebuked, confronted, cried in front of him, fought with him, and tried in vain to set limits, for years, if not your entire life. And nothing worked, leaving you no choice but to end it for your own survival. There is no way he does not know what he did. That is a lie. He only has Selective Amnesia because it serves his purposes to conveniently “forget”.
3. If you take the bait, AGAIN, and tell him what he did, AGAIN, he will only use it to involve you in a lengthy discussion AGAIN, in which he will lie, AGAIN. He does not really want to know the answer to this question. He is not going to respectfully listen to your complaint, carefully consider what you have to say, admit guilt, and try to make amends. He is only going to argue with everything you say, just like he always has. It will be the same old pattern it always was, and you will be the one who winds up aggravated, stressed out, upset, and on the defensive (see ' Desperate Measures ' on our site). You will just be wasting your breath. And he will probably use the fact that you’re even talking to him as a golden opportunity to bicker, criticize, rant and rave, vent his spleen, get things off HIS chest, and upset and abuse you all over again. Who knows when he’ll get another opportunity to tell YOU a thing or two? After all, that is what he really missed- not you as a person and a loved one, but you as a TARGET.
4. It does not pay to attempt a nice, reasonable discussion with an abuser. You are deluding yourself if you think you can ever make him understand, admit anything, or be accountable in any way. No matter what he claims, he has no interest in resolving your issues. He only wants to bait you into another endless argument so he can pick up where he left off when you disowned him, and abuse you some more. Reconciliation is not his goal. Upsetting you some more, just like old times, is his goal. It’s a power thing. He just loves pulling your strings, claiming amnesia, lying, and denying everything you say, watching you get all worked up, and knowing he still has the ability to do that to you. If you answer an abuser who claims he doesn’t know what he did wrong, you will be playing right into his hands. The best response is to refer him back to whatever letter or email you sent in the past, say “You have already been told what you did. I’m not going to repeat it.”, or to simply state, “If you really don’t know what you did, then we have nothing to say to each other”, and end the conversation
IT WOULD TAKE FOREVER TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU DID WRONG,
AND I JUST DON’T HAVE THE TIME
How do you list 50 years of abuse? How do you put it into words? Abusers want to know “what they did wrong” as if it was merely one or two incidents, that could be discussed and settled in a few minutes. But it’s not. It’s a LIFETIME of incidents, 20, 30, 50 or more years; hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It’s overwhelming. It’s not one or two obnoxious behaviors or hurtful episodes. It’s a PATTERN of ongoing, continuous, unrelenting evil. It just never ends, until we leave.
When my birth-father feigned innocence and wanted to know what he had ever done wrong, the first thought I had was “Where do I begin?” The feeling I had was just hopelessness. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking him “Do you want it alphabetically or chronologically?” If I took him at his word, and began chronicling 50 years of abuse, it would have taken months. The time, not to mention the emotional toll, would have been devastating.
As it was, I tested the waters with only one small example, and that resulted in an explosion of rage and more abuse, certainly not in even a shred of remorse. He didn’t really want to hear what he had done wrong. He just wanted me to say ANYTHING, so that he would have an excuse to attack me, just like old times.
After seeing this, why on earth would I continue trying to give him any more examples? Just so that he could keep me talking to him, and involve me in a six-month long argument? (see “ Desperate Measures ” on our site) When you recognize this tactic, it is vital not to allow the abuser to take control of the discussion. My birth-father’s reaction was my cue to end the conversation, because it was going nowhere and would not accomplish anything. It was not going to solve any problems, and it was not going to be beneficial to me in any way to continue. If I had allowed myself to be dragged into it any further, I would have been playing right into his hands.
YOU’RE ALREADY PARANOID, SO I MIGHT AS WELL TELL YOU THAT IT IS YOU
The problem with trying to explain to our abuser why we divorced her is that it’s not so much what she DID, it’s WHO SHE IS. Or rather, WHAT SHE IS. With an abuser, it is NOT any one incident. It is not just her behavior, IT IS HER. It is the kind of person she is that we don’t want to have anything to do with. Abusers are evil, wicked, demonic people. Their behavior is merely an outward sign, a manifestation of the condition of their souls and the shriveled up, dead black heart within them.
The reason we stay away is that we have finally seen this. It’s our abuser’s whole persona that keeps us away, not any one incident or behavior. It’s EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM. It’s his personality, his character, his unrighteousness, his whole evil being. It’s not just this thing or that thing or any of the things he does, it’s HIM!
It would be more accurate to list her personality traits rather than her behaviors as the reason we disowned her. Imagine telling our abuser the truth- that we refuse contact with her because she IS nasty, cunning, spiteful, manipulative, belligerent, treacherous, critical, lying, untruthful, bullying, conniving, deceitful, sneaky, trouble-making, jealous, sabotaging, envious, bitter, sadistic, malicious, selfish, narcissistic, hostile, dangerous, cruel, hateful, psychopathic, and abusive? That’s who she is. Who in their right mind would want someone like that in their life? What normal, healthy person would want to deal with this, or to expose themselves and their children to it?
Our revulsion, repulsion, and avoidance is a natural, normal, healthy reaction to exposure to evil. It is our God-given discernment setting off alarm bells in our heads and telling us to run for the hills. We left because we finally realized it was hopeless, and that changing these ingrained characteristics is impossible. Our abuser would have to change her very being, and that will never happen because she has no desire to. She left us no choice but to cut her off in order to protect ourselves and our families.
The only way we can lead healthy, happy lives is to stay away from such evil people. We don’t disown them because of one or two things they did. We disown them because they are unfit as people to have in our lives. My birth-father hung up the phone before our conversation was finished, so I never got to tell him that. Maybe someday I’ll have my chance to enlighten him, and he’ll finally get the answer he claims to be searching for.
“THEREFORE COME OUT FROM THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. TOUCH NO UNCLEAN THING AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU. I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU AND YOU WILL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS, SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY”…..2 Corinthians
ALL A MAN’S WAYS SEEM RIGHT TO HIM, BUT THE LORD WEIGHS THE HEART….Proverbs 21: 2 NIV.
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The Lord specifically called Sister Renee to minister to Adult Children, not their parents, estranged siblings or friends, abusive or abused spouses, or victims of other types of abuse, although what we write here can often be meaningful for those folks as well. Because of this, our ministry and website have a narrow focus which we will not be changing. We simply can't cover everything. In addition, it is not our purpose to help you re-establish contact with someone who felt it was necessary to cut you off for the sake of their own well-being. We do not keep a list of resources for estranged parents or any other type of abuse and suggest if you are sincerely interested in making amends with an estranged relative, you do an internet search for a website or group that will be more relevant to you. If you cannot find a group or site that you can relate to, we suggest you start your own, and bless other people in your position as well as find support for your personal issues.
For Adult Children and others as well, please understand that we cannot give you personal advice concerning your particular family relationships. We are not therapists or lawyers, we usually do not have enough information to form an opinion, and time does not permit us to give enough thought to each person's individual situation to do it justice. If you need personal advice, we urge you to contact the appropriate professional, depending on the problem you have- your minister, therapist, attorney, police department, local domestic violence hotline, etc. In reading this site, you acknowledge that nothing you might read here qualifies as or substitutes for professional advice. Please note we cannot recommend or refer you to a counselor and we do not have a list of therapists or recovery groups in your area. The only Counselor we recommend is the Holy Ghost, and we encourage you to read the Bible and learn for yourself what the Lord says about the issues we write about.
Our articles are strictly our personal opinions and testimonies and are not intended to give or offer any advice. All who access this site do so with the understanding that we are NOT professional counselors and we strongly recommend that you discuss your individual situation with your pastor or therapist and pray for the Lord's guidance before acting on anything we write on this site. Unfortunately, the abuse we discuss is all too common, inflicted on countless victims by countless perpetrators. All names and identifying details in our articles have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. Any resemblance to a real person or persons whom you might know is strictly coincidental.