“Can you make me forget someone?” she said to me over the phone.
“Tell me a little more.”
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“My boyfriend – my ex-boyfriend, that is. I want to forget him, forget all about him, like he never existed, like I never even met him. Can you hypnotize me to totally forget him?”
“So that if you saw him on the street you would not recognize him?” I said. “So that if someone mentioned him to you, you would say, ‘Who?’ And if she persisted with ‘What do you mean who? You went with him all that time!’ you would insist, genuinely, that she was mistaken, that you didn’t know what she was talking about?”
“That’s exactly what I want,” she answered, “to totally wipe him from my memory.”
“I have heard of similar things being done,” I said. “A woman who had been a heavy smoker for over 20 years, believing that she had never, ever smoked, and sticking to that belief in spite of all the evidence to the contrary: ashtrays in her house, cigarette smell on her clothes and in her car, friends and family telling her that she used to be a smoker.”
“Well that’s what I want,” she said. “He is out of my life; now I want him out of my brain. Totally.”
Something told me this was not a good idea. First of all, I was not at all sure it would work for her. The woman with the smoking must have been an amazing hypnotic subject – most people cannot achieve that level of selective amnesia. And even if I could lead this woman into totally blocking all her memories of this guy (there is no removing memories – we would be making her unable to access them), how long would that last? And if it did last, what then? I struggled to articulate what I was thinking.
”What I can help you do is to remove all of the emotion connected with that relationship,” I started out. “So that even though you remember it, the hurt, the pain will be gone. I have done that with others.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know,” she answered after a pause. “I really want him gone, so I don’t remember him at all.”
“There could be a down side to that, you know. What if we did that, and a while later you run into him. He’s an attractive guy – he is, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“So you run into your ex – what’s his name?”
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“You run into Roger and you don’t recognize him at all; he’s a stranger to you – but you think he’s cute. And maybe he’s surprised at first, that you don’t seem to know him, but he makes the adjustment and say he comes on to you – after all, he remembers you, he knows just what to say. And since you don’t recognize him, don’t remember his downside, you fall for it. And then six months or a year later you’re calling me, wanting me to wipe your memory again.”
“Well, I don’t know.”