Transforming Memories: Pros and Cons

Do we need to Undo our past to Heal?

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Research shows that every time you remember a memory you basically edit it.
“When you encounter a familiar experience, you are remembering the original memory at the same time, and the new experience somehow gets blended in…That is essentially what reconsolidation is” (Lee, n.d)

It’s a known fact that memory is reconstructed over the years. When an event/incident takes place you see and feel in a certain way about it. It takes some time for the event to solidify in your brain. Once it solidifies and each time you rethink it, you basically alter it a little bit. However, it does not mean that the physical event did not take place. The way you see the event and feel about it will change over the years – it would hurt less, you might not be as affected by it, but it does not become a false memory. It’s a reconsolidated and reconstructed memory.

(Classic) EFT and our memories

In EFT we neutralize the feelings towards the original event as the person remembers it. This helps as research indicates that “emotions are encoded along with memories in the brain, so connecting with the feeling, and healing it really helps change our perspective on what happened.”(N. Barron, 2013)

Movie technique or tearless trauma technique is used to tap on every aspect of that event. The significance of this process lies in the fact that whatever the person remembers we tap on it. In this process of memory transformation, we don’t change the original story; we don’t substitute it with fantasy but work on the story as we remember it.

LeDoux (2005) says that the fewer times you use your memory, “the more pristine it is. The more you use it, the more you change it.” EFT requires re-telling the event while tapping on the various aspects of that event. This leads to a decrease in the stress response tied with it and gradually we are able to release all the feelings that bother us about it.

Example of using (classic) EFT for memory transformation/neutralization of feelings

My client narrated in a session that she was punched on her nose by her mother, when she was 8 years old. She was in the back seat of her car and she said something and her mother punched her. When she recalled this event in the session, she could still feel the terror and shock of that moment. She had thought about it many times over the years and the memory was reconsolidated. She didn’t remember the exact details of the event; the date, where they were going, what she wore, what she had said etc, but she remembered being hit by her mother.

With the help of (Classic) EFT we worked on easing the shock and terror of that moment by working primarily on what she remembered and gradually the feelings subsided, making her neutral towards the memory. We also used metaphors and inner child healing to release the pain and trauma from that memory.

Using Newer EFT –Based Techniques for memory transformation

Newer EFT-based techniques use different ways of re-writing the story by “creating a happy ending” based on what you would have liked/wanted to happen (substituting the bad ending with a happy ending for a story). So if we worked on the “punching nose” event and used re-creation of the story, we would let the client choose a happy ending for her story and transform the memory into,  for example, being touched gently on her cheeks by her mother – a fantasy.

This will change how the client feels about the event but re-writing the story with a happy ending might make her uncomfortable as it is a lie, even though she has willingly re-created this childhood event in the session. She will have to say a lot of lies to herself to stick to the fantasy version of her story because the fact that she was physically abused throughout her childhood will not change and in order to change it, she might have to disown her story and re-create every memory that involved this abuse.

It’s true that we all see things in our own way but being punched by someone in the nose is a reality for that person and no matter how many ways you want to see it, it remains the same.  But yes, you can change how you feel about being punched.

The memory of an event plays out in a certain way in the mind of the person. We tap on whatever we hold within ourselves. It’s our perspective, our understanding, our feelings about the event. But there are certain ‘unchangeable aspects’ of that memory that remain the same. For example, if someone’s relative died, then he died – it’s unchangeable. Similarly if someone is abused and would like to think that they were not, then it’s a lie.

Suppose you were cut by a sharp knife and bleeding, re-creating this memory with a butter knife will not help at all! This distortion might help you in forgetting that you had a knife cut but you will be forgetting and losing out on what you can learn from it and get cut again.

Honoring Our Past

Our past guides us; we learn from our experiences. If we completely forget what happened by replacing all bad times with good endings, wouldn’t it be distorting our “perceived” reality to the extent that we no longer know what happened.

Someone with a history of psychotic episodes, using this kind of fantasy runs the risk of creating false memories that may have a deleterious long-term effect.

We cannot undo what happened in our past. Physical reality that happened cannot be undone and to heal we don’t need to undo it.

We can honor our stories, learn from them, integrate them in our lives and heal.

Healing takes place when we accept whatever ending the story had without trying to convert it into an ending that suits us.

“Disowning our story is not a healing move, being able to own it and accept it, while tough, is essential.”( N. Barron, 2013)

Personally I prefer to work with changing ‘how I feelabout a memory than changing ‘what actually happened’ in that memory. As a practitioner, I don’t encourage or practice changing the memory into a fantasy memory. I stick with what the person remembers. So if I were hit by someone I would say – “Yes I was hit by so and so, but it doesn’t affect me anymore”. I wouldn’t lie to myself saying that I wasn’t hit.

Conclusion:

As Practitioners we need to tread carefully while working on memories and inform the clients about the process and the effect on memories. In my opinion, (Classic) EFT is a natural way of healing, not forced. Using EFT we can simply neutralize the feelings towards an event than substitute it with a fantasy. It’s a far safer option in my opinion.

References:

Barron, N. Personal Communication. Nov 08 2013 http://energyandintention.com/

LeDoux, J. (2005). Synaptic self: How our brains become who we are. New York, NY: Penguin.

Lee, J (n.d) In Discover Magazine: How much of your memory is true, retrieved November 1st, 2013 from http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/03-how-much-of-your-memory-is-true

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About Puja

I am a Counseling Psychologist, Certified EFT Practitioner & Accredited Trainer with AAMET. In my 12+ years of experience, I have effectively used EFT and Counseling to help clients heal their emotional and physical problems.
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8 Responses to Transforming Memories: Pros and Cons

  1. Karin says:

    This has to do with denial… Denial is not good. In the advanced EFT technique called Matrix Reimprinting, you don’t change what happened, you change your PERCEPTION of what happened… That’s what Matrix Reimprinting does… there are some people that read a bit about MR and think we’re changing it to a happy ending… The “happy ending” is that we are no longer haunted by the memory because we learn something different from the bad thing. We don’t change the event. The goal is to change the negative learning and our perception of the event.

    • Puja says:

      Karin, First of all this article speaks about any technique that uses re-creation of endings of events, not just MR. I have researched this thoroughly in the past couple of years.

      Actually, “happy ending” refers to changing the ending of the story into something that the person would have wanted or to fulfil what the person lacked.
      If only the perception of the event was changed, then it would be different. I have gone through a lot of articles in MR where the real events are changed. Here’s an example – tell me if the perception is changed or the real event is changed.
      A client felt neglected in her childhood as her mother didn’t spend time with her; in the reimprinting process targeting specific memories of the client, the event is changed to the younger self ( child ) having a great time with her mother, her mother “being there” for her and spending time with her.
      This is not just changing the perception of the event and the negative learning; it is changing the event details itself.
      Similar examples are of changing the disappointment of not having a gift or having something stolen from a client in their childhood and this being reimprinted with those things being returned to them.
      This is creating new memories that are just based on wishes of the client’s younger self.
      Is this not changing the real event?

      • Karin says:

        Changing the event details can be dangerous in some situations…. it really has to do with what the learning was and the actual details. If you say “the baby didn’t die” – that is denial so you go to what is it the perception about the event that is so painful about the baby dying?

        If you are reading Matrix Reimprinting articles where people change the events, this is not a good practice and perhaps the people writing the articles are not fully trained. Having said that, if you are dealing with a mentally HEALTHY person – experiencing the baby living and reimprinting that BUT THEN RETURNING TO THE EVENT and saying “now that you’ve felt the joy (or etc) of her living, but we know she died, how can we help your younger self though this?” See? A mentally healthy person knows the baby didn’t live…. a mentally unstable person may not… This is the danger. You may not know how stable a person is. It is best practice NOT to change the main details of the event.

        But like with one of my demonstration clients, he lost 3 rounds of wrestling in a playground when he was young and felt terrible and small and no control and bullied and not good enough. When we went back, he wanted to win – but we said “some things happen for a reason.. like children who have to fall when they learn to walk or they wouldn’t learn to walk… so how can we get you through this?” so he said ok, he wants a coach to tell him “good job! this guy is bigger and has more practice” so each time the coach would go over the match and the boy learned more each time – EVEN THOUGH HE STILL LOST EACH TIME. His perception completely changed. He was proud of himself and accepted that this other boy had more practice and was no longer humiliated. Someone watching was a grandmother who drove her grandsons team to competitions and she was very impressed because Not everyone can win and it changed the client’s perception without changing the main details of the reality. So coach is OK, winning the match not OK – and how to you figure out what is OK and not? Well, that takes experience and truly paying attention to what the negative learning was and concentrating on healing that negative learning without denial.

        • Puja says:

          Karin, thanks for your comment.
          I have read many articles where the events are changed – the way it is changed may vary according to the issue but I’ve encountered subtle to drastic changes.
          I agree with your statement that “Changing the event details can be dangerous in some situations”
          I feel that it can lead to problem formation later on, if not immediately, if one continues this practice. And we really cannot play with our minds to this extent- that’s my opinion.

          How to figure out what is okay and not – does require experience.

          Karin, the example you gave – was the coach completely fictional or did the client have such a coach and imagined him saying all this to his younger self?

          • Karin says:

            The coach was fictional. But he had coaches later on and I don’t know if what he saw in his Matrix was a coach he knew later or not. The negative learning from that event (and others like it in his life) was “I’m never good enough at sports” “I can never be as good” By allowing him a coach, it changed his perception of himself… so I used this as an example for this conversation because the coach was made up – but it’s not denial because we stayed within boundaries – the client still lost, but his perception changed to “I CAN learn. I can learn to be better. This boy is just bigger than me and has more practice.. of course he won.” And he was proud of himself at the end.

            I am glad you said “I feel that it can lead to problem formation later on, if not immediately, if one continues this practice. And we really cannot play with our minds to this extent- that’s my opinion.”

          • Puja says:

            Thanks for clarifying that Karin 🙂

  2. Russ Beauchene says:

    Hi Puja,
    To me, any event has two parts to it.
    One part is the actual facts of the event.
    The other part involves the stories that we tell ourselves about the event.
    Here is an example.
    I am 7 years old. I go to the store with my mother. I see a toy I want. She says no. She pays for the items she picked and we go home.
    Those are the facts of the event.
    They are never going to change.
    What story do I tell myself about the event?
    Here is one version.
    Mommy doesn’t love me. There is never enough. I must be a bad kid. I can never get what I want.
    And the list goes on.
    All of these carry forward through our lives and effect our beliefs today.
    These are all trappable issues.
    I can change the story to this.
    Mommy does love me. I know that mommy just brings enough money for what she is planning to buy. If she had brought more money with her she would have bought it for me. I am a great kid and I usually get what I want.
    The facts of the event didn’t change.
    The story did.
    And who knows for sure which story is really true?
    I can not prove either one is true or false.
    And yet, it is the stories we tell ourselves about any past event that empowers or dis-empowers our lives today.
    It is those stories and our emotional response to those stories that we work on and change with EFT.
    We can not change an event.
    We can change our story.
    I’d love to get your feedback on this.
    Russ

    • Puja says:

      Russ
      Thanks for your comment. I will describe it in this way
      Facts – unchangeable aspects of the event.
      Perception – what we go through during an event is stored as memories and is based on our perception of the factual event.

      Our perception of the event will keep changing (we can call it stories but I avoid this term as sometimes people use the term ‘event’ and ‘story’ interchangeably) – we will add, delete, modify what we feel about the event. but the facts remain, like you said.

      So taking your example :
      ” I am 7 years old. I go to the store with my mother. I see a toy I want. She says no. She pays for the items she picked and we go home.
      Those are the facts of the event.
      They are never going to change.”

      Yes you’re right – they are the unchangeable facts.

      “What story do I tell myself about the event?
      Here is one version.
      Mommy doesn’t love me. There is never enough. I must be a bad kid. I can never get what I want.
      And the list goes on.
      All of these carry forward through our lives and effect our beliefs today.
      These are all trappable issues.”

      Yes these are all tappable issues because these are the perceptions. They are changeable. We can tap and change these perceptions.

      “Mommy does love me. I know that mommy just brings enough money for what she is planning to buy. If she had brought more money with her she would have bought it for me. I am a great kid and I usually get what I want.”

      This is a reframe – where we try to change our perception about the event and try to take multiple perspectives.

      “And yet, it is the stories we tell ourselves about any past event that empowers or dis-empowers our lives today.
      It is those stories and our emotional response to those stories that we work on and change with EFT”

      Agreed

      But suppose we change the facts of the story and said that the kid got what she wanted – the toy and she feels very happy – this is done in some techniques. What will that be called ? Changing the event …right?
      So changing the perception of the event, changing the stories we tell ourselves is not the issue, changing the real event is the issue here. And that’s what I address in this article.

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