Hypnosis is a very simple and easy-to-explain psychological phenomena – yet often it is wrongly portrayed as some sort of black magick or false mysticism. This lack of a fair representation leaves many to throw “hypnotic wisdom” aside as mere fantasy or hogwash; and those who have been hypnotized we typically think of as weak-minded or gullible. But in fact none of this is true.
I hope to take a short few minutes of your time to debunk some of these myths surrounding hypnosis and hopefully leave you with a clearer understanding of what this is phenomena is really all about.
Before I proceed with debunking these myths, let me first give a quick definition of what I believe hypnosis really is:
Hypnosis is a set of effective communication techniques (often through the use of direct or indirect “suggestions”) for shaping one’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.
Despite this broad-sounding definition, this is what hypnosis is in a nutshell. Now let’s get started.
MYTH 1: Hypnosis is a state of consciousness
Hypnosis is not at all related to any particular state of consciousness. The reason people confuse hypnosis as a state of consciousness is because we often associate the techniques of hypnosis as leading to a half-sleep and half-awake state. We picture patients lying on leather sofas with their eyes closed and their awareness facing inwards to their “subconscious.”
But the fact of the matter is hypnosis can be used to expand awareness just as effectively as it can be used to contract awareness.
A perfect example of hypnosis operating at “normal” consciousness is stage hypnosis. When a participant clucks like a chicken, or acts out a scene in Saving Private Ryan – it is not that the individual is unconscious and being pulled by his or her strings like a stuffed puppet – they are just in a situation where they are comfortable acting out behaviors they normally wouldn’t do in front of a crowd. They are not being “controlled” by the hypnotist – they are just being communicated to very effectively. The participants free will is still in-tact throughout the whole session. A participant can bring his or her self out of hypnosis whenever they choose, but why would they when they are having so much fun playing pretend?
MYTH 2: All hypnosis is “playing pretend.”
During stage hypnosis, participants are well aware that they are not actually a chicken or that they are not actually in the movies. They know they are acting (it just so happens hypnosis can make people into good actors).
But not all hypnosis can be considered “playing pretend.” It depends on the nature of the suggestions given. If a suggestion is to “cluck like a chicken” then the patient will act it out. If the suggestion is “think of a time in your past where you felt really confident” – that is not playing pretend – the patient really is thinking about it and associating themselves into that time where they were really confident.
I agree with hypnotists who believe that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. This means that a hypnotist cannot typically trick someone into doing something against their own will. There is always compliance on both sides of the interaction. The only difference is hypnotists can evoke unusual or non-ordinary behaviors if they discover the right mode of communication.
MYTH 3: Scientific studies claim that only 5% of the population is suggestible to hypnosis.
This is partly true: scientific studies do often claim that only 5-10% of the population is suggestible to hypnosis. But these studies are largely flawed because researchers only test participants with common hypnotic inductions and generic hypnosis scripts. Hypnosis doesn’t work in a one-size-fits-all kind of way though (because its effectiveness comes from the use of our own personal and unique associations and understanding of language)…
A real hypnotist has the ability to read his patient, stray away from generic scripts, and discover the language most suggestible to that particular patient.
There are even techniques in NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming –a practice that could be considered “modern day hypnosis”) that allows NLP practitioners to discover a person’s language tendencies (sometimes referred to as “trance words” or “key words”) simply by asking the patient a series of questions.
In other words, with the right hypnotist and the right communication – anyone is suggestible to hypnosis.
MYTH 4: Hypnosis is similar to meditation
This is a common misunderstanding. Again – hypnosis is a set of communication techniques, while meditation is a more specific practice that is more linked with one’s state of awareness or mindfulness.
One can however use hypnosis techniques to aid a meditative practice. What is often called “Guided Meditation” could be considered a form of hypnosis, and one could also use a degree of self-hypnosis (meaning no third party guidance) to expand or contract awareness into a particular meditative state.
But again, hypnosis is not about a personal’s mental state – it is about an expression of ideas or suggestions.
At times, a particular mental state can be more conducive to learning. That is why often hypnotherapist choose to put their patients into a relaxed state before getting into the bulk of their session. People that are relaxed are commonly feel more refreshed, can concentrate more, improve their cognitive abilities, and therefore are faster learners.
Stage hypnotists don’t put want to put their participants into relaxed states, however. That would be a boring show. Instead, they usually want to instill some excitement or a sense of adventure – similar to the mood a child would be in.
MYTH 5: Highway hypnosis
Highway hypnosis, as defined by Wikipedia, says,
Highway hypnosis is a mental state in which the person can drive a truck or automobile great distances, responding to external events in the expected manner with no recollection of having consciously done so. In this state the driver’s conscious mind is apparently fully focused elsewhere, with seemingly direct processing of the masses of information needed to drive safely. ‘Highway Hypnosis’ is just one manifestation of a relatively commonplace experience, theoretically where the conscious and subconscious minds appear to concentrate on different things; workers performing simple and repetitive tasks and people deprived of sleep are likely to experience similar symptoms. Therefore, it is a sort of subconscious “driving mode.”
Again, you may already be able to guess what is wrong with this definition: hypnosis is not a mental state!
Highway hypnosis decribes a trance state (it is a shift away from “everyday” awareness). There is no communication going on, and therefore – no hypnosis. Another similar (and just as natural) trance state is when you get so absorbed in a movie that you lose track of the time.
It is easy to see how these states can be confused with hypnosis because hypnosis usually likes to replicate these trance states in order to increase suggestibility (but remember: if there are no suggestions being communicated – then it is not hypnosis).
MYTH 6: Hypnosis is not a real catalyst for physical or chemical changes in the body.
Actually even just for the simple fact that the brain is made up of electro-chemical neurons which shoot off between 50-200 times per second makes anything a potential catalyst for a chemical change in the body. All we need to do is think about something and our brain chemistry is altered.
But more practically people want to know if hypnosis can actually result in bodily changes like an increase/decrease in weight, the building of muscle, or even an increase in breast/penis size. Typically, the answer is “yes, to some extent” to all of these question.
Hypnosis can not make your body do something it isn’t already capable of doing naturally on its own. But hypnosis has been proven to help guide the body through certain changes through the use of suggestion for both behavioral changes (such as eating less, motivation to go to the gym) and even direct changes in the body (changes in metabolism, time it takes muscles to repair, and there have even been cases of improvements in vision, and yes, penis and breast size growth – hypnosis has been show to be particularly good with directing substantial changes in soft tissue).
Remember: hypnosis is helpful at making changes towards the body’s maximum potential – it does not allow you to transcend your biological disposition through some “mystical fashion.” Although there is a good chance hypnosis will reveal things about your body that you were previously unaware of.
MYTH 7: You shouldn’t try hypnosis without a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist.
Most trained hypnotists and hypnotherapists would tell you that you should always seek a professional. But it would be hypocritical of me to say you have to do this since I am completely self taught. In fact, I believe everyone should teach themselves a bit of hypnosis so they can check out and see the potential for themselves.
Hypnosis is a natural phenomenon – it is your natural right to explore it and to also explore the mind/body as a whole. There are plenty of books, podcasts, and videos to get you started with practicing hypnosis – experiment with as many as you want, get a feel for the difference in techniques, and begin to discover the fundamental principles of what makes a hypnotist flexible and effective.
I would recommend you begin with practicing self-hypnosis techniques. Nothing too advanced. Just practice inducing yourself through hypnotic suggestion into a state of relaxation or a light trance.
You can also practice by reading generic scripts to a friend or family member and having them read some to you as well. They aren’t the most effective things in the world but that usually makes them harmless and easy to practice with.
Search free hypnosis scripts on Google and check out some of the simple scripts for things like “Confidence” or “Relaxation.”
Don’t take the beginning of your studies too seriously, just get a feel for the different stages of a hypnosis session: inductions, scripts, how to appropriately come out of a session.
Hypnosis usually evokes a pleasant experience, but sometimes things go awry. Be familiar with how to end sessions quickly if you find yourself steering down a bad path, especially before you dive into some of the more advanced techniques like adjustments in our belief systems or the fundamentals of our character.
I hope this gives you a clearer idea of really what this hypnosis stuff is all about.