How hypnosis helps people stop smoking
Hypnosis, when used well, is a highly effective tool for helping and curing diverse conditions from clinical depression to post traumatic stress disorder and even physical conditions like warts and burns.
But the public have a strong association with the use of hypnosis for curing something else. Something that kills around 5,000,000 people a year, that incapacitates and ages the body and brain, that destroys sex drive and yet whose victims pay for the privilege, spending tens of thousands of pounds over the course of an ever shortening life span.
So why it is that millions of people are prepared to throw away their lives for cigarettes? What is it about the human brain, otherwise set up for survival, that makes seemingly sensible people puff away their heart function, healthy cells, energy, virility and fertility as well as their time and money? Why would anyone do this?
Well firstly, people smoke because they are human. We all do things to excess sometimes – whether it's eat-ing, sex, work, exercise, surfing the net, gambling or drinking alcohol. For some people the pleasure they get from their addiction is so great that it's impossible to imagine life without it. Although on another level they can see what it is taking from them – things such as dignity, health and even friends and family.
And the pattern of smoking addiction isn't any different from these other addictions.
Addictions hijack and misappropriate the brain's chemical reward mechanisms, which exist to make learning pleasurable, so enabling human beings to develop and thrive. Having a so-called 'addictive personality' really means having great potential to learn and develop.
To be addicted to something you need to have an expectation that it is going to be good in some way. The excitement we get when we are keen to do something locks our attention into an addictive trance state. This excitement is produced by a natural cocaine-like chemical in the brain called dopamine. And the warm feelings of satisfaction we get after we've done something such as mastering a new skill or puffing on a longed for cigarette is caused by chemicals called endorphins.
Dopamine and endorphins exist to encourage us to learn and master new skills and to do things essential for survival like having sex, eating, drinking and resting when we are tired. If we didn't feel internally rewarded for doing these things then we wouldn't do them – and therefore wouldn't survive. It's ironic that the reward system designed for survival can be hijacked by behaviours that threaten survival, such as smoking.
There is another aspect to addiction and this is habituation. This means the more you have of something, the more you need to get the same level of satisfaction. This also makes sense from a human development perspective. When people master new skills they get a dopamine and endorphin rush which is pleasurable. But when those new skills become second nature then the person builds up a tolerance and needs to develop further skills to get the same buzz as before. Hence you are driven to continue developing yourself.
Think of the buzz you might get when you learn your first piece on, say, the guitar. Your dopamine and endorphins reward you for mastering a new skill but after a while you build up a tolerance to that experience, just like an addict, and have to learn more to get the same buzz.
Our ancestors had to develop a tolerance to the pleasure of just collecting fire from lightning strikes, so they discovered how to light fires and eventually invented the electric light bulb. This progression happened because just using fire, after a while, just wasn't that exciting any more. People needed more to 'light their fires', so to speak.
This addictive pattern – building a tolerance to one level of experience so more is needed to give the same buzz – is what develops human beings, and so enabled civilizations and new inventions to come into being. If it wasn't for addiction, we'd all still be swinging from trees.
This natural pleasure/satisfaction drive explains how people become addicted and why they end up needing more and more of the addictive experience.
Smoking is a type of self harm. I used to work with self harmers who'd cut their own arms. The more they did it, the more they wanted to do it. Because the chemical rush from cutting themselves a little quickly became standard for them, they had to cut more and more to get the same rush or sense of release. On one level this is no different from smoking.
To become addicted to anything you need to repeat it and practise it, just like learning a new skill, so that eventually it feels natural. And if you repeatedly do one thing in conjunction with another, eventually the two feel as if they naturally go together. Even hardened smokers report they can go on long haul flights without feeling the need to smoke, or go swimming without wanting to light up, simply because these things have never become associated as triggers to smoke. This associative factor is more important in addiction than so called physical addiction.
So we become addicted to something in the same way we learn new things. If you were crazy enough to click your fingers every time you got up in the morning, every time you had a cup of coffee, every time after sex, after a meal, whenever you had an alcoholic drink, when you felt relaxed, bored, stressed and so forth then, eventually, clicking your fingers during these times would start to feel instinctively right. As if the two things naturally went together.
Imagine if you clicked your fingers for twenty years fifty times a day. How weird would it feel to suddenly stop? What would you do with your hands? Having a drink without finger clicking would feel, well, unnatural! You might even believe the withdrawal you'd feel is because of physical addiction rather than association. When a person first starts smoking it doesn't feel natural then but, through repetition, it becomes natural, just like mastering any skill.
Reading words didn't feel natural at first but through repetition and practice it became instinctive, and now feels right and natural. Anything we do over and over becomes part of our instinctive repertoire and therefore eventually gets to feel natural. Many smokers feel there is a natural association between drinking coffee or alcohol and smoking. But non-smokers drink without smoking.
When we seek to cure someone of smoking we need to look at these factors and use our knowledge of how the brain keeps the addiction in place to help free them. When a person is addicted, and they suffer because of that addiction, they become split down the middle, they want to stop and they don't want to stop. Hypnosis can build up the part that wants to stop so that it starts to dominate the part that wanted to side with the destructive smoking habit.
When I work with smokers, I don't try to scare them out of smoking. The smoking habit is more cunning than that. It gets them running for a cigarette when they are scared. It's got that covered. I tell them they don't need to hear it from me that smoking rots the arteries into the penis, causing impotence, or the arteries into the eyes, causing dimming eyesight, how it softens the gums or causes 90% of lung cancers, how the serotonin destroying properties of the 2,000 destructive chemicals in tobacco cause depression and anxiety in smokers and how had scientists been commissioned with the task of creating a drug to age human beings rapidly they couldn't have done much better than invent nicotine.
I do tell them this though: I tell them that in order for the rich tobacco industry to exist, people need to serve it by being willing to sacrifice themselves for the 'cause'. The cause, of course, is profit for the tobacco giants.
Wherever there is a cause, there are people willing to lay down their lives for it.
You see, people aren't prepared to die or be maimed for something unless they have been conditioned by certain beliefs. A perfect example of this, of course, is religion. Throughout history people have died for beliefs that seem totally insane to others. They wouldn't do it without these beliefs. And so, too, is it with smokers. So many smokers have been conditioned with beliefs about smoking in order to enable them to be willing to lay down their life and health for it.
Beliefs are interesting things. The conscious mind is often employed by the unconscious mind to justify and defend destructive behaviours. An example would be when someone defends the abusive person who is beating them with the words 'Yes, but he's so nice really!' or 'He's great with the dog.' The common smoking defensive beliefs seem to originate from within the smoker, but in fact they are conditioned into them from the outside. People need these beliefs to consciously or unconsciously defend the very thing that is seeking to destroy them.
If they weren't part of the belief system, then people actually wouldn't smoke. In the same way that no one would be prepared to die for a cause unless they had specific beliefs.
Hypnosis can help unhook past conditioning very quickly; we regularly see life-long chronic smokers cured of smoking in one hour. What's more, they can heal quickly as non-smokers and they don't even have to turn into rabid anti-smokers. If you hate something you used to love, then you are still too emotionally wrapped up in it. Indifference is what we are after in the ex-smoker. I like to think of people 'growing out of smoking' rather than 'forcing themselves to quit'. When you were very young and your feet grew, then your shoes began to squeeze and the squeezing let you know it was time to give up the old shoes, because they didn't fit you any more. Smoking squeezes peoples' lungs, hearts, skins and money. When it's time to be free, it's a relief, not a hardship.
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