Why You Shouldn't Erase Memories

Andrew Bennett, CHT

A lot of times I get people who ask me if Hypnotherapy can help them erase a traumatic memory. It's usually something that they can't stop thinking about, or something that keeps bothering them. The assumption is that if the memory gets erased, the trauma will too. Unfortunately that's not how trauma works.

In order to understand why you shouldn't erase a memory, you first want to understand what happens during a trauma.

Traumas are more than a memory. When a trauma happens, your mind stores the memory of course, but also all the emotions that you felt, the thoughts you were thinking, the physical sensations that you had, and most importantly, everything that your subconscious thinks might be relevant. That could be the room you were in, what you were wearing, somebody's body language, the food in front of you, a loud sound in the room, a sound in the background, or something entirely different. That's because when traumas happen your mind is in panic mode. It's not trying to process what happened, it's trying to avoid what happened.

Anything and everything that was going on in that moment can become anchored to what happened. Years later, those anchors can bring that memory bubbling to the surface along with the thoughts and emotions that you had at the time. For most traumas, the memory itself isn't what bothers people, it's the emotions, the anxiety, and hurt that come bubbling up with it. Many people assume that the memory causes those things, but it's really the other way around. The memory itself just gives those thoughts and feelings a context.

This is a good thing. Memories are a guide. Memories tell you exactly when and why something started. With a skilled mental health practitioner, those memories give deep insight into how to get better. Without those memories to give everything context healing gets tougher.

Just because a memory is hidden or erased, it doesn't mean that the trauma itself is gone, it simply lacks context. When someone has this problem, instead of remembering a car accident every time they start the car, they're just filled with inexplicable anxiety. That anxiety is just as severe, but without context. It gets blamed on anything that seems plausible at the time. Is somebody talking in the back seat? They're talking too loud. Is the person running a couple minutes behind? Everybody should have been faster getting out of the house. Are they thinking about their heavy workload? They feel overworked at the office.

These diversions don't just create stress, they cause collateral damage to the people around you as you unconsciously blame your anxiety and hurt on them, and they create more hurt for yourself as you struggle to understand why you're so upset about stuff that doesn't really matter. They prevent you from actually working on the problem. Traumas are often self protecting. When you get close to the source, you may lash out unexpectedly and wonder "Why did I do that?" or "Why did I say that?" Instead of working on the anxiety caused by a car accident long ago, you're working on anger issues. Hopefully, this helps explain just how complex the human mind is, and how detailed the unraveling process can be.

It might seem obvious at this point, but instead of trying to erase the memory, it's healthier to resolve the trauma. Resolving trauma is nothing new, and there are many ways people heal throughout their lives, but it's important that the healing process, whatever it is, happens at a deep level. Surface change can only create surface results, but once the trauma is resolved at a subconscious level, the memory won't carry the same weight, or stir the same level of emotion. In fact, you might not think about it ever again.

As with all problems, you should always start by trying to address the root of the issue.