It would be impossible to talk about hypnotherapy, or any therapy for that matter,
without attending to the subject of memory. We often live our experiences based on stored memories, either to find ways to create more good memories, or running from
distressing ones. It is easy to define ourselves according to our memories; especially the memories of highly charged emotional significance.
Memories are subjective though because as Dr. Michael Yapko states “they are stored on the basis of perception and are therefore subject to distortion”. We interpret the meaning of past events based on our previous experiences, memories, fears, beliefs, emotions and values, and this is why exploring memories is often a critical part of any psychological (and sometimes physiological) treatment.
Many thanks to the entertainment industry, movies often wind people up with the misconception that we have hidden memories which will spontaneously appear in hypnotherapy. It’s a fear many new clients have expressed in our first consultation, so lets take a closer look. (Just a little side note that this discussion is based on standard hypnotherapy rather than past life regression).
Understanding how we store our memories is crucial. Our subconscious takes in all the information around us and stores it until we consciously access it. Some experiences are too superficially attended to and were therefore not incorporated into the long-term memory (someone giving us important information while we were watching our favourite TV show). Other experiences held no personal meaning for us so were not integrated into the memory in any recoverable way (studying mathematics when our interest is sport).
Sometimes experiences are so personally threatening to us in some way that our natural protective response is to dissociate and repress those memories. This is the minds ability to split off threatening thoughts, feelings and impulses into the subconscious so we don’t have to consciously acknowledge and deal with it. Some of you might know the lyrics to the Barbra Streisand song The Way We Were;
Memories are so beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
No memory is completely forgotten though. We adjust them so they sit more comfortably with us, or we split off parts of the memories we find difficult and hence our memories become subjective. We have a very strong inbuilt mechanism to protect ourselves and this can at times be a healthy solution, mostly in the short-term.
If a memory of a distressing experience stays unresolved in the subconscious mind, it will continue to play out in your life until you attend to it. It might be in the form of thoughts, beliefs, fears, emotions, depression, anxiety, physical ailments and disease. The further you attempt to turn your conscious mind away from an unresolved matter, the louder your body will express it.
When clients ask to attend to specific feelings or barriers in their lives, they generally have an idea where it’s stemmed from. It’s not hidden, and neither is the entire memory of it. We never change a memory. That’s the client’s unique experience. Change comes when we look at the response to the experience and this is where resolution takes place.
The problem is not the problem. It’s how you think about the problem that’s the problem ~ Dan Sullivan