What is Memory?
Some people say that memory reflects the entire collection of experiences within your lifetime. Others from a more metaphysical viewpoint claim that memory is non-local and an imprint on consciousness itself which can be accessed through the human intent. They support this through past life and 'non-physical' experiences.
In hypnosis it is understood that the conscious mind is only able to hold onto between 7 plus or minus 2 bits of information at any one time. Hence the common learning style of breaking information down into small chunks of information and the ease with which the conscious awareness can be overwhelmed by too much information at any one time.
To prevent overload, our conscious mind must decide which 7 +- 2 chunks out of the huge amount available at any given time are important and what is not. Things that are considered important are those that are repeated and/or have strong emotional attachments (positive or negative). The more these are accessed, or the stronger the emotional attachment, the stronger the connections of the neural pathways in the brain accessing that information, thus allowing for easier access to the conscious mind. An example of this would be the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Centre. Many of us remember where we were and what we were doing at that instant. The phone number given by the opposite sex may never be forgotten, it was very important at the time so it was stored in the important file.
The brain also learns and therefore remembers through association or linkage. For example, we might remember a person’s name at a party by linking it to an obvious facial feature that they have. Up until recently it was thought that our ability to recall information declines with ageing, however recent studies have shown that memory actually declines through lack of use (weakening of the neural pathways due to lack of accessing/lower importance). Use it or lose it!
The unconscious is said to be able to hold onto pretty much an unlimited amount of information at any given time. The analogy used is if you were to print a full A4 page of information and then have page after page of A4 information of all different types one on top of the other going all the way up to the moon, you would have some idea of the amount of information the unconscious is able to store.
The use of hypnosis to access memories from the unconscious has been mentioned as being like the light in a warehouse (rather than a torch) and/or access to the filing cabinet of the mind. (read more about comparison between conscious and unconscious mind in the Part 4 of the series). It is amazing the degree and detail of memory that can be accessed during hypnosis. It is also amazing the degree to which memories that were blocked or forgotten can be accessed during hypnosis. Once the critical faculty is out of the way and rapport with the unconscious made the memory is a treasure chest of resources and valuable information for each and every one of us.
Long term memory can and is accessed in hypnosis, often time as far back as the birthing experience. While we are sleeping or even under anesthesia our unconscious mind is still recording events that can only be accessed in the hypnotic state.
You can recover almost all memory during hypnosis, however it is important to know that just because someone is in hypnosis does not mean that they will automatically offer all memory. The unconscious just as the conscious does, wishes to protect the individual from harm. Unless it feels that it is safe to do so it will not offer certain memories. If this is an obstacle to healing then bringing new information, refraining information and/or making available new resources can allow for the unconscious to divulge previously protected information. It is also possible to communicate to the unconscious in such a way that a 'deal' is struck where hypnotist is told the information for the purpose of assistance but the 'conscious' part of the individual will have amnesia to what has been said.
False memory is a real phenomenon, in fact every memory we have has been altered in some way from the original experience. Up to 30% of memories are known to be false memories, basically made up memories in part or in full. This can be a problem when dealing with abuse cases of all kinds, as the line between what actually happened and what is perceived to have happened or remembered in hypnosis can differ greatly.
There have been numerous cases when under trance someone has remembered an uncomfortable experience in their early childhood, discomfort or embarrassment around a family member for example. If not handled correctly, this can lead to misrepresentation of facts and unneeded problems.
In one such case, the hypnotist persisted in the second session even though when remembering the feelings around the memory in the first session the client said 'Oh my I've been abused'. In the second session new information came to light in which the memory unfolded and became clearer. All that was actually happening was that the client had remembered a time when they were very young and had soiled themselves to a great degree while sleeping. The father had come in and changed her whilst she was in this discomfort. In the first session all she had remembered were images of her father, her in her bed, and feelings of embarrassment and discomfort. This had made her jump to an early conclusion - a false memory. The hypnotist was wise enough to persist further to check the memory more thoroughly and saved many people from pain and hurt.
Therefore, it is important to work with professionals in the area of hypnotherapy, in order to feel safe and secure and to be able to resolve memories resourcefully.
Summary of Part 5 - Memory
It is important to understand the nature of memory. The unconscious is the storehouse of all memories, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that the recalling of the memory into consciousness is filtered by perceptions, subsequent experiences and knowledge as well as expectations — it is vital to always be thorough to understand the reality of the memory rather than just the current perception of it. As the conscious can only hold in mind relatively small amounts of information, when interpreting anything it will put the information to be interpreted into a framework of what it thinks are important relevant factors. As discussed what is selected as important are things that are familiar through repetition or strong emotional charge.
For the purpose of protecting the individual, although all memories are available, they may not necessarily be offered out for conscious awareness. If it is necessary to move forward when assisting the client, an amnesia pattern can be set up so that the information can be made available to the therapist, with the client's conscious mind having amnesia for that information.
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The Part 6 of the series about Hypnosis focuses on use of Hypnosis for suggestions for change. Continue with Part 6 here.