Can I be hypnotised to remember something that happened in the past?

We are often asked if we can help uncover a lost memory using hypnosis. What we’re talking about here is not “I have a bad memory” territory, but rather an “I think something happened to me and I’ve blocked it out” situation.

It is understandable for people to want to make sense of current difficulties by looking to the past and trying to work out “why” they are experiencing what they do.

It is true that hypnosis can be used to access memories of past events. It is true that sometimes healing requires that we acknowledge the affects of past incidents or relationships that we perhaps avoid thinking too much about – that we have perhaps “blocked” from our conscious awareness.

Our motivation matters with memory recovery. When we experience something traumatic we may develop amnesia around that experience, such as occurs when a person has a car accident but retains no memory of the accident. We see this as a protective function of the mind, and would question why remembering (or reliving) that trauma would be of benefit.

It is also worth remembering that our memories can be unreliable.

People often think that memory is like a video recording, but memory is a construct – we make it up of different elements. We attach meaning to memories according to our emotions and the way we understand our world. Because we change over time, our memories change over time. How we remember something (the details: the visual picture, what we heard, etc) will depend very much on the emotional state we were in when the memory was created, along with the emotions we have attached to that memory as time has passed – as well as our current emotional state.

There is also a phenomenon known as ‘false memory’, whereby people’s minds will  construct a memory of something that never happened. Sometimes this can occur by the influence of other people. Say you are finding it difficult to maintain a happy relationship. Examples of the way a false memory could be created by an another person might involve:

Leading questions based on beliefs (“What did your parents do that made you find it so difficult to keep a relationship?”);
Assumptions based on beliefs (“Your relationship problems must stem back to an abusive parent.”);
These are extreme examples, and are very lazy (and old-fashioned) therapeutic ideas. We include them here simply to illustrate our point.

If you ask us about being hypnotised to remember something, we will usually ask you a series of questions, such as:

1. What do you think you’ll remember?

2. Why do you want to remember?

3. If you “uncover” that memory, what will that mean for you?

Usually the answers to these questions point to people wanting to realise a change in their current and future experience of life. If all of our focus is on the past, we are focusing on something that we cannot influence or change.

Happily, we can influence and change our current experience, and our future is still yet to be created. If we focus our intention on creating change in the now, then we really can begin to make ourselves a better future, and learn more about ourselves along the way.

To quote the late, great Milton Erickson: “Change will lead to insight more often than insight will lead to change’.

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