By David Quigley
Regression is a general term in hypnosis therapy used to describe a mental state in which a memory is not simply recalled, it is re-experienced in an altered state of consciousness with unique vividness and emotional intensity.
Regression most often occurs spontaneously in our daily lives. A college student facing an exam for which they are well prepared may regress to the overwhelming fear from a test-taking trauma experienced in third grade. A military veteran hearing helicopter blades panics and dives under the chair vividly reliving the horrors of war.
These experiences are examples of spontaneous regression into fear, inadequacy and helplessness that can be at the root of the ordinary client’s everyday problems. Typically, spontaneous regressions are most commonly brought on by the re-stimulation of childhood experiences. It’s important to utilize regression in hypnosis, whether you are a psychotherapist treating PTSD or a consulting hypnotist helping people with ordinary problems like panic or fear. When we examine and clear these memories through regression hypnosis, we are actually solving the problem at is source.
A Brief History of Regression Therapy
Sigmund Freud theorized that the roots of many of our present day emotional problems, annoying habits and negative beliefs lie in the experiences of early childhood. Freud learned from his associate Charcot that there was always a core traumatic event at the root of the client’s problem. At that time the regression hypnotist’s strategy was to use trance to reach this repressed core event; then help the client relive and release the entire terrible emotional trauma it contained through what was called a “catharsis”.
Later hypnotists defined this core trauma as the Initial Sensitizing Event (ISE). Beginning with Gil Boyne, most modern regression hypnotists emphasize the search for this one elusive memory. The emphasis in ISE however is no longer exclusively on the catharsis (the release of stored emotional pain) but on informing the child of their perfect innocence and that they should not jump to any nasty conclusions about themselves or others as a result of this trauma. The Informed Child Technique represents a significant improvement over Charcot’s methods because it directly addresses the negative core beliefs which are a result of these traumas.
Other regression pioneers have searched for their own version of the “One Big Memory.” Arthur Janov, founder of the famous “Primal Therapy Revolution” in the 1970’s, realized that birth was the first big trauma in every human life. He emphasized, like Wilhelm Reich and Charcot before him, the need for a vigorous catharsis of emotion while reliving this moment. Birth trauma is indeed of enormous importance largely because nowadays the extremely important symbolic moment of birth is often turned into vicious torture simply by the way the conventional medical system handles the birthing process. Birth is the most important experience in our lives, where we are welcomed to the world by the arms of a loving parent… or not.
Janov also hypothesized the existence of a “Primal Scream Moment”, the moment when the very young child realizes that no one will ever be there for their feelings and needs. This is not an initial sensitizing event, but is the end result of a steady accumulation of neglect and abuse which finally breaks down the child’s natural optimism and resilience. According to Janov, years of neglect and abuse finally lead the child to disown their own authentic feelings and take on a false self in order to survive in a heartless world. The recommended solution from Janov: Return to that precise moment and release the primal scream.
Bandler and Grinder, the founders of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), created their own version of regression hypnosis known as a “Change History” process. The client is told to silently return to a memory that is the source of their problem and then to silently imagine and create a new memory in their mind to replace the old one. Then this new memory is linked to the triggering circumstances that once brought forth that negative reaction through words and touch in a process called anchoring. For example, “Now every time you face this challenge, you touch your heart and remember this new memory.” In this method, neither practitioner nor client needs to talk about this specific memory nor is there any effort to analyze the memory to determine its status as any one of several options: ISE? Primal scream moment? Just a bad day? The NLP practitioner simply trusts the subconscious mind to bring us to the right memory, and know how to change it.
Alchemical Hypnosis Regression Therapy
There is great truth in all of the regression theories and strategies outlined above. There is however something that these strategists have missed: the underlying cause for many clients’ negative core beliefs is not a rare sensitizing event or one primal scream moment. It is that nearly every single day they were made wrong, criticized or ignored by parents who were perhaps simply too burdened by their own pain to be able to provide complete care of their children. As a result the child never learned they were lovable. They never learned they had any value as persons, maybe at best only as the mother’s helper who took care of the younger kids. This establishes a pattern for codependency early on. Such individuals are never able to build resources of self-esteem, socialization or even simple conversational skill in a home where they only receive criticism, abuse and neglect.
These clients often identify a black hole of neediness and feelings of inadequacy that fill their body with a kind of emotional hunger, a hunger that many seek to fill with food, alcohol and other addictive substances or behaviors. None of these strategies can fill the black hole inside. The search for a single sensitizing event for such clients is useless when the client needs not to regress to a single trauma but to experience being rescued from their entire childhood and then receive the experiences of a brand new childhood in their inner world. Only in a new childhood, in which loving and attentive parents listen to our feelings, honor our gifts and meet our emotional needs, can this black hole be filled with positive feelings of self-worth and joy. With this new childhood in place in their inner world, the client can begin to develop healthy social and relationship skills, artistic and intellectual passions and the sense of life purpose and direction which make human lives fulfilling.
The regression process needed in many of these cases is to release the original parents, perhaps after acknowledging their love, their efforts and their own personal struggles and limitations. Then the inner child can be rescued from the worst horrors of the abuse through the Alchemical Hypnosis technique of the dramatic rescue mission. Although the dramatic rescue mission involves lots of emotional release, it is not a simple catharsis. Instead of focusing on simply releasing the pain and hurt of the experience (Primal Scream), the body and voice of the adult self are used to rescue the child with words spoken out loud and with actions like hugging the child (usually represented by a stuffed animal.) Plastic bats and pillows can be utilized as props. The client may in some cases need to scream, beat, punish and drive the perpetrators of abuse away from the child. More often, the client tearfully expresses love for those parents who did their best, but could not provide adequate care.
The inner child can then be helped to find and develop a new relationship with new inner parents at a new home in their inner world. Often the Alchemical Hypnotist uses direction suggestion to create those images such as, “Here’s what a real father does…” until the inner archetype of father is more fully developed. The client is encouraged to experience all the love, safety, guidance and respect that a true parent provides through a daily meditation of being a child at home with these new inner parents.
One client presented with serious bouts of depression and loneliness, leading to compulsive eating. She was 90 pounds overweight. She chose not to subscribe to the pharmaceutical “solution” of symptom control through medication and wanted to try hypnosis therapy. Through embracing and rescuing her inner child and devoting time each day to that child’s care, the client lost those 90 pounds within one year without any effort at dieting. She has since maintained a normal weight for more than 20 years.
Most clients need 4-6 sessions to learn to access their inner family every day when facing the challenges of everyday life. However, the following two examples were resolved in one session:
The client felt that she was wrestling with the early stages of alcoholism. Not wanting to descend into the dark addictions of her Russian ancestry, she was eager for a solution. In session, we rescued her inner child from the acute difficulty as a child of an immigrant family and its alcoholic past. Then she was brought to a lovely new inner family where she could at last be safe, loved and listened to. Like many seriously neglected or abused clients, two powerful metaphors are needed for this type of rescue mission. One was the ‘lost princess kidnapped by evil trolls’ who finds her way back to the palace of her royal and loving parents. Another is the story of the Ugly Duckling, who is saved by the arrival of two beautiful swans that take her home. After only one session, the newly redeemed princess lost her taste for alcohol. She said, “That stuff smells like my ugly duckling past.” She has been sober now for a year, and credits her new inner family with her success.
Another client was smoking cigarettes to fill the empty void left by an absent father who abandoned the family very early on. She discovered that during the suggestible state of hypnosis she could experience being a little girl, sitting in her father’s wonderful lap every time she craved a cigarette. With her inner father’s help, this client quit smoking after only one session.
Many clients express concern that they don’t want to forget certain elements of their childhood and need reassurance that they will never forget the joys of their childhood, the moments of real love with parents and siblings. Nor will they ever forget the lessons learned from their pain. Instead, the client is given a chance to learn even more lessons, like what it means to be a loving parent and what a caring family looks like, and feels like.
Many clients report joyfully that once they release their birth parents from both the responsibility of their childhood pain and of their adult emotions, they go on to discover a beautiful new friendship with their “former” parents.