When Clients Don't Remember

Every now and then we get clients who have memory loss specifically about their action tendency in the cycle. Their partner describes what they said or did, and they say, “I don’t remember saying/doing that,” with kind of a shrug.

It’s a pretty effective coping, isn’t it? If I don’t remember, I don’t have to keep talking about this. I don’t have to feel bad. I don’t have to hear how much this hurt you. BUT they also don’t get their pain attended to, that caused them to lash out in the first place.

Sometimes I think they are bullshitting me a little here, the other part of me knows that their brain likely is protecting them from feeling shame and also that they were flooded and overwhelmed in these moments. They reasonably could be dissociating, or getting foggy, even if there isn’t a lot of escalated conflict.

The interventions I’ve had some success with are:

1) Validation

“We often don’t remember things when we’re flooded and when we feel kind of bad about how we acted. Our brains have good reason to protect us. Sometimes we are more overwhelmed in those moments than we realize, does that sound right for what was happening for you?”

2) Look for the trigger

“Do you remember what was happening right before you lashed out? What was going on?”

Sometimes bringing in the context of the situation helps them access more memory around what they did or how they felt.

3) Parts Work

I love Internal Family Systems (IFS) for parts work in these moments. I might say, “I totally get that there is a part that’s protecting you from remembering in these moments, and for good reason. I’m worried it’s also blocking us from seeing how you get hurt in these moments, or what is upsetting for you. Do you think this part might move over a little and let you remember more of what happened?”

See if any of this works, or share interventions that have worked for you in the comments!

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