Can hypnotherapy help me to forget?
It is becoming quite common for people to ask me, "can you help me forget someone?" And while that is practically possible, I am not so sure it is the best way to deal with it and I will explain this below. But before I do so, another question I am asked is, can you erase memories? As far as I am aware, the only ways in which memories get erased are through processes such as: natural attrition, pharmacological interventions, exposure therapy (although it is debatable whether this equates to erasure), neuroscientific, or other, interventions, e.g. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) optogenetics, gene manipulation or maybe as a consequence of insufficient long term potentiation (LTP) e.g. there is insufficient interest/benefit for long term storage (as in, it's just not important enough) or as a consequence of damage to certain brain areas, a result of an accident, disease, stroke or maybe brain surgery. Later in life things like Alzheimers, dementia or cognitive decline can make us forget but I haven't yet read anything conclusive (in the early/intermediate stages), that suggests these conditions erase the memories, per se, as opposed to interfering with the recall process!
There is currently a lot of research in this area and while some claim, some, success, e.g. a Cambridge University study, relating to erasing/forgetting images, of cups of coffee and the like, the question still needs more solid evidence, especially in specific and pertinent human trials, to be conclusive. As an observation, a few things come to mind.
1) there is seemingly no real substantive evidence, that I have seen, that a sustained period of long term potentiation (e.g. neuroplasticity, involved in the process of creating long term memories), occurred during the types of memories used for erasure experimentation. However, LTP is somewhat accelerated/circumvented in the acquisition of potentially life-threatening and/or stressful memories. LTP is a more important factor though, where the abuse/cumulative trauma occurs slowly and gradually over a period of time, say months or years. This is because many of these types of abuse are often not sufficient enough, in and of themselves, to form a trauma. It is the collectivity and repetitive nature of them that becomes the problem and the process of LTP occurs during the forming of such highly emotional memories (habitual memory), especially when love is a factor. This often occurs in such a way that the positive effect of love overrides the negative effect of the trauma/abuse. In the case of physical abuse, it is this love/hate roller coaster effect that adds difficulty to both the problem and the solution. This is because the victim is often falling out of love (a consequence of the abuse (I hate you)) and then back in love (I love you) following the outpouring of regret and promises of "I will never do it again" that usually follows the abuse!
2) that there is unlikely to be any strong (negative) emotional connection/association to the memories tested, e.g. a coffee cup etc. Some cases I have read of testing with patients with PTSD again is inconclusive?
3) the research trials do not appear to have been done on live patients with specific love/emotional relationship issues being the reason for the sought after erasure! Some of the practical reasons for this are mentioned below but one thing that sticks out, if only to me, is that in a love relationship, it is hardly ever the case of erasing a memory but maybe thousands of them! And while it is rarely, if ever, the case that one has to address all instances of trauma/abuse to affect a resolution to relational trauma, it is questionable, maybe ethically so, that erasing such memories (assuming they could) would be a viable or wise option?
Delving into the deep:
Memories are believed to be stored at the synapses, albeit there is some evidence of memory traces within the cell body/DNA (perhaps aiding the process of natural selection). One of the reasons it can be difficult to erase memories related to an emotional relationship is simply because it is not just one memory, it is often thousands of them and many connections to things (e.g. objects/gifts), places and people. There will be aspects of semantic, episodic (declarative) memory, as well as some habitual (implicit) memory, e.g. memories of the association while driving (maybe being criticised)? So, in that context, seeing/doing things, going to places or meeting with people that had associations with "that person" has the potential to stimulate memory!
I once had a client ask me to erase memories of lost love and I explained the complexity of it, to which she said, a friend of hers had gone to a hypnotist and he had erased the memory of her former lover and when she saw him one day, she didn’t recognise him the question then, is, how she knew she saw him and, of course, how do you not recognise someone you don’t know or can’t remember? I would call that memory repression and awareness of (non)recognition is the stimulation of the repressed memory!
So, let us focus on the forgetting of someone, usually the object of a failed love relationship. When we lose someone, whether it is a consequence of a relationship breakdown or through death, the resultant emotion is grief, we experience this in the form of, denial, anger, bargaining (what ifs) and depression etc. but this is not a linear process. The final phase of grief is acceptance and this should be the object of any counselling or therapy when working with someone coming to terms with a loss. But not so much in the sense of a shortcut or circumventing the process, it's more in the context that it is not happening naturally and intervention can help it to evolve naturally. However, there is one vital difference between these two types of loss. i.e. a relationship breakdown and death. You see, when someone dies, acceptance is in coming to terms with the fact that they are not coming back, for sure, life will never be the same but we find ways to go forward with this new reality. But, when it comes to a relationship breakdown, they are not dead and they could, therefore, come back, if only perceptively! And the degree to which we want that outcome, but somehow knowing it possibly won't happen, is the degree to which we seek to forget (or erase the memories). But . . . is this the healthy choice? Should we go through life attempting to forget everything that was unpleasant or emotionally painful? Personally, I do not think this is the correct way of dealing with life; do you?
Generally speaking, I have found that people don't want to forget someone, as much as they want to dissociate themselves from the emotional turmoil and pain they experience when remembering that person! So, the question then becomes, is it better to forget them or find better ways to deal with our emotions? I believe the latter is the best option and this is because life itself is somewhat an emotional roller coaster and the better we become at dealing with life's ebb and flow; the better life gets! Sometimes it is through experience that we learn our greatest lessons but what would we learn, if every time we faced a challenging time, we simply chose to forget? That said it can be a useful strategy to occasionally forget to remember and we often do this unwittingly. For example, a friend lets us down, they forget our birthday or we forget an appointment. We can choose to remember that and possibly spoil the friendship or we can choose to forget to remember. Of course, we don't actually forget because the memory is still there, what we actually do is forgive, we make allowances etc. a sort of, there but for the grace of God, go I, scenario!
So, when working with a client on issues like forgetting him or her, I like to explore the options . . . is there a better way? Mostly this is because when a person faces this type of a situation and looks for this as the only or best option, it suggests that there may be some deeper emotional issues at play e.g. is this the first experience or just another one of many?. It is also not uncommon to find there are similarities in the way they deal with other emotional areas of life. Not so much in the context of them wanting to forget or erase memories but rather, in the context of struggling with their emotions, in anything that potentially involves love or close relationships, e.g. a lover, friend, colleague or boss etc. Specifically looking for other areas of life where things are not going well or could be better?
Having explored all the options, and assuming it did not work, forgetting someone, as in, nullifying the emotional attachment, is an option. However, experientially I have found that once you help the client over their emotional hurdle, forgetting someone is less of an issue, if only because they have lost the stimulus that makes them want to remember! That is sometimes because the need to forget someone is associated with a desire to lose something of yourself, something that is an uncomfortable or unpleasant memory that manifests from within yourself.
If, you have someone to forget or a memory you want to erase, why not make an appointment for a free consultation (below), so that we can take a look at the options, perhaps even discover things from the past that are roadblocks to a happier future?