Psychology

Hypnosis for Beginners – Day 1 – Words and Images

In which we explore some basic facts about the way in which the brain and body work. Specifically we see how words and images can activate other systems in the brain which relate to feelings, muscles, senses, sense of balance etc. These are compared with “tests of hypnotisability” and “hypnotic inductions”


 

ENTERTAINMENT hypnotists love to make hypnosis look dark and mysterious and complicated. They love to pretend that they have special powers that no-one else possesses.

I love to make things bright and clear and open, and I do not claim any special powers.

In this first chapter I am going to ask you to try out various things and to think about them. These things are simple and everyday, and will turn out to be not at all mysterious, and yet they are a foundation on which much of hypnosis is built.

Words can trigger pictures in your mind.
This must seem a pretty obvious fact. You need only think of reading a novel and remember the pictures that come to mind as you do so to realise the obvious truth of this. But it is still worth doing a little exercise on it, as follows.
First just think to yourself, “I am on holiday.” STOP NOW; did you see a picture of it in your mind? People vary, but it is unlikely, in the very short time I allowed you, that you saw anything very clearly. Now allow yourself more TIME.

vacationThink, “I am on holiday.” Pause. “It is my favourite kind of place.”
Pause. “The weather is just how I like it.” Pause. “I am wearing my favourite clothes.” Pause. “I am doing my very favourite thing.” Pause. “I am on holiday!”

In all probability that extra time was repaid by a very much more vivid picture or pictures in the mind. But it is best, especially if you are a student of hypnosis, to get someone else to do the same thing, perhaps with you saying the words: “Picture yourself on holiday.” Pause. “It is your favourite kind of weather.” etc.
In this way you will discover for yourself the fact that people can have quite different degrees of clarity of picture, and the pictures themselves can be quite different. I, for example, usually manage only rather washed out images.
The conclusions I would expect you to be able to agree with, after some experience, are the following simple ones.

  1. Words can lead to pictures in the mind.
  2. It takes a little time for them to arise.
  3. The time taken and their nature varies from person to person.

As a next little exercise explore the extent to which words can directly affect muscles without going via the usual volitional process of willing an action.
two-hands-facing-left-handHold your arms straight ahead of you with the palms facing each other and a couple of centimeters apart.
Look at the gap and say “Close… Close… Close…” repeatedly at a comfortable speed.
A typical result is that over a period of a minute or so the hands do move together until they touch. To check this try it on other people (for students it is essential that you do). In that case you can speak the words as you both watch the hands.
In this way you will discover that there is again a range of responses. An average closure time is a couple of minutes. In some people it will happen in seconds. In others nothing seems to happen before you run out of patience. Occasionally someone will resist and there will develop a trembling in the arms as one set of muscles acts to pull the hands together and another acts to separate them. Another rarer response is for the hands to fly apart. But in each case you or your friends should find a strange feeling of things happening which are not willed.
The conclusions I would expect you to be able to agree with are the following simple ones.

  1. Words can lead directly to muscular action.
  2. It takes a little time for this to happen.
  3. The time taken and the nature varies from person to person.
  4. It makes little difference who is saying the words.
Itchy Nose Hypnosis Experiment
Itchy Nose Hypnosis Experiment

As a third example you might see how words can lead to activity in the sense of touch. In particular they can make an itch arise.
All you do is to repeat to yourself. “There is something itchy on my nose.” Pause. “There is something itchy on my nose.” Pause, and repeat for up to a couple of minutes. Then repeat the same thing with others, with either the person or you saying the words. The most likely result is for an itch to be reported and perhaps scratched within that time, but again you should find considerable variation. The time taken will vary from seconds to longer than the time allowed. Some people will find an irresistible urge to scratch because the feeling is so intense. For others it will be quite mild. Oddly enough in some people the itch may arise somewhere other than the nose. But as a result of these experiences I expect that you will be able to agree with the simple observations:

  1. Words can lead directly to sensory impressions.
  2. It takes a little time for this to happen.
  3. The time taken and their nature varies from person to person.
  4. It makes little difference who is saying the words.

In the above three examples we have started with words. Now move on to see the effect of mental pictures. Here is a way of seeing if a picture can lead directly to a muscular action. Let your hand rest freely on a surface such as table, chair-arm or your leg. Picture a thread tied to the end of your index finger. Picture the other end of the thread being held by someone you like, whose hand is about a metre above yours. They are trying to lift your finger without you feeling the thread at all. Keep the picture in your mind for a few minutes, closing your eyes if it helps you to picture things.
A typical response is for nothing to happen for a while, and then the finger starts to twitch slightly and then slowly to lift up into the air. (This type of response is sometimes called “finger levitation” in books on hypnosis.)

Again students especially should try this out on others in various ways. You can ask them to repeat it as you have done it. Or you can be the “friend” lifting the finger by means of an imaginary thread which you are holding. You can expect to find that the time taken varies, and the nature of the movement can also vary from very jerky to very smooth. In some cases there may be a sideways movement rather than a vertical one. At the end of a series of such trials you can decide if you agree that:

  1. Mental pictures can lead directly to muscular activity.
  2. It takes a little time for this to happen.
  3. The time taken and the nature varies from person to person.

Now how about seeing if pictures can give rise to feelings. When you consider the billions of dollars made by a film industry whose main purpose is to create images that will arouse emotions of a variety of kinds, it should not be very surprising that this can happen. But it is as well to try something on the following lines to explore the ways in which internally generated mental images can do the same thing.

kg-faves-sexy-girls-romantic-woman-more-Apr-4-Hold-arena-sexy-hot-romantic-sex-nude-Couple-erotic-ass-naked-sensual-embrace-sexual-MORENNA-NicePics-For-Arena_largeThe simple approach is to picture a person or situation that normally arouse strong feelings in you. The person could perhaps be someone that you hate or love or fear. The situation could perhaps be one that you find erotic or embarrassing or exciting or frightening. In any case after you have decided on ONE (do not jump about) keep the picture or pictures of your chosen topic in front of your mind for a minute or two. As usual students should also get a number of other people to do the same exercise.

The normal reaction is for a quickening of the breath and an increase in heart rate and adrenaline production together with the particular sensations associated with the particular emotion that you have chosen. You are likely to find that different people respond in a range of ways. In some there is only a very slight effect. In others it can be quite dramatic and rapid. The scenes chosen will of course also be very different.

At the end of this you should have been able to confirm for yourself that:

  1. Mental pictures can lead directly to emotional activity.
  2. It takes a little time for this to happen.
  3. The time taken and their nature varies from person to person.

Sitting-Chair-Hammock-Big-Sur-e1336321916166Now we might try the effect of a picture on a sense: perhaps asking if a mental image can affect the sense of balance. The following is one possible way. Think of a situation in which you are rocking or swinging, such as in a small boat, a hammock, a swing, a rocking chair, a rocking horse and so on. Sit comfortably upright and picture the chosen situation for a few minutes (closed eyes should make this easier). Notice any sensations of movement. You can try a similar thing on others. You should not be surprised by now to find people responding differently. Some will not only feel themselves moving but you will also see their bodies move. At the other extreme some will report nothing. Again check to see if your experiences confirm the ideas that:

  1. Mental pictures can stimulate activity in the sense of balance.
  2. It takes a little time for this to happen.
  3. The time taken and their nature varies from person to person.

At this stage the pattern should be quite clear. It amounts simply to this. Activity in one part of the brain (verbal, visual in the examples we have done) can lead to activity in other parts (in the above examples: visual, emotional, nerves leading to muscles, from the senses). The speed and nature of the connection varies from person to person.
As a final explicit example here I would like you to explore the following connection. It leads from the kinaesthetic sense (a sense of position and movement – of arm in this case) to the involuntary activation of some arm muscles.
Simply get your friend to close his or her eyes. (So that they cannot see what is happening, and so vision should not be involved.) Then without saying anything (so that words are not involved), simply lift up one arm slowly and lightly by the wrist until it is being held in space. You then gently move it up and down very slightly and lightly, so that the arm is given quite strong sense that it somehow “should” be in that position.
You should find that over a minute or so the arm starts to feel lighter and lighter as its own muscles take over the job of keeping it floating in the air. Eventually you should be able to leave it there and it should remain there with no effort or complaint from your friend for some considerable time.
Expect, as always, the usual finding that the effect happens, takes time and varies from person to person.

If you would like to experiment with other connections then note that for some people the following are easy connections, and we can expect that they are possible in most of us, though with more or less ease. A musical sound can activate a picture. A taste can activate a picture or a word. A number can link to a colour. A colour can link to a feeling. A feeling (e.g. of fear) can activate the digestive system and lead to nausea. A touch (as of an animals fur) can arouse a feeling of pleasure or of fear (in different people).
The total list is very long, depending on how finely we discriminate the different mental systems. For example vision can be subdivided broadly into perception of shape, of colour, of movement, and some people (painters?) will find it easier to trigger off a perception of colour than of speed while for others (racing drivers?) it will be the reverse.

But each of these divisions can be subdivided. For example the part of the visual system that deals with shapes can distinguish the shape of a dog from that of a cat.
There are people for whom one of these shapes links to the emotion of fear while the other links to the emotion of love.

THE KEY FEATURES THAT IT SEEMS TO ME COMES OUT OF THESE SIMPLE EXAMPLES IS THAT THE HUMAN BRAIN IS VERY COMPLICATED, WITH MANY PARTS OR SUBSYSTEMS. FURTHERMORE EACH OF THESE IS POTENTIALLY ABLE TO AFFECT OR ACTIVATE THE OTHERS. BUT EACH INDIVIDUAL PERSON HAS THE SUBSYSTEMS CONNECTED IN A SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT WAY.

What is the use of considering the simple examples above?
red-kneed-spider_mainIt is twofold. The first is that it gets us into a way of thinking that is very valuable when it comes to analysing and solving a person’s problems. A phobia, for example, can be understood as the existence in a particular person of a connection between the picture or idea of something and the emotional system of fear. If the idea becomes active in the mind then it activates the fear. Notice that as in the above examples we would not expect the link to be the same for everyone: people vary tremendously. In order to do anything about this it is best to start with a clear idea of what exactly the nature of the connection is.

As another example of a similar thing, think of the way in which in some people it is possible using hypnotic techniques to help them to overcome an unwanted habit of smoking by connecting the thought or smell or taste of tobacco smoke with the activation of the nausea response. “The very sight or smell of a cigarette will make you sick.” This can be made so clear and strong in some people that it is more than enough to ensure that they stop smoking. It should be clear that the creation of such a connection is very similar to the sort of thing that you have already explored in this section.

You might perhaps say to a friend who smokes. “Experience as clearly as possible the most significant aspect of smoking to you.” (For some it would be a picture, for others a taste or a smell, or the sense of holding one in fingers or mouth, or of the feeling in throat, or lungs or body.) “Then just notice if this leads to a sensation of nausea.” You then need only say enough to keep their minds on the possible association for a minute or two. Then, as in the other little things we have done, you will find some smokers experiencing a strong feeling of nausea, others a mild one and others none at all in the time.
With the first class of people the experience can be strong enough to significantly reduce their desire to smoke even if they do not stop. Although we will later find ways of intensifying this sort of thing, you should by now see something of the value of starting with the simple approach of this article.
I said that there are two reasons for looking at these simple phenomena. The second is that they, or things like them, appear in older books on hypnosis in one of a number of guises. The two chief ones are as parts of an “Induction Procedure” or as “Tests of Hypnotisability”.
I will discuss these different ways of looking at them so that you may compare those views with what I am terming the Morganic approach.
It can be helpful to know that in the past there were two schools of thought about hypnotic phenomena which were labeled “State” and “Trait”. Those who belonged to the State school maintained that hypnosis was a “state” that people could be “put into”. I suppose that they thought of it as being like a “state of sleep” or a “state of fear”. This approach naturally encouraged you to think of what the hypnotist had to do in order to put someone into that state. And each hypnotist or hypnotherapist had his (or, very rarely, her) own procedure, which consisted of stringing together a number of steps each of which was an item of the kind mentioned above, or of a slightly different class that we will meet in the next article.
A hypnotist might start by using words to act directly on the muscles of clasped hands to make them lock together. He might follow this up by getting someone to stand vertically and then acting on the sense of balance to make them feel that they were falling, while simultaneously using words to activate all the muscles of the body to make it rigid. He would then catch them and lower them, rigid, to the floor.
Further steps were taken of a similar kind. The cumulative effect would be to create and enhance the idea in the mind of the “subject” that they would do whatever he said. This then made it possible for the hypnotist to suggest increasingly amusing responses. (It is perhaps worth noticing that he would never, however, have the power that the army sergeant achieves over months of training: HE can use one word to get a man to walk forward into a hail of death-dealing bullets.)
Opposed to the State theorists were the Trait theorists who said that far from it being the case that power lay in the hypnotist, all that was happening was that a natural capacity or trait in the subject was involved. On this view hypnotisability is something like introversion, or IQ, or musical ability: it is something that pertains to an individual, and can be measured by various tests. And what are those tests?

Well, they turned out to be the same sort of thing that we have seen above. A typical Test would consist of a short sequence of items of this kind, and a scoring method: “Score 1 if the hand move significantly together within 2 minutes.” People who collected a high score on such a test were regarded as being very hypnotisable. Those with a low score were regarded as being poorly hypnotisable. If you are interested in more detail you can find an example of such a test given in Chapter 8 of The Principles.
Entertainment hypnotists, a band not renowned for their interest in theory, acted as if they came from both camps. In the earlier steps of their acts they would use one item – usually the one of forcing hands to stay clasped – to select from the audience those who they could expect to make the best subjects.
Implicitly this is saying, “I can’t do anything without a good subject.” But then they proceed as if, “This is all my doing. I am putting you into a state of hypnosis through my power.”
In recent decades the State vs. Trait argument has died down, with neither side having won a victory.
Most practicing hypnotherapists would accept that there is some truth on both sides and get on with their main job of helping people.

You can now compare the two ideas above with my pragmatic view that it is totally normal for the many subsystems of the brain and nervous system to be interconnected in different ways and at different times. If you want to say that that it is a trait of a given person that a particular pair of subsystems interact in a particular way, then I would largely agree. You will have observed some of this. I would, however, argue that since it is possible to learn to alter the nature of the connections, the trait cannot be regarded as fixed.
If on the other hand you want to call what happens when a particular collection of subsystems is active “an hypnotic state” then I would not mind, though I would simply note that it has proved impossible to find ONE such collection, so that you have simply found one of many possible “hypnotic states”. In practice I avoid the use of the word “state” myself because of this vagueness, preferring to be more precise and instead to describe what is happening in a particular person at a particular time by as detailed
a list as possible of what systems are active and inactive, and how they are interconnected.

There IS a family resemblance in what is going on in the minds of people who are regarded as being “hypnotised” and that is characterised by the fact that most of the systems that deal with the outside world are inactive and that there is a tight focus on those internal systems that remain active. However this is a broad generalisation not a precise definition. Within this broad generalisation you can have people who are in fact aware of intense internal pictures, perhaps of the past, or of a part of their body
(one client of mine saw himself walking through his soot-caked lungs), or of certain sensations, or of feelings, or of the absence of sensations, or of floating, or of nothing except my voice, or of scents, or of a dead relative and so on. The brain waves of such people will be quite different; their experiences will be quite different; their internal chemistry will be quite different. There is too little that they have in common to make is very useful to use just the one word to describe them.

Nevertheless the generalisation that they all tend to have a focused or limited awareness compared with normal, outward oriented functioning makes a useful step towards the matter of the next chapter. You have probably already noticed in the above experiences that they are most effective if the mind is focused. If there are no distracting thoughts. If there is nothing else distracting happening. In other words it is best if there is no other mental activity. If other mental and physical activity is switched down or off.

In the next article we will be exploring in the same practical way examples of this to complete our survey of the elementary building blocks of the practice of hypnosis: the fact that changes in the activity in one subsystem can lead not only to an increase in the activity of another, but also to a decrease.

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