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? Naturally, 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 certain processes. Such as natural neurological cell attrition, pharmacological interventions, exposure therapy (although it is debatable whether this equates to erasure or repression)? Also, neuroscientific, or other, interventions, e.g. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) optogenetics, gene manipulation. Or maybe as a consequence of long term depression, this is not in any way related to clinical depression. Long term 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 Alzheimer's, dementia or cognitive decline can make us forget too. But I haven't read anything conclusive (in early/intermediate stages), suggesting they erase 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, contextually, it's not that they forgot what they had for breakfast, they just never made the memory of it in short term memory.
Currently, there is a great deal of research relating to memory function. While some scientists 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. It's important to draw distinctions between the emotional content related to cups of coffee and the emotional turmoil that follows the break up of a loving relationship. This is important, because, different memory systems are involved in emotional versus non-emotional events. And 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 took place. There are requisite amounts of neuroplasticity involved in the process of creating long term memories). This process must occur 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. 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 perceived 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, the, I will never do it again promises 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 of patients with PTSD (with the objective of erasing memories), 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 does not appear to have been done on patients with specific love or emotional relationship issues being the reason for seeking erasure? Some of the practical reasons for this are mentioned below. However, one thing that sticks out, 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 mostly believed to be stored at synapses, albeit there's some evidence of memory traces within the cytoplasm (cell body/DNA) perhaps aiding natural selection? One reason it can be difficult to erase memories, specifically those related to emotional relationships, is simply because it is not just one memory. In almost every case, it is thousands of them and many have connections to things e.g. objects/gifts, places and people. There will be aspects of semantic, episodic (declarative) memory and some habitual, procedural (implicit) memory, e.g. memories of driving and being of being criticised while driving? So, seeing or doing things, going to places, meeting people that had associations with "that person" have the potential to stimulate 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 he had erased the memory of her former lover. One day when she saw him, she said: "I 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 the awareness of the non-recognition is merely 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 a lost loved one, or one once loved, the therapist will have goals and markers of the client's progress. Therapy for grief is not so much a shortcut or circumventing the grieving process, it's more in the context that it is not happening as it should. The objective of the therapeutic intervention is to assist the client so that their grief 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 . . . I question if 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, 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. Consequently, 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 situation, they looking for answers. If forgetting is the only or best option, it suggests that there may be some deeper emotional issues at play. Also, it poses questions for the therapist, 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. For example, a lover, relative, friend, colleague or boss etc. So, in situations like this, 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. Mostly this is because they have lost the stimulus that makes them want to remember! This is sometimes because of their need to forget someone, which is associated with a desire to lose something of themselves? Usually, this is something that is an uncomfortable or unpleasant memory that manifests from within their deeper self?
If, you have someone to forget or a memory you want to erase, why not make an appointment for a free consultation (below)? That way we can take a look at the options, perhaps even discover things from the past that are roadblocks to a happier future?
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