Eliciting hypnotic phenomena
When I first started doing hypnosis I was blown away by what I was able to get other people to experience. Hypnotic hand levitation, anesthesia in the body to numb pain, smelling roses when there were none, overcoming fears and lifelong phobias, changing depressive habits, giving up crippling addictions and even increasing physical strength. But I quickly found that when it comes to eliciting hypnotic phenomena there are ways and means which greatly improve your chances of success.
In our Master Series article What is hypnosis? we talk about the rapid eye movement state – otherwise known as REM – that we all experience when we dream and how the psychology and biology of this dream state corresponds to the hypnotic state.
So, for example, when we dream, we experience realistic visual and auditory hallucinations – just as the hypnotized subject can. We experience limb catalepsy – just as people do in hypnosis. And, in fact, when you are in the REM state, you are more likely to experience numbness because of this catalepsy. This natural numbness can be utilized in hypnosis to produce hypnotic anesthesia for surgical operations.
When you dream, the body responds directly to the imagination – as when we shiver during a snow-filled dream and sweat if we are scared. Your internal environment becomes more important in determining your physical state than your actual environment. And we see exactly the same response in the hypnotized person – they respond to their imagination more than their real environment. And when you think about it, this is not so strange – after all, who has never salivated at the thought of an imaginary food, or felt embarrassed at recalling a humiliating moment? This is the power of the mind to influence the body.
So your body can produce a physical response to what your imagination is doing regardless of external physical reality. When you elicit hypnotic phenomena in others, you are merely extending this internal influence over the body and directing it.
Now how would I go about suggesting to someone that their arm become numb? This could clearly be useful, for example, if they needed to undergo an operation on the arm, or wanted to experience relief from pain. Firstly, we have to think carefully about which ‘part’ of the mind we need to communicate with to achieve this, and what kind of language this ‘part’ of the mind speaks.
To clarify, we can think of a person as having an ‘emotional’ mind and a ‘thinking’ or ‘logical’ mind. If a charismatic speaker wishes to whip up the audience’s emotions, they need to talk in terms of feelings, and use emotive words like courage, strength, fear, right, wrong, beautiful, justice and so forth. These are emotive words and appeal to the part of the brain that deals with emotionality.
If, on the other hand, you need to appeal to someone’s thinking, rational mind, you need to talk in terms of how they ‘think’ and of the ‘logic’ of the situation. If I am working with a client and see they are getting upset (emotional) in a way that isn’t going to help them, I will talk directly to the part of them that processes rationality and clear thought – and it’s amazing to see how quickly they calm right down. For example, I might ask “What do you think about the way he behaved?” rather than “What do you feel about the way he behaved?” The point is that to get the desired outcome from your communication, you need to know what you are trying to achieve. Are you appealing mostly to emotion or logic?
I said that we can think of the mind as ‘emotional’ or ‘logical’. It’s also true to say that you have a ‘conscious’ mind – everything in your mind that’s in your current awareness – and a more pow-erful ‘unconscious’, or ‘subconscious’, mind – everything in your mind that you are not presently consciously thinking about. When we are working hypnotically, we want to appeal to the part of the brain that works below the surface of everyday conscious awareness.
For example, you don’t consciously produce a dream at night, but your ‘unconscious’ does know how to produce a dream. Your conscious mind doesn’t know how to switch off pain or lower blood pressure or increase immune function – but your unconscious mind does know how to do these things. So if we are going for hypnotic phenomena like these, we need to talk to this part of the brain in a language it understands.
So let’s take a look at the language of the ‘unconscious’. The unconscious mind responds to patterns, which is one reason we use metaphor and story as part of hypnotic communication. Direct communication is really for the conscious mind. If I say to you: “Lift your arm up!” that is a conscious suggestion and can be accepted or ignored. If you accept it, you will consciously life your arm up. This, of course, is not a hypnotic phenomenon. In fact, it’s not a phenomenon at all!
If, however, I want you to experience hypnotic arm levitation, I might talk about how “Some people find that when they are comfortably hypnotized their hand and arm begin to feel slightly lighter…” So here I am setting the general pattern as a way of beginning to appeal to their unconscious mind. And I am talking in a way that excludes the conscious mind by saying “some people find”. This is a fairly clear instruction for the conscious mind to just sit back and watch.
Next I might say something like: “…and I wonder just when you can begin to notice that left arm or that right arm of yours beginning to feel lighter…” Notice how different this is to the conscious command of: “Lift your arm up!” I have suggested that their arm (either their left or their right) can operate independently of them. I have done this by suggesting they might notice an arm becoming lighter. I have disassociated them further by talking about ‘that arm’ rather than ‘your arm’.
Remember, when your unconscious mind produces a dream, all you do is notice it happening; you don’t feel like you are ‘doing the dream’, as it were, yourself. It is the same with hypnotic phenomena. We want people to notice it happening without getting consciously involved with making it happen. And we can encourage this process by using our language knowingly.
Now I just want to talk about what I call ‘universal examples.’ If I want to hyp-notically induce anesthetic numbness in a subject, I could say: “Make your arm go numb!” But of course this is a conscious appeal that the conscious mind has no idea how to achieve! So I might subtly broach the pattern of physical numbness before suggesting they experience it themselves.
So to create an unconscious response of numbness, I might talk about that universal experience of feeling cold like this (adopting a suitably hypnotic tone): “And what it is like, say, when you are a young child, and ice and snow are on the ground… and you are playing out in the snow… with bare hands… maybe making snowballs to throw… or making a snow man… and pretty soon… those hands begin to feel somehow different… as if they are just objects… unrelated to you… on the end of your arms… and tying a shoe lace with those ice-numbed hands… becomes a drawn out thing… and it’s so awkward… even trying to turn a key in a lock… with a hand that is becoming more and more numb…”
So again here I have created and presented the universal pattern of a time when numbness is a natural occurrence. I have used the word ‘you’, but it is the general ‘you’ and rather ambiguous. The conscious mind at this point can get rather tied up because the person is not quite sure whether I am just describing a pattern or suggesting their hands may go numb.
Another example of creating a universal pattern for numbness would be to describe the common experience of waking up after having been sleeping on an arm. So I might introduce this universal pattern to a person by saying something like:
“And you know so many people have had the experience of awakening in the night… and finding that they have been sleeping on one arm… and that arm is numb… and it’s like it doesn’t even belong to them… as if the blood has completely temporarily left that arm… feeling as if it belongs to someone else… and they may even have to lift it with the other arm…”
And so on…
For every hypnotic phenomenon there is a universal example that you can use to prime the mind for hypnotic response. For example, we might talk about how if someone unexpectedly throws a tennis ball to us, or extends a hand to shake, our arm seems to go up ‘all by itself’. This may be used if we were going for hypnotic arm levitation.
Or we might present the metaphorical universal pattern of ‘a powerful army gathering’ when seeking to hypnotically strengthen someone’s immune response. We might talk about the universal pattern of hearing an advertising jingle on TV, and how when we see that product in the stores that tune just seems to ‘automatically’ jump into our minds, and use this to implant a post hypnotic suggestion.
So the main principles of eliciting hypnotic phenomena to consider and remember are:
- think in terms of people having a ‘conscious’ and an ‘unconscious’ mind
- know which part of the person you are talking to
- remember that the conscious mind deals in direct communications and the unconscious mind in patterns
- use universal patterns to ‘prime’ the subconscious mind to respond hypnotically
- use dissociative language (e.g. ‘that arm’) to exclude the conscious mind from the process
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