Dealing With Unconscious Memories in Hypnosis

Filed under: Hypnosis Training

Dealing With Unconscious Memories

by Mike Mandel

Over the many years I’ve been doing hypnosis, the subject of unconscious or forgotten memories often arises. These can range from forgetting where a man put his passport, to questions about blank spots in someone’s personal history.

In this blog post, I'll discuss recalling long-forgotten events from the past using hypnosis.

About Memory

Memory is a complex thing. It’s electro-chemical in nature, and is easily disrupted by alcohol, drugs, stress, and even a person’s beliefs about something that occurred. It consists of an electrical scratchpad for short-term recall, as well as long-term memory, which is connected to a specific protein. 

But there’s also what hypnotists call archived memory, which is memory that is not consciously available; like what you wore to your fifth birthday party, or the date you first learned to swim. 

Much archived memory is trivial, consisting of things we wouldn’t care about, even if we recalled them perfectly. But there’s a wealth of other information down below the surface of our conscious minds that may be emotionally charged due to trauma, shock, whatever. 

Down in the Darkness

Often when a significant event occurs, there will be strong emotion tied to the memory when it’s sent down for storage. If we experience things like grief, extreme fear, or life-threatening events, there can be such a negative emotional charge, that the causative events drop entirely out of awareness, like a heavy object sinking into the dark expanse of the ocean.

Deep

We might know intellectually that something has happened, and perhaps have a very clear idea of what that something was, but the content is gone. 

We simply cannot remember the event…

In other cases, there might be blank spots in the movie of our life. It’s as though someone cut a piece of film out of a reel, leaving just the surrounding events, but between them there is nothing at all. 

In my own case, I’ve found this to be true in the matter of grief.

I had a cat for many years, but have no memory as to what eventually happened to him. It was a long time ago, it’s true. But I was eighteen or nineteen at the time, and would expect to remember what occurred. Did we have the cat euthanized? Did he run away? Did he die a natural death?

I have no idea.

Back in 1977, my mother died of cancer. She went quickly, over just a few months, and opted to pass away peacefully at home, surrounded by her family. 

But despite the fact that she lived in a rented hospital bed in our townhouse for about three months, from diagnosis to demise, my memory of those months is largely gone, even though I was with her every single day.

I can only remember about ninety seconds total, of that entire dark time.

Remember or Forget?

In reality, we don’t remember anything accurately. In fact every single time we access a memory, we change it, by emphasizing some things and minimizing others. But there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s how our memories function.

In reality, the only way to protect your memories from changing, is to never access them. Because remembering things will always subtly change the memory. And over time, a lot of subtle changes lead to a completely different memory, which is why police like to interview witnesses as soon as possible after an event.

As a hypnotist, over the years I have occasionally been asked to help people remember something, like where they put their wedding ring. 

And I’ve also been asked to help people forget something, like a horrible event, or even another person.

But the question arises: Since memory changes over time, is it even ethical to help someone recall something that might be entirely false? (This is a crucial question that I’ve had to face when doing forensic hypnosis for the police.)

Aliens and Satanists? The Danger of False Memories

During the late 20th century, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a huge increase in reports of alien abductions. A key factor that contributed to these claims was the involvement of some therapists using hypnosis to recover repressed memories of alien encounters. 

I believe that the suggestive nature of hypnosis, combined with the therapist's expectations, led to the creation of false memories, or paramnesia. Any therapy that “leads the witness” is next to useless for uncovering forgotten memories, especially when hypnotic trance is part of the mix. 

Simply asking “Was there a silver disc in the sky?” can create the memory in a suggestible subject’s mind. That’s because we don’t remember actual events. We remember what we think happened, which is our own internal representation of the event. 

When giving a demonstration at a training session in Saskatchewan, I caused a young police officer to “remember” a UFO encounter. There was no hypnotic induction, just careful questioning, and yet within minutes, the man became highly emotional, when he told me about watching a metal disc land in a pine forest, several years earlier. 

Another example of false memories is the Satanic ritual abuse panic, that peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s in the United States and some parts of Europe. Like the UFO flap, a large number of people became convinced that their parents, teachers, and even the police, were satanists engaging in torture, murder, and abuse. 

And once again, inept but well-intended therapists created the entire mythology, as they searched for repressed memories that were never there in the first place. 

And sadly, a lot of innocent people were charged with crimes that had never happened.

Regression and Abreaction

Full Article: Age Regression With Hypnosis – A Comprehensive Guide

After World War 1, hundreds if not thousands of soldiers and support personnel returned home when the conflict ended, but were still suffering from what was then known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”. Today it’s called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Even though hypnosis was still in its infancy, it became the therapy of choice to clear up the horrific memories, flashbacks, and emotions, associated with them. Typically, a hypnotist would regress a suffering soldier directly into the traumatic experience and let him re-experience and release all the negative emotions. This became known as abreaction.

It worked, but was very unpleasant for the person with the trauma. Today, we have more up to date methods and techniques, and abreaction is not generally the method of choice, or indeed, needed at all. 

So as you can see from these examples, there are imaginary memories created by honest but inept therapists and hypnotists. And there are also genuinely horrific events that a client has actually experienced, that can be healed and processed through hypnosis, and other means.

But what if a person cannot remember what happened to them, but suspects there might have been something traumatic, that’s now below conscious awareness? As mentioned earlier, there might be gaps in the script of their life, which begs the question: 

Why are there sometimes missing memories?

I Think Something Happened...

When I look back on my own experience with our family cat and my dying mother, there are definite gaps in my recall. Afterall, I should be able to remember what happened when I was a young adult.

In the case of the cat, it’s a matter of not remembering what happened to him.

In the case of my mother, it’s a matter of knowing she died of cancer, but being unable to recall what occurred, during the weeks around the time of her death. 

Because both events are tied to grief and loss, and both are missing information, I can only surmise that my unconscious mind has deleted, or at least concealed, certain aspects of both events. 

And I believe this was done to protect me from horrifically sad emotions. 

Now there are those who’ll believe that I have the equivalent of a piece of shrapnel stuck in my psyche, and until it’s located and rooted out, I’ll never have a normal life.

But the problem with that theory is this:

I have a great life! I’m happy, functional, fit, unstressed, and doing very well for my age.

Which leads us to the final point.

Thinking Alien

So Now What?

After doing hypnosis professionally for nearly fifty years, and training thousands of hypnosis students, I’ve come to a conclusion about repressed material:

Leave it alone if the person’s doing just fine.

That’s right. Don’t mess with it if the person’s happy and functional, because their powerful unconscious mind has done, and is doing its job.

Naturally, if a person has experienced hideous trauma due to rape or violence, it’s very useful and appropriate to detraumatize them first, and then build resources to help them heal and live a productive life. That’s because the trauma provides a clear target at which we can aim our healing methods.

But in my opinion, if it’s not making your life miserable, and you really don’t care about not remembering, then just forget about it. 

Because you already have.

In my own case, I know I lost my mother, and I know I don’t have my cat anymore. 

And for me, knowing that is enough. 

But my disclaimer is, I don’t say that it’s the same for everyone. I can only speak for myself based on a lot of experience dealing with the past via hypnosis. But I just do not believe that regression is always required, even for vague or missing memories. 

And the fact that memories change whenever we access them, means we can never be sure whether we are dealing with truth, or false memory syndrome. This is especially important when hypnotically retrieved “memories” lead to making moral or criminal charges against the innocent. 

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This journey of understanding through hypnosis, borne from nearly five decades of practice and teaching, reveals a fundamental truth: the power of the unconscious mind is immense, and its capacity to heal and protect us should not be underestimated. While the exploration of forgotten corridors within our psyche can be transformative for some, the essence of hypnosis lies in its ability to empower and liberate, tailored to the needs of the individual.

If you're interested in the profound potential of hypnosis — whether to navigate your own unconscious landscapes or to guide others through theirs — the Mike Mandel Hypnosis Academy is what you're looking for. Here, we offer not just courses, but a journey into the depths of the mind, underpinned by our commitment to ethical, effective practice. 

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