Even the doorbell sounded defiant.
“I’m here to be hypnotized! But I have to warn you: I might be a challenge. I’m well known for having a strong personality! I know my own mind.” This without so much as a “Hi” or a “Pleased to meet you”!
Optimistically, I presumed there was a more agreeable person struggling to come through (despite the lack of any evidence yet!). Nerves can do strange things to people.
Jasmine was a tall, strong-featured woman with the kind of eye-locking stare that was pretty mesmeric in itself. But I suspected she’d tied herself up in the knots of her own assumptions.
Assumptions, myths and blocks
Like millions of other people, Jasmine had somehow got it into her head that being hypnotized is all about passively handing over your self-control to some domineering, sharp-bearded, Dracula-like personage with regulation pointy cape and pupils that rotate like turbocharged pinwheels.
As she sat she softened a bit, and I felt less like a 9-year-old dragged in to see some accusatory head teacher! I saw her strong face form, for the first time, the semblance of a smile.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t think this is going to work for me. But you’ve been recommended, so I thought I’d give you a go.”
“Give me a sort of test drive,” I said. My mild and poor joke didn’t improve her demeanour any. The frown was back. But it got me thinking about the myth of willpower and hypnosis.
You’re under my control
I couldn’t really blame Jasmine. In movies and books, hypnosis has too often been portrayed as a force of will, one brain wrestling down another, gaining control, and directing the recipient into total obedience. It’s not like that at all, of course.
But as long as Jasmine still believed (with pride!) that it was a mark of strength not to be hypnotizable, this very belief would interfere with her responsiveness. So her beliefs needed addressing before I could start any hypnotic work.
Reality versus belief
Since 1993, I’ve hypnotized thousands of people – to help, not dominate, them! All kinds of people with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, life experiences, and belief systems. Women are not more or less hypnotizable than men. The young are not better hypnotic subjects than the old. Entering hypnosis is a human capacity that is open to all, regardless of creed, colour, gender, or (mis)conceptions of hypnosis.
Belief in hypnosis isn’t necessary to be hypnotized but, at least in a formal psychotherapeutic setting, willingness to participate is – or at least makes it less of a tussle! Therapeutic hypnosis needs to be collaborative.
But one thing I’ve noticed from my experience is that people who are able to direct powerful concentration are often better hypnotic subjects. Or at least those with strong willpower are better able to enter hypnosis more quickly.
So what did I tell Jasmine?
Strong focus = good hypnotizability
The very same people who proudly proclaim, “I’m too strong-willed to be hypnotized!” might assume that low self-control would make such weak-willed individuals easier to hypnotize. But a capacity for absorption in an activity is a much better indicator of hypnotic capacity than willpower (or lack thereof).
I described how people who are the very best at something – whether in sport (she was a massive football fan), surgery, music, art, or anything else – are invariably great at focusing their minds strongly. They also tend to make great hypnotic subjects because they can direct that focused attention willingly.
I was careful to speak of “hypnotically talented” rather than “easily hypnotized” people – I wanted to associate hypnotizability with strength, not weakness.
Next I discussed how hypnosis is something that people really do for themselves. The hypnotist merely guides a person to discover, enlarge, and explore their own budding hypnotic abilities. I suggested to Jasmine that her subconscious mind was a huge potential source she could begin to tap into for her benefit.
She liked the idea that it was strong-minded and highly focused people who made better hypnotic subjects. But she wasn’t giving up on her beliefs just yet.
Look into my eyes and forget the clichés
“Mark, I just can’t stand being told what to do!”
“Me neither,” I said, “unless the person telling me has more experience in what they are talking about than I do.”
Actually, there are all kinds of indirect and conversational ways to help people explore their own hypnotic capacity despite what might seem like resistance. When we use conversational hypnosis we need not even address them directly at all.
When you use these hypnotic communication skills, you give people the opportunity to slide gently into the comforts and wonders of their own mind working for them – ‘on the same side’, as it were – rather than being pushed in through force.
Now it was time for a further reframe.
When are you going to use that strong will?
When challenged, rather than being mealy mouthed I’ve found it’s often best to meet the challenge with another challenge.
“You don’t like being told what to do?”
“That’s what I said!”
“Do you want to continue smoking?”
“So why don’t you use your magnificent strength of personality to stop being told what to do by a 70-millimetre-long cylinder of paper packed full of toxins?”
I sensed Jasmine was slightly shocked – a great precursor to hypnosis.
“Because my willpower isn’t strong enough! I’m addicted!”
“So do you want me to hypnotize you to strengthen your willpower so you can stand up to those conniving little cigarettes?”
I had reframed hypnosis not as some way of controlling her, but as a method through which she could gain control.
I felt she quite enjoyed being challenged back. Maybe it didn’t happen very often!
So I had:
- framed hypnosis as a way of focusing the mind powerfully, not as state of weakness;
- framed hypnosis as a way of increasing willpower rather than a state of diminished willpower; and
- focused any resistance away from me and hypnosis towards the cigarettes, which I suggested had been “pushing her around” for too long.
Throughout her hypnotic induction, I made suggestions that she could ‘powerfully’ direct her mind and will onto a time she’d been totally absorbed watching a football game. I suggested she had such strength of mind that she could relive the sensations of that time even in the here and now. That she could choose to pay attention to my words (consciously) or not.
So when someone trots out the old cliché about being too strong willed to be hypnotized, we can suggest that ‘strong will’ – a capacity to focus intently – is actually what really helps people help themselves during hypnosis.
Jasmine was happy that she could now link her need to feel ‘strong willed’ (which she was) to it being okay for her to enter trance, which she did – easily and deeply. And during hypnosis, we used her wonderfully muscular force of will for what it should have been used for all along: kicking out those life-stealing cigarettes.
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As our thousands of students have discovered over the years, Mark’s approach to hypnotherapy is very far indeed from the usual ‘you are getting sleepy’. Uncommon Hypnotherapy is an artful yet precise blend of solution focused psychotherapy and advanced communication techniques that works with over 99% of clients (in our experience). Learn more about Mark’s online hypnotherapy course here.
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