One of the many things that I find fascinating about hypnosis is the power of words. The same words spoken to someone in normal conversation take on an almost mystical power when they are spoken during a hypnotic trance.
When we are in our normal everyday, alert, aware, waking state we are in a state of defensiveness. There is a part of our mind that is constantly on the lookout for danger. This is nothing sinister – it’s just healthy self-protectiveness. Now in the good old days, from an evolutionary point of view, there was constant danger. Those who weren’t that alert didn’t survive for very long and so if you buy into the idea of Natural Selection it makes sense to assume that the most frightened individuals were the ones who lived to pass on their genetic material.
Now there isn’t really that much physical danger around in our day-to-day lives. Crossing the road is perhaps the biggest threat many of us experience in a normal day. So, given that a significant part of ourselves evolved to ensure we survive, and that this part doesn’t have much to occupy it in the physical realm, and perhaps it gets a little bored, then maybe, just maybe, this boredom causes it to look for threat where there isn’t any – in thoughts, and in words.
The consequence of this is that when we listen to the words of another our defensive systems are on the alert. You can tell this easily because if any words are spoken that are hurtful, disrespecting, unloving, angry… your body reacts instantaneously with an emotional experience. The uncomfortable emotion that you experience happens faster than thought so it may be the symptom of built-in defence-mechanisms.
Next time you are in conversation, particularly a conversation with someone you have only just met (often the case in therapy), watch your thoughts. Notice the thoughts that magically appear in response to the words of the other. Notice how you are watching for signs of approval or disapproval of you. Notice your sensitivities. Notice how the things you watch for are different depending on whether or not you have an inner feeling of liking or disliking for this person. Notice how your thoughts are forming responses and watching for the gap to appear so that you can express them and see whether or not your words are valued. Notice how you are aware at a deep level of whether or not this stranger is interested in you as a person. Notice how your words will be moulded in order to ensure that they see you in a good light and form a positive impression of you.
This whole experience is a defensive dance.
And it’s fine. We all do it. It’s good to be aware of it and watch it, but it’s perfectly normal.
Except when the only tools available to heal your mind are the only tools your mind is defended against – Words!
So what the trance experience achieves is to distract this defensive aspect of self by sending it off into the half-asleep world of daydream; where sufficient awareness is retained about what is happening so that should real danger arise, effective action could be taken more easily than rousing from full sleep. And so first of all words are used to direct conscious defensive awareness into this half-awake/half-asleep world. And not just any words – words that direct conscious attention to focus on certain thoughts and ideas gradually moving from an awareness of the outside world to the inside world.
Once words have achieved this then the defensive part of the mind is drifting and half-dreaming and generally isn’t very bothered about what’s being said, and so whatever is said has more power because it moves directly into subconscious awareness unfiltered and unchallenged – as long as the words do not themselves threaten deeper values and beliefs that are close to the very core of being. This is why no hypnotist can make you do anything you don’t want to do, or cause you to act against a deeply held moral or ethical value.
And so hypnotists sometimes tell stories – stories with a lesson that isn’t obvious. Because the lesson isn’t obvious no critical judgements kick in from the conscious mind, but the subconscious mind stores the information, evaluates it and brings about the necessary behaviour changes.
On other occasions hypnotists just tell you, in trance, what new behaviour you are going to find yourself engaging in – like not smoking, or not eating out of habit. Sometimes they even just encourage the creation of pictures in your mind and these pictures symbolically represent the desired changes to the subconscious mind, and the subconscious mind just evaluates the symbol and behaviour changes result.
And all that is used are words – words that cause withdrawal from the cares of the world, words that cause behavioural changes, words that describe a new future or change an uncomfortable past; but most importantly words that inspire you to believe that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible, and words that encourage you to see that your past does not have to be an anchor holding you in a cold and stormy sea.
Words are powerful. They can be used to bring about changes you didn’t believe were possible. But they can only do this if you are undefended against them.
So notice your words and the words of others and see if they really mean what they seem to mean, or if they are conveying some other message to your subconscious mind. You don’t have to be in a trance to be influenced. And while hypnotic trance is designed to allow you to be influenced in a positive way – not everyone who uses words has your best interest at heart.
Michael J. Hadfield MBSCH is a registered clinical hypnotherapist. You can experience his unique style on a popular range of hypnosis CD’s and tapes at http://www.hypnosisiseasy.com Here you can also obtain treatment for a variety of problems and explore his approach to health, healing, and hypnosis.
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