illuminating stored memories
False memory syndrome can occur for many reasons.  During the many years of my practice I have had several  clients attend for hypnosis because they wanted to uncover and understand “why” they have certain unwanted habits or attract people and circumstances in their lives. Many clients even request past life regression because they are convinced it has to be a past life issue. The fact is that there is no convincing evidence to support the existence of regression and attempts to do so can lead to a person having false memories.  Occasionally false memory syndrome can occur because a therapist has made a diagnosis and is intent on proving his theory of past abuse.

Quite often there is no “why” but rather a pattern of circumstances and relationships that have contributed to a person’s behaviours, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. The messages we receive from the environment (parents, school teachers our peers) shapes how we feel about ourselves as well our adaptive behaviours.

False memories appear real but they are not based on actual experience. Elizabeth Loftus from the University of California, Irvine is the Founder of False memory research. She says that “just because someone tells you something with a lot of confidence and emotion and detail doesn’t mean it actually happened. Independent corroboration is needed to know whether it is an authentic memory”.

Memory Scientist Annelies Vreedeveldt from Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam says we need to be careful how we ask questions about a memory. A therapist/investigator needs to know how “not to probe” for a memory or an event. No closed questions “what was the colour of his hair” or leading questions “he was a redhead, wasn’t he”? Annelies recommends that the person be allowed to tell the story of his own accord; No questions or interruptions. At most “can you tell me more about that?” Research shows that stories told in response to free recall prompts are much more accurate than stories told in response to closed questions.

Chris French from Goldsmiths University of London is a Researcher of paranormal and anomalous memories says that memory does not work like a video camera; We remember the gist rather than exact detail. We typically fill in the gaps in our memories of what we think we must have experienced. This is unconscious.

We distort memories of events that we witnessed and also have false memories for events that never occurred at all.
Experts say that there is no way to distinguish in the absence of independent evidence whether a memory is false or not.

Hypnotic age regression involves the hypnotized person’s ability to “relive” an earlier period of his/her life. It is to be distinguished from thinking about the past, or remembering it; the age regressed person experiences being a younger age in a subjectively vivid and compelling manner, and this is accompanied, quite often, by what appear to be age appropriate changes in voice, mannerisms and handwriting. Although the age regressed person’s behaviour can be very convincing subjectively, that is no guarantee of the historical accuracy of anything that a person recalls about his/her past during age regression.

It has been found, also, that people respond differentially to hypnotic age regression. Approximately 50 percent of individuals who are able to experience it report duality. When questioned about their subjective experience, they indicate that they felt both adult and child (either simultaneously, or in alternation). The remaining 50 percent report a quasi-literal regression; they state that they really felt that they were the suggested age, and had no sense of being an adult (Perry & Walsh, 1978).

There have been many cases where a therapist is convinced that a person’s problems are as a result of childhood sexual abuse and they do everything they can to convince their client of this. If the client is adamant that abuse didn’t occur the therapist will then say that the client is in denial.

Such therapists use hypnosis to produce false memories. One of the peculiarities of the subconscious mind is that it cannot tell the difference between a hypnotically implanted memory and reality. In regards to memory; a thought, image, idea, whether real or not if repeated often enough in hypnosis or when emotionally charged becomes like a real memory to the subconscious mind.

You may ask, “Why would anyone believe such painful and horrible experiences as incest if it did not really happen?” Some reasons for believing are:-

1. The therapist is the authority and has told her that childhood sexual abuse is the cause of her problems.
2. While using hypnosis, the therapist implants false memories of sexual abuse into the mind of the client, which seem real.
3. Because doubting is considered proof of “denial” and resistance to getting well, the client is humiliated into dropping all scepticism.
4. Recovered memories of sexual abuse give the client an excuse for her problems so its not her fault, and she doesn’t need to solve anything. It is less painful to blame others for one’s problems than to examine one’s own behaviour and take personal responsibility for creating a more meaningful life.
5. Because focusing on the abuse gives her a reason for her feelings of parental neglect and emotional abandonment, the recovered memory provides a compelling and guilt-free reason for separating from her family.

David Quigley, founder of Alchemical Hypnotherapy suggests that clients ask a few well-placed questions during their first interview to tip them off to the therapists they need to avoid:-

1. Do you help most of your clients recover repressed memories of sexual abuse? (Yes is the wrong answer!)
2. What percentage of your female clients are dealing with memories of sexual abuse by family members? (33-50% is within the normal range – 100% is very dangerous!)
3. Do you offer support groups for your client’s who are sexual abuse survivors? (If the answer is yes-danger!)
4. Do you encourage clients to confront their families about their sexual abuse behavior, or to sue them for their abuse? (If the answer is occasionally, regularly – danger)
5. Do you believe that most or all of your female clients were sexually abused by their families? (If the answer is yes-danger)
6. Do you believe that excessive weight, drug and alcohol abuse and compulsive eating are usually indicative of a history of sexual abuse? (If the answer is yes-danger)

An ethical therapist is open-minded and listens very carefully to the presenting issues of the client and helps him to define goals of therapy. Together the client and therapist will decide on the steps to achieve those goals.

Read more about the reality of repressed memories here

Learn more about how hypnosis, coaching and NLP can assist you to change how you think, feel and behave.

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