Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is often regarded as strange and mysterious, to the uninitiated. The truth is that hypnosis is capable of producing some truly fascinating phenomena. In this article we are going to explore some of these. We shall examine the following:
- False Memory Syndrome
That hypnosis can produce anaesthesia is common knowledge. You may have read stories of people who have had surgery or dental work using the phenomena instead of a chemical anaesthetic. Not everybody can achieve the depth of trance required for surgical work, but many people are suggestible enough to be able to produce what is often referred to as ‘glove anaesthesia’; whereby a numbness is induced in the hand, then ‘transferred’ by touch to wherever it is needed. Numbness of any part of the body can occur spontaneously and be so profound that needles can be inserted into the body, or through folds of skin, with no apparent discomfort.
The easiest way to produce glove anaesthesia is to have the individual imagine that her hand is immersed is icy cold water, that she can feel the ice cubes bumping against her skin as the water becomes colder and colder, etc. After a few minutes of this, an individual’s hand can become totally numb to the point where you could forcibly pinch the skin between finger and thumbnail without any discomfort being created.
Many people experience heightened recall abilities during hypnosis and this phenomena is known as hypermnesia. Not everybody experiences it and not everybody who believes they experience it truly does so; it is not at all unusual for conviction about recalled information to increase but without any corresponding improvement in accuracy. It is for this reason that hypnotically recovered memories are usually not allowed as ‘evidence’ in court cases in most countries. For most hypnotherapists, the main use for the phenomena of hypermnesia will be to occasionally assist individuals in finding lost items.
It is actually quite a simple task. Once in hypnosis, you would be asked by the hypnotherapist to let your mind drift to the last time you saw the item, or to the last time you could remember handling it. You would be asked to use as many of your senses as you can and to make the imagery as vivid as you can. You’d then be asked to say as much about the item, or places where you may have been with it, as you can. Often, an individual will spontaneously recall where they left the item. If not, then a skilled hypnotherapist can even install some sort of mundane trigger (washing up is good for women; washing the car for men) for remembering: “And at some time today or tomorrow or maybe some time after that… when you are (trigger)you will realise that the whereabouts of (item) is just suddenly there, in your mind…”
Two things are very important. The first is that the trigger should be a mundane task, one in which your mind may very well wander aimlessly in the normal way. The second – and most important of all – is that if you were not the last one to handle the missing item, you won’t find it!
False Memory Syndrome
There can be very few people who have not heard of False Memory Syndrome and the ‘fact’ that these false memories are somehow created by incompetent or evil therapists. Whilst we do, admittedly, have to be very careful with what we say to our clients, especially, but not exclusively, while they are in a state of hypnosis, it is just about impossible to create a lasting memory of something which did not happen. There are two schools of thought on this; one is that it is obvious that a false memory can be produced, the other that it is obviously impossible.
I adhere unwaveringly to the latter; I will, though, accept that it is entirely possible, even easy, to instill a false belief into the mind of another – but there is a world of difference between belief and memory. If you saw a photograph of yourself, taken when you were three years old, and your arm was in a sling, you might very well have to ask a relative what had happened to you. If that relative then told you that you had fallen from a swing in the park and broken your arm, you would have a firm belief that this had happened… but you would still have no memory of the event itself. And how about this: you most certainly believe that your umbilical cord was cut and tied shortly after you were born, but can you remember it?
Events are processed by the physical brain to become memories which are accessed by the non-physical mind. Every detail of the events will be observed and cross-referenced, by the brain, to our recognition processes for identification. This means that the condition of every single sensory input for every single split second of the event will be perceived as relevant. Now, that sort of compounding is a tall order for even the most skilled of hypnotherapists!
The phenomenon of cryptamnesia is probably responsible for many apparent past life regression episodes. It refers to a process where information is stored ‘invisibly’ somewhere within the brain, to be recalled at some opportune moment, usually as a result of some stimulus or another. This information can comprise almost anything, including a sentence or two of a language that is ‘totally unknown’ to an individual or the location of a building that no longer exists but about which some facts have been absorbed at some time in the past.
The interesting thing about it is that when the information finally comes to the surface, it will sometimes feel to the individual concerned that it has come out of nowhere. Most of us do this from time to time; we impart a bit of unusual information to somebody who asks us how on earth we knew it, and we reply along the lines of: “Oh, I don’t know, really. I think somebody must’ve told me about it ages ago.”
When someone in hypnosis speaks in a language they have not heard before and makes a reference to someone who lived more than a hundred years ago, it is more tempting to dwell on the romantic possibility of a ‘past life’ than on the more mundane likelihood of something read but consciously forgotten. But when you go to a place that you have no conscious knowledge of ever having visited, then recognise part of it… is it more likely to be déjà vu (which means ‘seen before’), past life proof, or simply that you have forgotten being there before?
The way that the brain stores information is still not fully understood, and nor is the process of recalling that information. But the fact is that it can and does store all sorts of apparently inconsequential data in some way, and some of it can ‘go missing’ for years until such time as something in our current circumstances acts as a ‘pattern match’. When the original data is then accessed via our recognition processes, we usually also recall a ‘tag’ or ‘label’ of some sort that tells us this is happening. This is often in the form of a faint memory trace of its origins, or an instinctive feeling which may be an awareness of the recognition centers in our brain working. Sometimes, though, it is just the data itself which surfaces, without any of its reminder tags, and then it will feel as if we have never thought those thoughts before.
Do not take this to mean that I am denying the possibility of past life, reincarnation, or anything similar. All I am saying is that we should endeavour to keep an open mind – but in both directions. Most of the time in investigation, such apparent ‘proofs’ as have been discussed here have been proven to be at least questionable.
At first sight it would be easy to mistake the idea of repression for that of cryptamnesia, for they are both to do with ‘buried memories’. Nobody is very certain of the process by which repression happens – in fact it has never actually been proven to exist, though any working hypnoanalyst will assure you that it does. Me included. Any working hypnoanalyst will also assure you that everybody has repressed memories in their psyche. Me included.
It occurs when the subconscious perceives that the organism is at risk in some way that does not allow normal function. The classical Freudian (it was Freud who developed the concept) theory is that profound guilt is the ‘driver’ but I have never been entirely happy with that concept. I am much more at ease with the idea that it is vulnerability – to shame, hate, death, whatever – that causes the subconscious to ‘hide’ the event in a kind of time capsule in the mind, so that consciousness is no longer aware of the moment of vulnerability. Integrity is safe and always has been. Life is safe and always has been. The event was just a one-off, nothing to worry about any more.
Repressed memories can lay dormant for years – half a lifetime, even – apparently doing nothing to or for the owner. Then along comes some event that looks, feels, or is some other way reminiscent of the original trauma… and now the subconscious reacts, instantaneously activating a symptom set that appears to be designed to propel the organism in any direction, as long as it is away from the perceived threat. All this will be very confusing for the individual concerned, for the threat has been perceived only by the subconscious. To the conscious mind, it is invisible and mysterious, though there will usually be some rationalisation, a logical reason for the symptom’s existence. Almost always, that reason will be associated with the trigger event that set the avoidance programme in motion.
Now that the repression is active, it will continue to be triggered by all sorts of things; it is as if the subconscious has suddenly realised that integrity is not safe, after all. Life is not safe, after all. That original event was not just a one-off, after all.
Sticking out of that time capsule of repression are what I like to call ‘handles’. Handles are very normal, ordinary and everyday things that are not, in themselves, a threat but which are connected in some way to the repressed memory. Things like doors or door handles of a certain design, perhaps, or smells or sounds, or certain tunes, patterns on wallpaper… just about anything that is within human experience. Whenever any of these ‘handles’ are encountered, the likely result is going to be an ‘attack’ of whatever symptom the individual is suffering, be it anxiety, claustrophobia, migraine or whatever, and because the trigger for that attack will have been something so normal, the individual will probably not have any idea that it was the trigger.
This is a truly brilliant device, designed to keep us ultra-aware of, and therefore safe from, the same sort of event, automatically and without thought – in effect, a false instinct. So maybe repression is actually a function of the mind’s capacity to form new instinctive behaviour patterns that are relevant to the environment in which we live. For an instinct for survival to be effective, it must be fast and unquestioning, incorruptible by reason or fear. So the psyche renders it invisible and completely unchangeable by conscious thought.
The very reason that the originating event is made invisible to us, in fact, may not be because it was too horrendous to remember, but simply because if we were able to consciously recall it then it would cease to work as an effective instinct.
This explains the phenomenon of resistance very neatly. In any form of analytical work, such as hypnoanalysis, resistance seeks to find all sorts of ways for people to, in some way, abort therapy. Well, that is not a surprise, if you look at repression as a specially created safety device, is it? The subconscious has created this new instinct to ensure our continued safety – so it is not about to release it very willingly, since that release may well constitute a threat to security and even survival, as far as the subconscious mind is concerned.
It is not just events which may be repressed, nor even necessarily events; memory is composed of three parts – event, physiological reaction, emotional response. Effectively, they are three separate, though related, memories and any one or all three can be repressed.
Well, that is all for now. I hope you found these topics interesting.