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Can You Use Hypnosis to Forget Painful Memories?

Can You Use Hypnosis to Forget Painful Memories? | Dr. Steve G. Jones

So much about hypnosis and hypnotherapy is misunderstood by the general public that even today, the classic movie and television portrayal of hypnosis being connected to magic and the mystical arts is still a deeply held belief among ordinary people.

From making a person do something against their will to falling asleep at a hypnotist’s bidding, hypnosis is shrouded in so much mystery that it is hard to understand what it is and what exactly it can do to people. Unfortunately, the reality of hypnosis is much more mundane, so much so that it might be disappointing to the romantic type.

But there are also some truths, such as the potential of using hypnosis to forget bad memories. Movies like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind revolve around the premise of using hypnosis (or at least how the film’s creators think hypnosis works) to erase unhappy memories — in the film’s case, a miserable couple turns to hypnosis to erase memories of each other.

But in the real world, can hypnosis erase memories?

Before answering that question, it is important to separate fact from fiction.

What is Hypnosis and How Does It Work?

If you were to ask any hypnotherapist what hypnosis is, the answer you get will probably involve something about accessing the subconscious part of your mind. This can be done through an in-person session or with a recorded hypnosis mp3.

At its core, hypnotherapy is essentially a form of psychotherapy that uses a combination of deep relaxation techniques, positive suggestion, and mental conditioning to create a positive state of mind. Hypnosis comes from the Greek word “hypnos,” which means “sleep.” Its therapeutic form uses guided relaxation to promote a sense of calmness, but not at the expense of your focus and sense of awareness.

In other words, a hypnotherapy session does not involve falling asleep or losing consciousness in any way. In fact, hypnotherapy is designed to heighten your sense of mindfulness, making you more responsive to positive suggestion and encouragement.

By accessing your subconscious mind, hypnotherapy offers a powerful but gentle way to explore your suppressed and painful thoughts and emotions, which the conscious part of your mind often hides to protect itself from pain and trauma. A hypnotherapy session will allow you to confront these thoughts, memories, and feelings in a safe environment, allowing you to resolve whatever issues you might have.

It is often said that being under a state of deep hypnosis is no different from being in a meditative state. Both conditions allow you to “open” your mind to discussion and suggestion with your hypnotherapist, who can help treat a wide range of conditions and negative behaviors, such as:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Smoking cessation
  • Binge eating

With all that being said, is it possible to erase memories with hypnosis?

The Real Score Behind Memory-Erasing Hypnosis

Unfortunately, no kind of modern or alternative therapy can “erase” specific memories from your mind or brainwash you into forgetting someone. Questions like, “Can hypnosis erase bad memories?” or “Can hypnosis make you forget someone?” all but come from a misguided understanding of memory and hypnosis.

In other words, you cannot use hypnosis for forgetting someone—hypnotherapy just doesn’t work that way.

And despite the advances science has made in psychotherapy and psychological research, there is really no such thing as benign brainwashing, where a therapist comes in to take away specific parts of your memory and experiences as a human being.

But while you can’t erase bad memories with hypnosis, you can, however, do something that’s just as effective, if not even more.

With hypnotherapy, you can change the thoughts and emotions you associate with specific memories.

How to Forget a Memory

First, it is important to understand that memory is not some fixed object in your mind. What is true, however, is that memory is changeable insofar as the emotions and thoughts we attach to them are concerned.

While memory is an area in the field of psychology that has drawn plenty of interest and investigation, there is little to no proof that brain washing, particularly the way it is portrayed in film and TV, is possible in real life. But psychologists also know that memories are malleable, so much so that the mind usually plays with them each time they are recalled.

We do so by adding narratives and meanings to memories in our mind. In turn, this can change certain details and beliefs around these memories. In fact, memories are not only susceptible to suggestion, they can be so flexible that they will believe in experiences that never happened at all.

In 1974, psychologists Loftus and Palmer set out to study memory by testing a group of people, asking them to watch footage of a car accident. After a week, the participants were asked questions about the footage they saw to test their memory. The researchers found that participants were more likely to describe seeing broken glass in the footage—even though it was never shown in the film—if they were led on with a question using the word “smash” instead of “hit” or “collision.”

This means that the language used by the researchers had a profound effect on how the participants remembered what they saw in the footage. And that’s without even using anything resembling hypnosis.

Whether by accident or design, details can be removed and added to memories. If anything, it proves that memories can be influenced by suggestion, sometimes without you even knowing it. And sometimes this process can happen by addressing the emotions and thoughts you associate with these memories.

This is where hypnotherapy can come in.

Can Hypnotherapy Remove Memories?

Hypnotherapy can only build on what happens naturally. For example, certain memories can be manipulated with the right nudge, but not to the extent that you can use hypnosis for forgetting someone. The challenge is that when a person wants to forget someone, their subconscious mind sees that person as important enough to warrant negative feelings, making it next to impossible for a hypnotherapist to change any memories associated with him or her.

Try as we might to forget, painful memories become harder to let go as long as we associate feelings like pain and frustration with them. And each time you remember a painful memory, you are only adding more weight importance to the people involved in said memory.

What a hypnotherapist does is help you not by making you forget that something happened, but rather, changing the way you feel about that memory. In turn, this changes the way your mind and body responds when recalling that memory.

In other words, hypnotherapy is not so much about the question, “Can hypnotherapy erase memories?” but rather about, “How can I change the way I feel and think about a particular memory?”

What Happens During a Hypnotherapy Session?

A good hypnotherapist will focus on helping you feel comfortable and relaxed throughout the entire session. In fact, a good portion of the entire hypnotherapy experience will focus on falling into and maintaining a deep state of relaxation.

If you can manage to feel comfortable even when recalling memories that usually make you feel uncomfortable, sad, or frustrated then your hypnotherapy treatment is making progress. This means you are now associating the calm experience or sensation of being in the hypnotherapy chair or sofa to what was once a negative or painful memory.

If you have spent years recalling a memory or story and have only attached negative connotations to it, this new positive experience can be all it takes to change for the better. Of course, it will not create an entirely new memory or completely erase the negative emotions you associate with the memory, but it will help you create new associations with the memory until you can finally put it behind you.

Think of it as having an old memory but feeling differently about it. And the more new associations you establish with old memories, the easier it will be to become a more positive person. You will learn to accept the fact that your negative experiences are part of the person you are now.

The Challenge of Using Hypnosis to Erase Memories

Of course, all this talk of changing memories and using hypnotherapy to forget someone also raises a number of ethics questions, such as whether or not it is right to even “tamper” with a person’s memories. After all, one could argue that some memories, no matter how painful, should stay that way for a reason.

  • Painful memories could serve as important life lessons.
  • Negative memories could be crucial to keep us morally upright
  • Painful memories help us stay connected with our humanity

These factors are certainly important things to consider before a patient seeks hypnotherapy to deal with bad memories. And every therapist that uses any kind of psychological persuasion needs to weigh these issues before making any decisions involving a patient’s emotions and thoughts.

But in any case, patients dealing with memories of negative experiences can only get better by re-evaluating their past, which can also be interpreted as a way of “forgetting.” The goal of hypnotherapy, when applied to addressing painful memories, is to help you find a new perspective on life, the world around you, and yourself.

After all, even without hypnotherapy, you are constantly re-evaluating your past.

Areas in Which Hypnotherapy Can Help You Let Go of the Past

With all that being said, where exactly can hypnotherapy do some good in terms of resolving painful memories and letting go of the past? We look at a few areas that hold potential for change. 

1. Bad Relationships

Not surprisingly, questions such as “Can you get hypnotized to forget someone?” or “Can hypnosis help you to forget someone?” usually come from people who desperately want to move on from bad relationships. And like a rotten apple, one bad relationship can easily “infect” all your future relationships as you continue to harbor unresolved emotions involving things like trust, loyalty, commitment, or fidelity.

By allowing past experiences to predetermine future relationships and outcomes, you are severely crippling your chances of finding happiness and inner peace. For example, memories of your parents’ bitter divorce can instill negative beliefs that love and happiness are unrealistic dreams, or that you are going to meet the same fate someday.

What you are doing is allowing your painful memories of being hurt or betrayed set the stage for all future events and outcomes.

Hypnotherapy can help you resolve and let go of these feelings and emotions. Through positive suggestion, your hypnotherapist can help you accept that while a memory (or memories) is painful, what happened before will not necessarily happen again.

Hypnotherapy is about teaching you to take control of what happens to you now. With continued sessions, you will realize that how you choose to behave and perceive life events is something you can control and that painful events in your past serve as powerful lessons to make you stronger and ready for what lies ahead.

In fact, you could think of these sessions as hypnosis to attract love or love magnet hypnosis, designed to make you better equipped to handle healthy relationships.

2. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Hypnotherapy has emerged as a viable and proven way to help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a series of symptoms caused by a traumatic event in a person’s life, the memory of which can be debilitating enough to cause.

  • Severe flashbacks of the violent experience
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Sudden fits of rage and aggression
  • New and unexplained phobias
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic stress
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of concentration

PTSD episodes are typically caused by triggers, which are seemingly mundane stimuli that remind the person of the traumatic memory.

In the case of former servicemen, it could be something as simple as hearing a car backfire or hearing firecrackers, which can bring up memories of being in a combat situation. The sound of an ambulance can also bring back the memories of an accident for a person that survived a car crash or violent attack.

Hypnotherapy helps PTSD patients confront the cause of their symptoms by delving straight into the subconscious mind. Your hypnotherapist will help you identify and deal with the memory of the traumatic event, helping you come to terms with your emotions, whether it’s fear, anger, or loss.

3. Fear of Failure

Has your brush with failure kept you from reaching success? Are you now afraid to try new things out of a fear of disappointing others and yourself? Do you constantly feel that taking risks will only lead to something bad happening?

Sometimes, a fear of failure stems from a negative experience in your life, the memory of which can be powerful enough to hold you back from trying anything risky or new. What happens is a change in mindset, such that you’re already imagining a negative outcome in almost everything you do.

And when you tell yourself that things will turn out wrong instead of going well, things will usually go wrong because of your fears and anxieties.

Hypnotherapy comes in by addressing the memory of your failure, using positive suggestion to show you that one failure, or even a series of failures, have no bearing on your future efforts and their outcomes. If anything, each failure should only make you stronger, teaching you valuable lessons you can use to improve yourself.

With time and consistency, your hypnotherapist can help you mold a positive mindset, one that will think more rationally instead of letting emotions cloud your judgment. And as you learn to accept the memory of failure as being just a memory, you will eventually embrace trying new things and taking calculated risks once more.

In Summary

Throughout life, different experiences, interactions, and relationships can leave a lasting impact on our lives. This is part of the process of developing the self. However, your memories should not hold you back from finding peace and happiness.

If you want to turn to hypnosis to change a bitter memory, the question you should be asking yourself is not “Can hypnotherapy erase memories?” but rather, “How can hypnotherapy change the way I feel about a memory?”

 Hypnotherapy can help you make positive changes at a subconscious level. However, you must first have the right expectations for what your hypnotherapist can do. The desire to forget a memory is just your mind telling you to run away from your fear and anxiety, which is not what hypnotherapy will do for you.

Instead, hypnotherapy lets you revisit painful and negative memories in a controlled and calm environment, allowing you to process each memory and see them for what they are—memories that form an important aspect of your personality.

Bottom line? Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool that can help you confront painful memories, accept them, and eventually, let them go. With time, your hypnotherapist will help you move on from your painful experiences and view your present and future life with greater positivity and optimism.


Dr. Steve

P.S. Here is a free hypnosis session, designed to help you forget painful relationship memories. It does not contain music or binaural tones (the one available through the search tool at the top of this page does).

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