How You Make Memories

The Emotional Factors and How Hypnotherapy Can Help

False Memory Explained

Navigating the Complex World of Memory and Emotion Through Hypnotherapy

Welcome to this comprehensive guide exploring the relationship between emotions, memory, and hypnotherapy. Whether you’re someone interested in understanding how your past shapes your present or a hypnotherapist seeking insights into better practice, this article is for you.

Here’s a quick navigation menu to help you find the areas that interest you the most:

How Emotions Impact Your Memory

Explore how emotionally charged events leave a lasting imprint on your memory and shape your future reactions.

How Your Memories Can Trick You

Discover the fascinating science behind false memories and how your mind can sometimes deceive you.

Why This Matters for Hypnotherapy

Gain insights into how understanding memory and emotion can enhance the effectiveness of hypnotherapy.

How Emotions Impact Your Memory

Life’s emotional highs and lows have a significant impact on both your body and mind. These emotionally charged events don’t just fade away; they leave a lasting imprint in the form of memories. Understanding how this process works is crucial for making positive changes in your life.

Long-term Memories: A Double-Edged Sword

Highly emotional events create strong memories that can stick with you for a long time. Think of these memories as a software program that sets the rules for how you live your life. Your day-to-day experiences become colored by these past events, trapping you in a cycle of negativity.

Real-World Example: Let’s say you failed an important exam in high school and felt devastated. This experience becomes etched into your memory because of the strong emotions tied to it. Fast-forward to the present, and every time you face a new test or challenge, you’re overwhelmed with anxiety. This past memory has set a mental “rule” for how you approach new challenges, often holding you back.

Emotional Reactions and Their Cycle

When you respond the same way to new situations that resemble the past, you keep the cycle going. This emotional loop not only affects your state of mind but also alters your brain and body’s chemistry. The result is a repetitive life experience that keeps you stuck in the past.

Real-World Example: Imagine you’re stuck in traffic one day and get extremely frustrated. That frustration becomes your default reaction every time you find yourself in a similar situation. You might even start leaving for work earlier to avoid traffic, but the anxiety remains. This emotional cycle doesn’t just keep you tense; it can affect your health by consistently elevating your stress levels.

The Emotional Foundation of Your Personality

Over time, these recurring emotions—be it pain, sadness, or anger—become a part of your identity. You almost expect to feel this way, allowing these emotions to consume you day in and day out until they define who you are.

Real-World Example: You had a relationship that ended badly, leading to significant emotional pain. Over the years, that emotional pain becomes a constant companion, shaping your views on love and relationships. You start avoiding meaningful connections, convinced that they will end in heartbreak, and become known as someone who is ‘closed off.’

What Science Says about Emotion and Memory

One Swiss study [See here for more study information] reveals that memories which are tied to strong emotions tend to stick with us and feel very real. This happens because of two parts of the brain: the hippocampus, which helps us form and store memories, and the amygdala, which handles our emotions. When something important happens that makes us emotional, these two parts of the brain work together to make that memory stronger.

There are three main steps to how we remember things:

  1. Encoding, where we first notice and understand what’s happening.
  2. Consolidation, where that information sets in our brain
  3. Retrieval, where we remember it later.

Emotions can affect each of these steps. For example, if something scary happens, we’re more likely to remember that specific scary thing and forget smaller details around it.

After an event, our memory still takes time to set. During this time, our emotions can still change how well we remember it. For example, many people remember exactly where they were when they heard about a major global event, but the truth is, those memories might not be as accurate as we think. What’s interesting is that we feel very sure of these emotionally charged memories, even if they’re not perfect. This could actually be helpful, because in a new emergency, being sure of our past can help us act quickly.

So, memories tied to emotions are strong but not always accurate, and that’s because of how our brain processes them.

How Your Memories Can Trick You

Most of Your Memory is Not Real

Interestingly, science tells us that about half of what we remember might not be entirely accurate. [Check out this study for more information]. It’s eye-opening to think that you could be living your life based on faulty memories, reinforcing the belief that you can’t change.

What Are False Memories?

False memories appear real but may be altered or completely made up. Your mind convinces you of the reality of events that either never happened or happened differently. These memories exist in your brain alongside accurate ones, making them difficult to distinguish.

How Are False Memories Formed?

Strong emotions often shape these false memories. For example, a child might experience a minor fall, but if the mother overreacts, that emotional response can alter the child’s memory. The child may later recall the incident as a significant or harmful event.

The Impact of External Suggestions

False memories also form due to input from others. If a friend insists it rained during your last outing together when it was actually sunny, you might later remember it as a rainy day. Such external cues cement the false memory, granting it the same emotional weight and vividness as your actual experiences.

Why This Matters for Hypnotherapy

Understanding false memories is crucial if you’re a hypnotherapist. It can make the difference between a session that merely scratches the surface and one that offers deep, transformative healing.

Identifying False Beliefs

During hypnotherapy sessions, clients often share memories that influence their current behavior or beliefs. However, not all these memories are as accurate as they appear. Some may be exaggerated by emotions or external influences. Recognizing this possibility helps us, as hypnotherapists, guide the client in examining their memories more closely. We can gently challenge these memories, asking questions to uncover their origin and how they might have been influenced over time.

Seeing Events from a New Perspective

Hypnotherapy offers a unique setting in which the conscious mind is more relaxed, allowing for easier access to the subconscious. In this state, it’s often easier to see past events from a different angle. For instance, a client who has a false memory of a terrible fall as a child, magnified by a parent’s overreaction, may be able to reassess the situation. They might realize that the event was not as traumatic as they had remembered, thereby altering their perception of not just the event but also its emotional weight.

Transforming Beliefs and Perceptions

Once we identify and challenge a false memory, the next step is transformation. We can help the client rewrite the story of that memory, detaching the emotional charge and false beliefs attached to it. For example, if someone has lived for years thinking they are clumsy because of a few exaggerated memories from childhood, revisiting and revising these memories can have a profound impact. They may come to understand that they are not inherently clumsy, just human, and capable of growth and change.

Long-lasting Impact

The power of hypnotherapy lies in its ability to bring about lasting change. By tackling false memories and the beliefs that stem from them, we not only offer immediate relief but also pave the way for healthier coping mechanisms. Clients learn to question their assumptions about themselves and their past, making them more resilient and adaptable in the face of future challenges.

The role of a hypnotherapist goes beyond merely probing the past; it involves providing clients with the tools to shape their own future in a more positive, informed way. Understanding the mechanics of false memories is a practical skill that enhances the therapeutic process. So, the next time you’re sure about a past event, think again. With hypnotherapy, you can look closer at your memories. You’ll find out what’s real and what’s not, leading to a better state of mind.

Image credits: coffeekai, Getty Images


Brosch, T., Scherer, K. R., Grandjean, D., & Sander, D. (2013). The impact of emotion on perception, attention, memory, and decision-making. Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift.


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