THE ROLE OF MEMORY IN RELEASING
In my work, one good way of describing how I work with people, is to look at the degree that memory and remembering the past plays, as part of the work in healing current issues. To keep it simple I’ll categorise three levels of memory that I’ve found normally occurs in a therapy situation. 1/ No memory, 2/ Some memory and 3/ Most to all memory of an event.
1. No Memory of Events
In this category is when a person has a problem where they have no idea why they feel or behave the way they do. And when they try to figure it out, they end up just guessing intellectually.
Where there is no need to remember any events of the past. No delving required at all. A lot can be healed without memory. TFT and EFT are reportedly getting good results this way. Reiki with the laying-on of hands. Acupuncture another good example. Subtle energy systems adjusting the patterns that occur at the subconscious Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) body level, without the need for cognition and meaning.
The Feldenkrais method another excellent ANS subtle adjustment system. No memory required, just subtle slow movement, in a particular way, that allows the nervous system to co-ordinate with the subconscious brain functions and release and move physical energy and stuck areas without conscious visual memory.
We are discovering that the ANS doesn’t always require cognition to heal and untangle itself. It mainly requires the freedom to let-go and be allowed its freedom of movement, feeling and sensation to happen. The conscious mind becomes a bystander, a follower at these times.
Massage, is another commonly accepted method for de-stressing. Many a masseur will tell you how from time to time they will have a client just burst into tears on the table and not know why.
This can be scary stuff for a person who has a strong intellect that has to know everything and understand everything. I know I reached the height of this condition in my mid twenties, after four years of university and some years of working and further study, my intellect was supreme in ‘knowing it all’ and it was busy working it all out. Explaining it all. I was easily able to write volumes describing everything. Why I was the way I was. But over time I discovered that this didn’t help change much.
2. Some Memory of Events
This is where a person has some vague recollection that, for example, something ‘not nice’ happened at around ten years of age.
With what I offer and in my experience, Body-centred Psychotherapy is the best work here: At this level there is some hazy memory of what happened. Or there is some knowing that there was a problem with Dad and/or Mum at certain times. Or that there was some period that was not nice. Or that some event happened that is hazy, the memory can be blank for a period of time, with some bits missing. A common experience is of a shadow standing close by the person, without any idea who or what this shadow is, only that it is scary. There’s a sense that something wasn’t right, but it can’t be explained. Sometimes a clear flash of one part of a memory may reveal itself, which alone doesn’t make sense, but at the feeling state level may be very uncomfortable.
At this level some questions can be asked as part of the process. The therapist can ask questions that refer to the ANS clues of movement and change. A person can feel quite clearly that something is happening and can very clearly feel it, but cannot explain it as yet. A person can have a sense that they were being ‘stood over’ at some time. Or that someone violated them in some area of their body, and that area feels vulnerable. This can be very clear. People can feel anger and have the urge to push ‘something’ away from them. Describing such body sensations, and allowing such actions to happen, help to allow the process to untangle, free up and complete.
Hands-on work is good to support the physical change. There can be words and feelings that arise that need to be expressed for no apparent reason at this time. We normally follow this. It can be very healing. It many times leads to type three, full recall of an event.
3. Complete Memory of Events
Body Psychotherapy Trauma work is done at this level: At this stage you DO remember what happened, and things were never the same after this event, or series of events. YOU KNOW what happened and you can’t forget about it. It may even haunt you to this day. It can be a flash of an event that occurred decades ago, but only now has come to the surface to be dealt with. The trauma work is perfect for these situations. It works very well, working gently and slowly to complete what needed to happen at the time for you to feel safe back in your body and in control again. (Rather than repeating myself here, read the section on trauma on this web site for more.)
Is the Memory Real? – The Place of Memories
False Memory Syndrome
A few years back we had the discovery of false memories. Where clients made up details of their past that they believed to be real, later to be found in some cases, that they were clearly not true.
In my work, it doesn’t matter if a memory is true or false. What matters is that it is taken seriously as part of a person’s process.
What matters is what your body (ANS) is doing with it, what effect it is having on you that may be holding you back. A visual memory is a historical story of an event, or it could be a metaphor or symbolic story, like that created in a dream, to represent what your body is feeling and experiencing. This is real. This is what matters. To process and help your body resolve it’s conflict and/or pain. How you are responding to this memory is the key. Whether it actually happened or not in real life, doesn’t matter.
Fundamentally it doesn’t matter to the process. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend people act on this information. And if they do, of course, they are responsible for their actions.
There are some memories that are false, and some that are real. They have a certain quality to them. I can go by my personal experience on this with my sessions over the years. With certain traumas/abuses in my past – some parts I know where real. Some parts I’m not sure, I only have bits. I’ve noticed that my conscious mind occasionally tries to fill in the missing gaps itself. That portion could be false.
There is a quality to a real memory. Your body’s responses are directly in sync with the memory. There’s a deep inner knowing that it was real. There is no shadow of a doubt. Conscious minds can play on this ‘knowing’ trying to make a memory feel that it’s real ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’. We can fool ourselves very well. My advice is that if you have any, even the slightest subtle sense that a memory may not be real, that it’s made up, then treat it as just that.
But again as mentioned before, this doesn’t matter in a subconscious process.
Past Lives memory
What about past lives? I have people that remember past lives vividly. The same applies here as what I mentioned under the false memories section above. They are all taken seriously and worked with as if they are real. Whether they are real or not, doesn’t matter. They represent something very real that you are dealing with in your body. And we work with them as such.
Speculating or trying to discover whether they are real or not, doesn’t normally fundamentally change how your body is feeling and responding. Resolving the conflict or stuckness, is what matters. And that is a different process from a factual exploration or discovering if something is real or not.
Is a body psychotherapist. He has a private practice in Australia (Melbourne, Victoria). He also runs regular seminars and workshops on emotional health and wellbeing, Trauma, Healing, Personal Development and Self Help Work.
(C) – Copyright George Gintilas (2001)