When I tell people I am a hypnotist I get 2 reactions. The first is of intrigue and interest. People ask me if I will hypnotize them and are generally excited to learn more. The second group of people are the skeptics. Many of these people have either seen or heard about stage shows with people being manipulated to do silly things. Interested or skeptical, I appreciate both sorts of conversations because it gives me an opportunity to find different ways to explain and make sense out of hypnosis.
I understand the word “hypnosis” carries a lot of myth and magic behind it, but the reality is that we are being hypnotized every day whether we like it or not. To give one example, religion is the ultimate form of hypnosis. Even before we had organized religion, tribes were dancing around fires and chanting to the spirits to evoke different feelings. These rituals made people feel connected to each other; as well as to something greater than themselves. As I am writing this, I am currently traveling around the world and have been in Mexico for the last month. Mexico is 80% Catholic and they take their religion very seriously. The churches and holidays are filled with rituals and family/community gatherings. It is apparent how important it is for people to have ways to connect with one another; as well as to feel their lives have purpose. Catholicism gives people a structured way for finding peace, purpose and connection. Cathedrals are grand and breathtaking and use all the senses (from the burning of incense, chamomile flowers and mint; to the music, and meditation in the form of prayer) to draw you into the experience. In addition, having a community of people that are united by shared beliefs is also a truly powerful and persuasive aspect of the religion.
The interesting thing about hypnosis and religion is that in both, your beliefs drive your experience. When you are in a place of worship, some people experience something holy. This feels very real and many would say that it is. I am definitely not here to argue the validity of religion, but I think we can agree that belief systems cannot be scientifically proven. You cannot cut a belief out of you and put it in a petri dish to study it. A belief is both real and not real, tangible and intangible. It is the same with hypnosis in that when you allow yourself to imagine an experience and feel the emotional sensations in your body, you are experiencing something both real and not real at the same time. It is a real feeling, but one that you have manufactured in your mind.
For skeptics who don’t think it’s possible to manipulate your physical experiences using your mind, I’ll elaborate. When someone has anxiety, it is often because he/she is thinking about an event that may happen in the future, and imagining it to be challenging or uncomfortable. The future hasn’t happened yet, so we really have no idea about how it will actually show up, yet we can experience anxiety as very real. It is actually a figment of our imagination, yet powerfully affects how we feel.
The beauty of hypnosis in therapy, which is different than its applications in religion, politics or sales, is that the outcome of a session is open-ended. A true hypnotist will not try to direct you into thinking or believing anything. His or her goal is to guide clients to the outcome they desire for themselves, which can look like them taking control over their anxiety, letting go of negative habits (smoking, overeating, nail biting), improving their performance abilities, and/or letting go of fear. These are all examples of mental constructs that we can make manifest in the real world.
Since we are making this all up anyway with the thoughts/beliefs we choose, let’s decide to create what serves us. Just like your religious beliefs can inspire you in healthy, positive and productive ways, we can all empower our selves by choosing new beliefs that serve us. We are all under the influence of persuasion/hypnosis (through stories we hear, shows we watch, advertising, etc.), so let’s use the tool of our imagination to help ourselves have more choice in the way we live life, rather than leaving it up to someone else to tell us what to do or think.