Narcissists are much more concerned with appearances than the average person. They are obsessed really. They also possess no healthy coping skills whatsoever. This combination often leads many narcissists to reinvent the past.
Here is an example from my own life.
My overtly narcissistic mother abused me. She kept me under her total control for most of my childhood. Her abusive ways peaked during the last of my teen years. Daily, sometimes multiple times a day, she screamed at me for all of my flaws and bad behaviors, real or imagined.
During the final few years that my parents were in my life, my mother suddenly started talking often about my childhood. In her stories, she was a loving, protective, caring mother. Not once did she mention all the times she called me a “slut” for wanting to date or accusing me of terrible things that I was not doing. According to her, my childhood was wonderful and happy, in spite of me needing her to rescue me periodically (in reality, she never rescued me. Ever).
My mother also took credit for some things that I did. One example is I have always had a gift with animals, like my paternal grandmother, and apparently that was a problem for her. A couple of years before no contact, my mother mentioned one of the parakeets I had as a kid. When we met him at the store, I put my hand in the cage. He promptly sat on my hand and went to sleep. In my mother’s version of this story, she was the one that happened to, not me.
Do my scenarios sound familiar to you? I would guess they do.
I firmly believe narcissists reinvent the past like this for several reasons.
One reason is because narcissists do know right from wrong. They know what they do is wrong, they simply do not care about that. Since they know what they are doing is wrong though, they also know it can make them look bad, which is something they will avoid at all costs. Reinventing the past is their way to cover up their behavior.
Since they do know right from wrong, reinventing the past also could be a way for your narcissistic parent to invalidate you, to show that they still will not admit to the abuse inflicted on you.
Narcissists also reinvent the past in more neutral situations to portray themselves in a positive light. Look at my story of my parakeet for example. For an animal to take to someone and feel that safe with them upon first meeting is pretty cool. It does not happen every day. Rather than let me have the “glory” in that situation, my mother took it for herself so she looked good, like she was the person with a gift with animals and not me.
Reinventing the past also is a manipulation tactic. It is used to convince others that this lie is the truth. Narcissists often speak with great conviction. That combined with the “you must be crazy not to believe me” way about them can make a person doubt the truth, even when they know it.
The last reason a narcissist will reinvent the past is to convince themselves that this much more palatable scenario is true. Sounds crazy I know, but I have seen this happen! I once gave my father a cheap cell phone because he complained that when he wanted to make a call, my mother would call someone and talk for hours. My mother did not approve of this, and complained incessantly to him and me until he got rid of the phone.
Shortly after, my husband and I went to dinner with my parents. While my father was away from the table, my mother mentioned how he got rid of his cell phone recently. She said, “I have no idea why he did that.” The expression on her face was one of slight confusion, and as if she was trying to convince herself that was a true statement.
I really think that reinventing the past boils down to it mostly being a coping skill that narcissists use when they cannot handle something they have done. And you know something? They are allowed to use that coping skill, as dysfunctional as it is.
You know something else? That does not mean you have to go along with them and support their delusions. Supporting and enabling dysfunction is never a good thing to do!
With narcissists, this can be a slippery slope. With my mother, I simply gave non-committal responses when she was looking for me to agree with her stories. “Hmmm” was my usual response. I also changed the subject as quickly as possible. Those were the best ways I found to handle this difficult situation.
Lastly, remember, if your narcissistic parent is reinventing the past as a way to hurt you, remember, this has nothing to do with you. I know it hurts, because you feel invalidated yet again. I understand, and I felt the same way at first. Fully grasping that reinventing the past is nothing more than your narcissistic parent’s petty attempt to hurt you really does take a lot of the sting out of this situation. It proves yet again how immature and abusive your parent is that he or she would stoop to such a ridiculous behavior.