As a hypnotherapist (to be exact, cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, or Hypno-CBT therapist), I get clients with this sort of goal every now and then. Usually they want to forget a specific someone, a relationship, totally get rid of a piece of memory (again usually to do with a specific person).
Naturally our rational mind would tell us this is actually not possible, based on science and what we already know about human mind, right? Yet when it comes to hypnosis and hypnotherapy, people generally “lost their senses”, everything that seems impossible elsewhere, seems possible when it comes to hypnosis.
This is right and wrong at the same time. Indeed we can achieve great things with hypnosis, we live more confidently, we become more assertive, we are happier, we confront our greatest fear, we live more according to value, we quit smoking and bad habits, we enjoy life better, we reach our fullest potential, we handle crisis and stress better, we can manage pain that we couldn’t bear before, we … forget someone?
I often explain to them, we can achieve a lot of things with hypnosis when we believe we can. Indeed the power of the mind is great. But this goal being the only exception. Unfortunately our mind and memories don’t work the way we want it to be. They are not like folders on your shelves that are stored individually, and can be accessed and discarded separately without affecting each other (just like what you saw in the animation Inside Out!).
Our mind, body, emotions, feelings, behavour and thoughts are all interconnected, and so are our memories. Each time you take out the memory of “first day in school”, you changed some part of it (depending on the mood and condition you are in when you think about it etc), and you strengthen some related links connected to it and weaken some other.
Imagine if you want to forget this boyfriend or an affair or a lost child, and I’m able to take it away just like that, what about other memories and people and events connected to it? What is going to fill up the emptiness of these years? Perhaps I can make up something there…?
Yes, hypnosis is a great tool in terms of creating false memories. There have been plenty of research showing that. You might “recall” something during hypnosis which feel more real than what’s real, but it just isn’t real… You can watch more about it here in this clip: Why your memories can’t be trusted-
So right, we can’t remove the memories, and it’s unethical for us to create false memories to replace them (after all hypnotherapists are not god, who are we to decide your life stories and simply change it? But undeniably there are some hypnotherapy approach that do that, and we shall discuss this perhaps next time).
Yet it doesn’t mean we can’t help. I practice evidence-based hypnotherapy, I can use hypnosis to help you learn to accept this person or memory or relationship as part of your history, let it affect you less, learn to live with it and move on without having it interfering your life. I can also use hypnosis to facilitate proper closure and goodbye for the relationship and memory too. So, is it still a problem for you if it no longer has so much an impact in your life?