We are often told that we should try to live in the present. But what if past events are making the present uncomfortable, or even unbearable? And what if we can't even remember these events properly?
When a memory causes pain, burying the memory is a natural defence. This is called "repression". But though the memory may disappear from the conscious mind, it still exists – in the unconscious.
Hypnosis can help us recover this "lost" memory.
The defence of repressing painful memory can be counter-productive. Events seem long-forgotten but pain remains. Pain shapes thoughts, feelings and behaviour – for years, perhaps a whole lifetime. If we could only remember, we may be able to work through the pain – and eventually leave it behind.
Three (fictitious) examples: You have had issues with food for as long as you can remember; all you know is that mum says you were "a bit funny with eating" when you were little. You feel panicky on aeroplanes; you dimly recall dad telling you to "sit down" on a plane when you were about eleven. You have never learned to swim; all you can remember is an anxiety around changing-rooms.
It's important to note that repression may be complete, or partial. We may have no memory of the originating, painful event. Alternatively, the memory may be sketchy. It is likely that the event involves embarrassment and shame. These feelings can be unacceptable to our egos – hence, the repression. The event frequently occurs in childhood – when we are most impressionable (although this is not always the case). Now to the hypnosis...
Firstly, you and the therapist will talk. They might ask about your earliest memory of changing-rooms, or your family's attitude to food – were you expected to "clean your plates" as children? And what do you recall of that first trip abroad? The sights and sounds, the roar of the plane's engine?
Clues about the origins of your problem are likely to be thrown up here. Some detail may be recalled, but it's the hypnosis that will complete the picture.
Firstly, get comfortable in your chair. The therapist will use hypnosis to quieten your conscious mind and induce a state of relaxation. Now the regression part – the therapist counts back through the years. You are returning to the age of 28, 25, 18. Now you are eight years-old and Mum is bringing in a steaming fish pie. You hate fish pie – that awful smell!
Regression hypnosis can bring back lost memories, making a sketchy picture vivid. With this recall, some of the pain of the originating event is also likely to return. Now, you are in a safe, clinical environment, however. The therapist will help you to work through the pain you are feeling. You may shed tears at this point. This is a good thing. The tears will help in the release of any pent-up, painful emotion (catharsis).
The memory itself can be "re-framed", so that painful, originating events are viewed at fresh angles, and with a better perspective. A good therapist will help you here, too.
When you have reframed your painful memory, you can begin to store the event away once more. Now, you feel empowered – to overcome your problem with food or phobia of changing-rooms. Regression hypnosis has helped you to remember. Now, you can begin to move on.
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About Tom Bailey
Tom is a hypnotherapist and counsellor with his own practice in Chorlton, Manchester. Specialisms include smoking cessation, overcoming performance anxiety, beating addictions and working through childhood trauma.