Is there something you’d like to forget? The answer is obvious for most of us. Almost everyone can think of at least a few things they’d enjoy not remembering. And as hypnotists, we often get clients who would have us erase memories from their minds.
For better or worse, though, the truth is there is no way to permanently delete memories from a person’s mind. They can be repressed for a time, as the mind occasionally does own its own, but never fully erased.
We’re very sorry if you were looking for a way to forget all the embarrassing situations in your life that make you want to bury your head in the sand, but each person’s unconscious mind gets to decide which memories are worth keeping. That’s just how it goes.
Amnesia does have its uses in hypnosis, though. Both in hypnotherapy and for entertainment purposes. Let’s start by defining what “amnesia” actually means.
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Correctly Defining Amnesia
Amnesia isn’t forgetting something, it’s forgetting that you have forgotten something. It’s when you don’t even know there was once something that has now been forgotten. It’s a complete gap that goes by unnoticed, as though what was there never even existed. Of course, all that information is still there, but it got pushed below the surface of conscious awareness.
If that sounds too complicated, try to recall instances when this has happened to you in your life. It happens all the time in hypnosis, and since hypnosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon in everyone’s lives, it’s bound to happen to you.
Mike Mandel, in his career of thousands of stage hypnosis shows, would often give suggestions for amnesia to the volunteers up on stage. They’d be told to forget about the entire show and go back to the audience as if the show had not yet even started. They’d be given a suggestion to recall their experience on stage only after entering a bathroom. At this point, nearly every volunteer erupts into uncontrolled laughter.
Amnesia can generally be created through direct suggestion while the subject is in a deep, robust, somnambulistic trance. Those are the conditions where amnesia suggestions, like the ones that Mike uses on stage, will usually stick.
As we said, though, you don’t need formal hypnosis for amnesia to happen. The sensations these people experienced after are similar to forgetting your car keys at home or any other instance when you should’ve remembered something, but it just vanished, and you didn’t even remember that you’d forgotten … until you remembered later. As a perfectly natural phenomenon (just as trance itself), hypnotic amnesia is nothing strange or supernatural.
And remember: this only happens because it’s temporary and done with each person’s unconscious mind’s active participation and agreement. There is absolutely no way an amnesia suggestion given on stage will become permanent, whether forcibly or voluntarily. Hypnotic amnesia is not harmful.
When Is Amnesia Useful?
Of course, it’s funny to give people amnesia as entertainment. But what can we use it for when actually working to improve someone’s quality of life?
Obviously, amnesia, as well as time distortion, is a powerful convincer for a client who may otherwise doubt they were actually hypnotized. Whenever you get one of those clients who seem to think they didn’t go into trance because they kept hearing and feeling everything (even though that’s exactly what you said would happen) pointing out an event of amnesia or time distortion should settle that doubt.
Clients will sometimes spend hours in hypnosis fixing up things from their past which they’ll likely have amnesia for, and upon coming out. They’ll wholeheartedly believe they’ve been in trance for no more than 10 minutes or so. As soon as you point at the clock, there won’t be a shred of doubt left in their minds that they were in a deep hypnotic trance.
Another way you can use amnesia for the client’s benefit is to suggest that the client’s unconscious mind can keep certain things to itself if the client’s conscious mind isn’t yet prepared to handle the memory. This can be very useful when resolving emotions tied to repressed memories. Some traumatic memories may come to the surface during age regression or other trauma cleanup. Sometimes these memories are best hidden by the unconscious after the session ends. The hypnotist can suggest that these memories be fully revealed to the conscious mind at any point in the future when it’s appropriate.
Leave the client’s unconscious mind in full control.
Our head trainer, Mike Mandel, often says at the end of a session something like, “and your unconscious mind can keep from your conscious awareness, now that you’re healed, all the nasty details that you don’t need to remember at all.”
That way you’re not attempting to force any memories into oblivion, which would be impossible. Instead, you’re making the mind aware it is appropriate to keep that information locked away, which it was prone to do anyway.