How Does Self Hypnosis Work?
There’s an old Chinese proverb that states: “One picture is worth a thousand words.” In conveying suggestions to the subconscious, we have found that picture images are more effective than the words that are implanted. For example, it isn’t sufficient to say, “I will be confident.” The words must be augmented by a picture of yourself as the confident person you want to be. If you say, “I can’t visualize myself as a confident person because I have never been that way,” you can “borrow” those personality traits that you want for yourself. Imagine yourself endowed with the characteristics of some confident person that you know. The qualities that you seek may even be borrowed from a famous person. If this isn’t possible, make up a personality which is a composite of all the things you want to be. See yourself walking, talking and carrying on activities. Keep fortifying this image with the mental suggestions that are needed. It won’t be long before these mental impressions give rise to the confident feelings that you seek. As you keep implanting these images, they will become a natural part of your conscious personality.
Dr. S. J. Van Pelt, president of the British Society of Medical Hypnotists and editor of the British Journal of Medical Hypnotism, writes about this technique in his book, Secrets of Hypnotism. He calls it “‘3-D’ Technique in Medical Hypnotherapy.” As you read the following paragraph, it would be well to remember that it contains the essence of making the self-hypnosis technique work once you have achieved the hypnotic state, per se. Incidentally, the same procedure can be used in attaining the hypnotic state itself. You see yourself entering the state of hypnosis in your initial attempts. This, in turn, sets up a conditioned response and a favorable emotional reaction which is necessary.
“The writer has found (visualization) of the greatest value in the re-education of the patient, which is an essential part of hypnotherapy. In this method, after the cause of the trouble has been discovered and as a part of his re-education, the patient is instructed while under only light hypnosis to ‘form a picture’ in his mind. He is asked to imagine a movie screen and to see himself ‘just like an actor’ on this screen playing a part. He is told that the picture looks ‘very real’—’3-D’ in fact—and that he can see himself acting and looking the way he really wants to look and act. Various scenes are suggested such as … the patient will have to face in real life. In each he is instructed to see himself—’as in real life’—always succeeding. For instance, the stammerer might be asked to picture himself speaking easily to people, and feeling perfectly at ease. The patient is also instructed how to form these ‘success pictures’ for himself, and it is stressed that he will only be able to see himself as he wants to be—successful. Since the pictures give rise to the appropriate feelings, it is not long before the patient begins to show the benefit of his private ‘3-D’ film shows.”
After explaining this technique to students, many have inquired, “Is that all there is to it? It seems so simple.” Of course, there is more to it in that the individual must follow through with the instruction. This is one of the difficult aspects of this type of program. Let me enumerate some of the problems I have encountered in teaching self-hypnosis.
As mentioned, one of the difficulties is that the technique seems too simple. Students become skeptical. They feel it should be more complicated and involved in order to get results. I suppose people better appreciate something that comes only after a hard struggle. This procedure is devoid of this. Of course, I am not saying that once a person begins to use this technique his problems will automatically vanish and his life will be cheery forever after. We have been conditioned to think that success in anything can only come after a long, hard struggle. This is the basic theme of the American way of life. We have been accustomed to believe that conflict and struggle are part of life and large doses of it are necessary before we achieve success in any field. I can only reiterate that the information contained in this book is all you need to get results. It is necessary that you follow through and not give up after you have tried the program for a short while and have obtained no appreciable results. This brings us to another point.
Many persons expect immediate results when they begin to use self-hypnosis. If they don’t get the results they anticipated immediately, they want to know “what’s wrong?” My answer is usually that “nothing is wrong” and that they need only keep steadily applying the instructions. Certainly, one doesn’t become a proficient typist, musician, actor or sportsman because he has mastered the basic techniques. It takes time to acquire proficiency.
Let me assure you that anyone using and applying this technique can benefit from it. One of the troubles in dealing with any problem is routing defeatism and hopelessness. You can incorporate posthypnotic corrective measures in the suggestions that you give yourself. However, I believe that they must be dealt with on a conscious level as well. You must believe that you can conquer your difficulties no matter how long you have had them. If you are prepared to work with self-hypnosis in an unremitting manner, you will achieve the self-help that you seek. Now and then, you can anticipate a setback in your progress, but this needn’t discourage you from your overall task. Recount the progress already made. If you have a “let-down” because you expected quicker and more dramatic results, remember that this is a common feeling shared by many with emotional problems. Remember, also, how long you have had the problem.
No doubt, you have tried other methods and became discouraged because you weren’t making the progress you had anticipated. You dropped the idea and landed back where you started. Make up your mind, consciously, that you will work with untiring sincerity and a perseverance that will not falter because your chosen goal is not achieved immediately. I know of no therapy that leads straight to positive results without obstacles and intermittent failure. Success comes in spite of intervening failures because the ultimate direction has been clearly thought out and charted. Self-hypnosis will finally work because you are constantly conditioning your subconscious to react in a positive, constructive manner. The program must, of necessity, become automatic in nature. When it does, you will suddenly find yourself feeling the way you wanted to and doing the things that you set out to do with the aid of self-hypnosis. You actually cultivate those feelings that you want.
Hypnosis will not work with skeptics. Every so often such a person comes to my office seeking help. He tells me that his family physician or his spouse feels he should take my course in self-hypnosis. I inquire if he feels he might benefit from the course. If his answer is not positive, and if after talking to him at length about the benefits of hypnosis, I still feel he is not ready for the course, I suggest another mode of treatment for him. The reason for this is that unless the person is optimistic and enthusiastic about self-hypnosis, it just isn’t going to work as effectively as it would otherwise. The very nature of a skeptical attitude limits the constructive forces that we wish to harness.
Occasionally, individuals want indisputable proof that hypnosis is going to help them. It is impossible to give them the proof and unqualified reassurance that they seek. Yet, these same people do not require proof from their physicians. No one can guarantee success. However, I do point out that the continued and intelligent use of self-hypnosis can be instrumental in directing the healing, curative, constructive forces of nature.
Many times, a metaphysical rather than a scientific approach is required. It’s a matter of trying to satisfy the patient’s needs. At times, it is helpful to allow the patient to attend a class in self-hypnosis. Being able to communicate and identify with other individuals seeking self-hypnosis often is enough to change his attitude. This is especially true when one or more of the students relates dramatic changes.
Self-hypnosis works because we are able to condition ourselves to various stimuli. We condition ourselves consciously and unconsciously to many activities. When we experience anxiety, it stems from a conditioning process which could have been conscious or unconscious. In self-hypnosis, the individual consciously works toward implementing and strengthening his own inherent strength and resources. These objectives, when attained, result in feelings of confidence, relaxation, self-mastery and well-being.
Furthermore, hypnosis utilizes a natural mental process. We all know that placebos work admirably in numerous cases. The dictionary defines the word placebo as, “an inactive substance or preparation, administered to please or gratify a patient, also used in controlled studies to determine the efficiency of medicinal substances.” Many controlled experiments have shown that people achieve similar results whether they take a placebo (which they think is the real medication) or real medication that was prescribed. Several years ago many such tests were carried out with antihistamines to prevent colds. The results were always the same.
We are interested in what makes the placebo act as effectively as the true medication. It stands to reason that a chain reaction is set up, actually causing a physiological result from a psychological reaction. The unsuspecting patient declares, “I’ve never felt so good in my life.” Yet, this would never have happened if he didn’t think he was taking the marvelous new medicine. A recent scientific study by one of the leading pharmaceutical houses concluded that one third of the effectiveness of any medication depends upon the faith and trust that the patient has in the prescribing physician.
I am sure that the placebo results and the patient’s faith in the physician as contributing factors to the effectiveness of medications do not come as a revelation. We are all aware of such information. Our problem is how to harness this unconscious process for constructive goals. The answer is through self-hypnosis.
Self-hypnosis, as we have explained it, uses a technique called visual-imagery. This has been referred to by many different names, but for our purposes we’ll call it visual-imagery. Within this technique lies one of the keys for achieving the goals that you want. There have been many famous books written incorporating this technique as a basis for achievement. Perhaps the most famous of all is called, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
In recent years, The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol and The Power of Positive Thinking, already mentioned, have become well-known. The book which gives direction to most of the books in this field is called, Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion,by Dr. Emile Coué. I am sure the older readers of this book have heard of his famous saying, which I will repeat here for emphasis. “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” Invariably, in all these books, there is reference to the Biblical quotation, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
As the reader can deduce, we are not theorizing about a startling new discovery. The technique is as ancient as man himself and his dream of a better tomorrow. All books using the visual-imagery technique tell you to paint a vivid, mental picture of the material things you wish to acquire, if it is a case of material wealth. For personal improvement, they tell you to paint a vivid picture of the individual you want to be. In most cases, you are told to do this in a relaxed or meditative state with as few distractions as possible. The next two requirements are constant repetition (conditioning) and a “burning desire” (motivation) to achieve what you set out to do.
Aren’t these books really talking about self-hypnosis? Aren’t they describing precisely the techniques of self-hypnosis? The terminology is different, but the approach is the same. With these techniques there is an aim to direct thinking, mental imagining, positive thinking, suggestions and constructive thoughts or images to the “inner self” or “real self.” Aren’t they once again really talking about the subconscious mind? I have no argument with any workable approach to emotional maturity, but in many cases we are actually becoming involved with the meaning of words (semantics). The quickest way to the subconscious is through self-hypnosis. In this self-hypnotic state, you are able to consciously direct suggestions to your subconscious mind.