As a hypnotist, I am often asked about how hypnosis works for memory recall. Hypnosis can be a wonderful tool for improving your memory and for finding answers that your unconscious may have hidden from you. Theoretically, as long as you have a healthy brain, you never really forget anything. All you have to do is have a means to access that information. That’s why hypnosis can be so useful on the topic. However, it’s important to realize that the nature of memory is pretty tricky.
Every family or group of close friends has those stories that seem to get more and more dramatic over the years. Maybe that fish that your grandfather caught years back seems to get bigger every time you hear his story. Perhaps you’ve noticed your parent’s love story gets slightly more romantic every time it’s told. Maybe the storyteller has a particular flair for the dramatic, or maybe every time the story is told, the excitement from the memory puts the storyteller in a trance that intensifies the details of the experience.
The storyteller is probably not intentionally misleading you. On the contrary, if your brain is capable of manipulating your memories, it must be able to do so in a manor that is beneficial to you. That is one of the many reasons why memory is a subject worth contemplating.
All memories change.
Your unconscious bias is the lens through which you see the world. With every experience you have, every moment that passes, every person you encounter, and every thought that comes to mind, little details from your unconscious bias are being either challenged or affirmed. So that means every time your mind goes back to a memory, the ever-changing lens through which you view that story in your mind manipulates the picture.
Of course, these changes are usually subtle. Big changes in memory may be more likely to occur little by little. However, the more entranced you may be by the story, the more dramatic those changes may be. If something significant happens or there is important information to remember, it’s always great to journal or document your thoughts through media to aid your memory. There are also wonderful hypnotic techniques for taking pictures or even audio recordings in your mind.
Just because you remember it, doesn’t mean it happened.
There are countless examples in research, law enforcement, and psychotherapy of cases in which people have demonstrated the capacity to fabricate a memory all together. If the police show you a line up and say, “Are any of these men your attacker?” your unconscious, eager to claim justice and protect others, may be more concerned with identifying someone than identifying the right someone. In the same way, a therapist, eager to get a comprehensive understanding of the client’s case, may inadvertently ask leading questions that cause the client’s unconscious to paint images in their mind that didn’t actually occur in their history.
Check out this Ted Talk by Elizabeth Loftus for more interesting information on the subject.
I think it’s crucial that I have a very serious talk with my clients about this risk before I engage in a session that seeks to uncover memories. If perception is ultimately reality, than I am going to be more interested in the client’s feelings about the memory than the accuracy of the events. I have also made it a policy within my practice that no memories that are uncovered throughout the course of my sessions will be used as evidence in a court case or criminal investigation. My goal is to help people master their minds, and I’m not interested in bearing the responsibility of another person’s freedom if I can help it.
Memories are only as good as they apply to your Now.
It’s important to understand that if your unconscious is hiding a memory, it’s doing so for a reason. Some memories would be too painful to revisit on a regular basis, and they could have the capacity to block us from achieving what we want in life. Sometimes it’s good to forget painful things. To illustrate this point, my dad likes to point out that if we could remember how painful every thing was in life, very few women would have more than one child.
Finally, it’s important to note that remembering how an event went down doesn’t mean that you can over-come its affect on you. It is erroneous to presume that recovering a memory will be enough to enable you to cope with the incident. Sometimes memories just keep us from appreciate the Now. So if you must revisit the past, make sure you are ready to keep it there or you can learn something that will enrich the present.