Can hypnotherapy help me to forget?
It is becoming more common for people to ask, "can you help me forget someone?" And while that is practically possible, I am not at all sure it is the best or even the right way to deal with emotional issues and I will explain why I believe 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 neurological cell attrition, pharmacological interventions, exposure therapy (although it is debatable whether this equates to erasure or repression), neuroscientific, or other, interventions, e.g. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) optogenetics, gene manipulation or maybe as a consequence of long term depression (LTD) (this is not in any way related to clinical depression). LTD is the opposite of long term potentiation (LTP) a brain process that is involved in the strengthening of neural connections, aka memory formation. Essentially there is insufficient interest/benefit for long term storage (as in, it's just not important enough). Also, erasure may occur as a consequence of damage to certain brain areas, e.g. the result of an accident, disease, stroke or maybe brain surgery. Later in life things like Alzheimers, dementia or cognitive decline can make us forget too 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 process of recalling them? The best way to describe the early stages of dementia etc. is the brain loses its ability to form new memories. So, in that context, it's not that they have forgotten what they had for breakfast 2 hours ago, they just never made the memory of it in their short term memory system.
Currently, there is a great deal of research in the area of memory function and while some claim elements of success in the area of memory inhibition/erasure, they are by no means conclusive! For example, in one University of Cambridge study, relating to erasing/forgetting images (memory), of cups of coffee and the like, they had some success. However, the research question still needs more solid evidence, especially in specific and pertinent human trials, to be conclusive. And it is important to draw the distinction between the emotional content related to a cup of coffee and the emotional turmoil that follows the break up of a romantic/love relationship. This is important, because, different memory systems are involved in emotional versus non-emotional events, I explain this in more detail below! Regarding the Cambridge research, 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, or its apparent absence, 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 the objective of erasing memories), of patients with PTSD, are also inconclusive? In research into combat situations, it showed that an average of 1 in every 47 combat troops will go on to develop PTSD. This gives us a clue as to the extreme complexity of both the nature of this condition and the brain's in which it occurs?
3) also, the research trials do not appear to have been done on live patients with, specifically, 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 single 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, whether 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 cytoplasm - cell body/DNA (perhaps aiding the process of natural selection). One of the reasons it can be difficult to erase memories, specifically those related to an emotional relationship, is simply because, as stated above, 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, procedural (implicit) memory, e.g. memories of the association while driving (maybe being criticised)? So, in that context, seeing or doing things, going to places or meeting with people that had associations with "that person" have the potential to stimulate any or many of these stored memories!
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 she/he had erased the memory of her former lover and when she saw him one day, she didn’t recognise him. So I asked her a question, if she didn't recognise him, then how did she know she saw him? Of course, it's totally illogical, how do you not recognise someone you don’t know or can’t remember? I would call that memory repression and awareness of the (non)recognition is the stimulation of the repressed memory!
So, let us focus on the forgetting of someone, be it the object of a failed love relationship or some other reason. 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 and, finally, acceptance. However, grief is not a linear process and its final phase, acceptance, the emotional memories are reconsolidated to form a new perspective of an altered reality! And this reaching of a new reality should be the objective of grief counselling or any other form of emotional therapy. When working with someone coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, or one once loved, the therapist will have clear goals and markers of the client's progress. Therapy for grief is not so much in the sense of a shortcut or circumventing the grieving process, it's more in the context that it is not happening as it should and the therapeutic intervention will assist the client so that it evolves more 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 likely never be the same without them but we find ways to go forward with this new reality. However, when it comes to a relationship breakdown, they are not dead and therefore, they could come back, if only perceptively! The degree to which we want that outcome but somehow knowing it likely won't happen is, potentially the same 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 better option and this is because life itself is something akin to 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 moment, 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, a 'him' or 'her,' I like to explore other 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 relating to anything that potentially involves love or close relationships, e.g. a lover, friend, colleague or boss etc. Specifically, I focus on looking for other areas of their 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 of their need to forget someone, which 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?