How many things have you thought or done today because of something you learned when you were five years old? Is it possible that your earliest experiences are governing how you see the world today? Absolutely! We make all sorts of decisions as adults based on our unmet needs from childhood. How might your life be different if you were finally able to let go of your past and live in the present?
Dealing with the cause, not the symptoms
Many people don’t stop to think why they have certain symptoms like, for example, anxiety or low self-esteem; they are more focused on getting rid of the discomfort as swiftly as possible. There are plenty of sources offering the quick fix and they can be tempting in times of need. But how would you feel if you were admitted to hospital coughing up blood and the surgeon, suspecting internal bleeding, prescribed a box of tissues to mop up the mess? I’m sure you would be demanding treatment of a more investigative nature!
If you work only on the symptoms, they may ease temporarily. With some effort at changing thoughts and behaviour, you may even be symptom-free for the rest of your life. But often, where there is still a problem at a deeper level, the symptom makes a reappearance, sometimes in a different form. They are there to protect us from a worse pain. In order to release the need for the symptom, it might make sense to find the cause.
Our irrational beliefs
The mysterious subconscious is sophisticated at getting its own way and files our experiences in seemingly irrational ways. Memories are not usually stored alphabetically or chronologically but are linked emotionally and experientially. Thus we build on our irrational beliefs and treat them like facts – they explain our world in a way we can understand. There is a certain comfort to be gained from seeing our world as predictable. Even when we do things that upset or harm us, at least they are familiar. We often feel the urge to repeat our mistakes for this reason. When we find ourselves making the same undesirable relationship choices, for example, we feel compelled to continue.
Accessing the cause of problems
As a hypnoanalyst, my aim is to help people in a safe, controlled environment to access the cause of their problems that were locked away as a child. We let the subconscious mind explore the past in a free, unreserved way, not searching for particular memories but allowing it to make its own connections. With this comes greater understanding and often a ‘light bulb moment’ where the reasons behind behaviour patterns suddenly make sense. Sometimes they recognise they’ve adopted a belief that belonged to someone else. Other times, an event from the early years was perceived as too traumatic for the child and was repressed… until that moment in therapy when it is safe to revisit it and release the trapped emotions.
At this point, although a client may cry or express anger, once it is out of their system they generally report feeling lighter – freed from its hold over them all these years. The child part might discover it wasn’t their fault after all, or perhaps the situation was not quite how they interpreted it. As an adult, they may have resources that were unavailable to the child at the time. Using fear of water as an example, a child, when pushed in a lake, may have momentarily faced death, but the adult would be better equipped to cope in a similar situation now (maybe realising for the first time that the dreaded water was only ever knee-deep).
The butterfly effect
Once the emotion is cleared and the memory is more comfortable there are various changes in the psyche that take into account this new way of thinking. The symptom is now redundant, as the memory no longer needs protection. I sometimes explain it as similar to time travel; if you went back to the past and altered something, the future would consequently be adjusted. According to the butterfly effect theory, it takes only the tiniest change – like a butterfly flexing its wings – for a huge outcome to be felt elsewhere