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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Lies We Tell: Who Really Knows You?

Last night I watched a movie released in 2009 on the FX channel called "Everybody's Fine". Robert De Niro portrays Frank, a man trying desperately to connect with the adult children he loves and feels he has "lost" after the death of his wife.  

Eight months after his wife's funeral Frank plans a family dinner and invites his family who are scattered across the country.  As the event approaches he begins to receive calls from his children, each offering up a vague excuse for bowing out of the dinner.  The children all love Frank, but as in many families, the children spoke mainly to their mother about their lives and problems.  

It was Frank's wife who kept him informed of their childrens' lives; the information she wanted him to know filtered through the information the children wanted her to know.  Sound familiar?  How many of us fit into one or both of those categories?

Frank sets out to "surprise visit" each of this children, dropping off an envelope with each one as he leaves their homes.  It soon becomes painfully apparent that although the siblings are all in fairly close contact with other, they are not anxious to see their father because they all have access to information they are keeping from Frank.  They all try to obtain the "whole story" before breaking the news to Frank in order to protect him.

Frank finds himself stumbling into his childrens' lives where he senses their constraint throughout their conversations with him.  Unbeknownst to them, he sees and recognizes facts about their lives they wish to hide from him.  The children all realize they are not perfect, and they were raised to not disappoint him.  They are not anxious to be judged by the father they loved, respected and feared.

It occurred to me that we all tell lies in the guise of protecting someone else from feeling disappointed and protecting ourselves from criticism.  It begins early on.  Parents hide their disagreements and arguments from their children. They hide their financial struggles because they want to spare them from worry.  Parents want only the best for their children and tend to operate under the "bubble wrap" theory that what the children don't know cannot cause them pain. Parents always fail to realize that children know more of the truth than they let on.

Children lie to their parents.  At first, they lie without realizing the lie, because the lie is a manipulation. They lie about how they feel, what they want, and what they are doing all with the intent of getting their own way.  Some children never outgrow that behavior.  As they become older, children lie out of a desire for independence; they lie about where they go and who they are with.  Much of the time the lies are innocuous.  The parents know they are being lied to and they hope the lies never move beyond innocuous. 

Grown children continue to lie to their parents and parents continue to lie to their grown children.  Parents will keep their medical problems from their grown children because (a) they don't wish to worry the children, (b) they do not wish to become a burden, (c) they, like most people, fear death.

Grown children continue to lie to their parents for exactly the same reasons, plus a few more!  They will keep deteriorating relationship facts from their parents just in case they can repair the relationship.  No one wants to hear a parent complaining about or even mentioning past unbecoming behavior of one's significant other.  They will keep unpleasant news about grandchildren to themselves because they know how much grandparents love to brag about their grandchildren.  The result is a family that may know each other, but doesn't really know the current emotional state of mind or thought processes taking place.

It is strange to think that though you would expect your family to know you better than any other person, the truth is that sometimes your family knows the least about your true self.  I believe the reason for that is because family members who have grown up with you tend to remember you in your formative years and do not often recognize that you have grown, matured, and changed.

Maybe it is easier to know the people in your family if you skip a generation. for example, your children might be more forthcoming with information when talking to a grandparent. If you happen to be in that "middle generation", I'm still working to puzzle that out.  Lucky for me there are a few people who really do thoroughly know my true self; and the person I am closest to (my husband) knows me the best and continues to love me.

Watch "Everybody's Fine" if you have the opportunity.  The film is well acted and well written and there is a lot of depth to discover.  I especially enjoyed the ending!