Why do some bad memories stay with us while others fade away? I remember that, when I had my wisdom teeth out, it was a deeply painful and unpleasant experience, one that made me wince whenever I thought about it. But as time passed, the wince-worthy feelings faded. I still remember that day clearly enough, but now it’s almost as if it happened to someone else. The remembered pain has faded away, leaving the memories of the sights and sounds and smells and thoughts intact. Where did my pain go?
Perhaps it’s one of the responsibilities of the unconscious mind to let painful memories go, after first absorbing the meaning of the painful event and learning from it, preserving the learnings and then letting the pain go, its task complete?
Pain, like unpleasant feelings, has its uses. It gets your attention and encourages you to stop! And vividly remembered pain can remind you not to do it again. But how unpleasant it would be if every painful experience were remembered as if it were happening again! So — usually — we learn from the experience and then let the pain go. Usually. Not always.
There’s a catch, though. What if the experience is too overwhelming or confusing for you to process? As far as I can tell, the unconscious mind has three choices in such a case:
- Keep the feelings vivid until you’re ready to complete the task of learning and letting them go.
- Forget the incident.
In the first case, the vivid feelings are likely to sneak up on you when something reminds you of the original incident. Irrational fears are like this, anxiety is like this. Trauma is like this. It’s hard to describe how unpleasant it is for an event that was overwhelming the first time around to repeat itself like this.
By comparison, forgetting the incident sounds merciful, and I suspect it is when it works as desired, with the event forgotten, the feelings forgotten, and the learnings that were never learned not really needed, as perhaps they might be in the aftermath of some kind of shock that will never be repeated. Many people in are in serious accidents don’t remember the moment in which they were injured, and perhaps it’s just as well. But when the lessons to be learned are important, amnesia sets you up for a fall.
The third case can combine the worst of both worlds, leaving you with repeated painful feelings but no memory of the event that precipitated them. This is surprisingly common, leaving people feeling really bad without knowing why.
What we need is to get back on track, to let our normal, unconscious learning process complete. But how?
In some cases this can happen naturally. Every day, every hour, every minute brings us new perspective, and an episode that was too much to handle just a little while ago soon becomes manageable, and the issue takes care of itself.
If the event has been forgotten, it needs to be remembered. Actually, the unconscious mind never really forgets anything, it just misfiles it. Hypnosis is the method of choice for recovering lost information, especially for issues that had their beginning in the preschool years, which most people remember poorly except in hypnosis.
When the material is still overwhelming, hypnosis provides several options for making progress. A hypnotic trance is a much more comfortable way of looking at difficult material than the waking state. In addition, the process we’re facilitating is an unconscious process, and it’s not really necessary to bring the material into consciousness. Instead, the unconscious mind can be guided through the process of assimilating it off-stage, as it were.
The basic process is simply to review the material in trance, using any method that allows this to happen in such a way that the event is acknowledged and the useful learnings are gathered up and preserved, at which point the unpleasant emotions have served their purpose and can dissipate. There are any number of basic approaches to this, some direct and straightforward, and some indirect and roundabout, but they all aim for the same things.
There’s no reason why old painful memories can’t fade away, leaving you wiser but not sadder. Modern hypnotherapy is highly effective at facilitating this natural process.