The Subconscious Mind

Question:

What do people really mean by the subconscious mind?

Answer:

In the 1880s hypnosis revealed that we were more than just our consciousness because something had to be guiding people’s behavior while they were hypnotized and not aware of the world around them.  It was called the unconscious mind or, as we now more commonly refer to it, the subconscious.  It had always been believed that the conscious mind made the decisions that directed our actions; but, in the past 35 years, research from cognitive neuroscience to social psychology, is demonstrating that the subconscious plays the dominant role.

Evolution-based studies show that we rely primarily on our subconscious mind to develop successful ways of surviving in an unpredictable world.  We learn in the form of habits, such as behaviors, values, and beliefs, from infancy on by copying how the people around us respond to specific stimuli in our environment.  Then we develop our own personal habits based on the unique events in our lives.  We usually don’t know that we are learning these responses.  As we grow older, we begin to learn other tasks consciously that are then completely taken over by the subconscious like reading or riding a bicycle.  While our knowledge grows, we develop an imagination to help us survive unanticipated situations.

When things in the outside world trigger specific reactions from our subconscious, the conscious mind thinks it has chosen to act or think certain thoughts, but they are actually initiated by the subconscious.  Though as a person matures, the conscious mind can control some actions stimulated by the subconscious, it has no power over the thoughts or emotions that have been triggered.  Deeply connected habits can be almost impossible to change despite logic, reason, or will power.  However, hypnosis is a method of directly contacting the subconscious and modifying the triggering process.

One way to take control of the subconscious mind is through hypnosis.  Hypnotic suggestions substitute the original habit for another, more desirable one, such as in smoking when being exposed to a cigarette no longer elicits a sense of attraction but makes the person feel disgusted.  The conscious mind is only aware of the change in its feelings, not the change in the subconscious mind that has created the new response.

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Why does it look like mind control when someone is under hypnosis?

Question:

Why does it look like mind control when someone is under hypnosis?   Niall Wade

Answer:

The reason people confuse hypnosis with things like mind control is that most people only see examples of hypnotized people in movies and on TV.  But those people aren’t really hypnotized; they’re actors pretending to be hypnotized.

Many years ago, when hypnosis first became popularly known, plays and books started distorting hypnosis to use it for dramatic purposes.  The hypnotist became a villain, often a wizard or vampire, who would use his “powers” to make the other characters do evil things like murder.  The actors’ faces look almost frozen, zombie-like — just like you think they would be if they were actually under someone else’s control and their own mind and will power have been taken away.  But this is all pretend.

If you want to see someone who is actually under hypnosis, you’ll notice that at stage hypnosis shows, people are usually slumped over in their chairs and they look like they are sleeping.

But in no way can any hypnotist or hypnotherapist ever make someone do anything that they personally believe is wrong.  A person’s moral, core beliefs are sacrosanct and cannot be affected or changed.  You can also never be made to do something that would hurt you personally.  Hypnosis consists of suggestions and the subconscious mind will always reject the dangerous ones.


How does hypnosis work?

Question:

I’ve been reading your site and was wondering exactly how hypnosis works.

Answer:

There are two parts to our minds, the conscious and the subconscious.  The conscious mind is our awareness, the thoughts and feelings we experience everyday.  It experiences the world based on what comes through our five senses during the time we are awake, but it doesn’t take everything in.  While we can control most of our actions and feelings through our conscious decision-making, we can’t always — such as when our will power is too weak to stop us from eating things we shouldn’t or emotions boil up that we have no control over.

Below that is our subconscious mind which we are not directly aware of except when thoughts “jump” into our mind.  This is where our imagination lies and is the seat of our creativity.  It registers all the information we receive more quickly and completely than the conscious mind, but without a sense of time, logic, or reasoning.  In it are established all our central beliefs, conditioning, and every kind of habit from behavioral to emotional.  Its processes are closely tied to the brain itself, which is why we sometimes call hypnosis “retraining the brain.”  Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious “thinks” in images.

When the client is in hypnosis, they are in a semi-awake state – a form of trance — where there is direct access to the subconscious, better known as suggestibility.  The hypnotherapist phrases his or her suggestions using the images and words he or she has discovered that are most meaningful to the client.  These go directly to the subconscious mind which, as long as it doesn’t violate the client’s core moral belief system and reinforces what the conscious mind wants to believe, is seen as true and accepted.   This then changes how the brain actually thinks so that it changes associations such as when cigarettes no longer seem pleasurable or comfortable, but make you feel sick.  Or instead of triggering a panic attack, a once fearful object creates feelings of calm and comfort.

What are the advantages in using hypnosis instead of medication for insomnia?

Question:

I’ve never had trouble sleeping in my life until we recently had a major shake-up where I work.  But even though things have pretty much calmed down, I still can’t seem to get more than four hours of sleep a night.  Half my friends say I should try hypnosis while the others say I should just see a doctor but I’m a little uncomfortable taking pills for what may be a long time.

Answer:

The main differences between hypnosis and medication is that hypnosis itself puts you in the state that occurs naturally starting about 30 minutes before you fall asleep.   That alone starts preparing your body for returning to your normal sleep pattern.  Your hypnotherapist will usually make suggestions and give you relaxation techniques that you will use that evening to put yourself back in hypnosis and your brain will start regaining its natural ability to quickly move from hypnosis to regular sleep with all the necessary stages of sleep.

Usually the process takes less than 4-8 sessions, especially if the problem began after something that temporarily changed a person’s routine.  Your case sounds very similar with a break in your your normal pattern and now you’re having difficulty getting back to your natural schedule.  This often occurs frequently after the holidays.

Doctors have to be very careful when prescribing sleep drugs.   No matter what other side-effect(s) they might have, all sleep medications can cause psychological dependence.

The newest type of drug imitates the actions of the brain hormone melatonin which is what normally regulates your sleep/wake cycle.  It may take as long as 10 days to become fully effective.  Side effects rarely occur, but they include the possibility of doing activities while quasi-asleep like driving, eating, and making phone calls at night and having no memory of them in the morning.  Mental changes can occur as well such as agitation, anxiety, nightmares, and other changes in your usual thoughts, mood, or behavior.

Older medications contain selective Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  GABA receptors work in the brain and affect levels of alertness.  These  are directed specifically at the receptor thought to affect sleep.  Side effects include memory problems and activities like sleep driving and sleepwalking.

Often people will use an over-the-counter allergy medicine.  Most contain diphenhydramine that works on the body’s histamines, which are what create cold and allergy symptoms.  Diphenhydramine also has a sedating effect, hence its use in sleep.  While it is efficacious with mild, infrequent insomnia, all histamines are known for creating morning grogginess.  Other side effects can include difficulty urinating and confusion or delirium.

While hypnosis’ greatest advantage may be that it has no side effects, because hypnosis has returned your brain to his normal sleep/wake cycle, you will continue your normal sleep schedule while, sometimes, stopping a sleep medication means that your sleeping problems may return.

What if things come up in hypnosis that I don’t want to know about or I’m not ready to deal with?

Question:

I had a really bad childhood and I don’t remember it all. What if stuff comes up during hypnotherapy that I don’t want to know about or I’m not ready to deal with?

Answer:

One of the advantages of hypnotherapy is that you and your hypnotherapist are always in control of the situation.  A difficult or painful memory will not come up until you are absolutely ready to — and want to — work with it.

Hypnotherapy’s object is to change behavior.  To do that we are changing habits by “retraining the brain.”  It doesn’t matter what caused the habit to change it.  Events like panic attacks can be removed without ever bringing up what caused them.  In any case, we always ask the subconscious first if it is ready to handle any memories and scary memories will never surface until you are ready for them.  When you are, we’ll examine the memory while keeping you completely blocked from the emotions.  You’ll know what you felt, but without feeling scared, pained, fearful, or any sort of negative emotion.  Then the emotions themselves are removed.  The memories remain, but not the emotions that used to be connected to them.

Phobias — Can hypnosis help me get rid of my fear of spiders and what’s it like?

Question:

I’m scared of spiders.  It used to be that if I saw one, I’d have a panic attack but now even a picture of a spider causes me to panic.  Can hypnosis help me?

Answer:

What you have is a phobia, specifically arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.  While fears and phobias are very similar, a fear is when you get panic attack symptoms that are triggered by something realistic while a phobia is when the panic attack is triggered by irrational and sometimes unknown factors.  Usually, as in your case, the phobia will become more and more easily triggered until it becomes a significant problem in everyday life.  However, for all the discomfort, a phobia is essentially a habit and very easy to handle in hypnosis.  At no point do we bring up the actual feeling of the panic so that the person feels completely safe and comfortable throughout the experience.

Phobias are usually created when someone experiences feeling panicked, terrified, physical pain, or the fear of impending danger and then associates it with something around them, whether or not what they’ve associated the feeling with caused or played a part in creating the negative feeling.  Very often the trigger is only marginally related to the original emotion.  Since you’ve been scared of spiders since childhood, chances are that it’s based on a psychological experience.  But phobias based on truly traumatic experiences, such as abuse or physical trauma are much rarer than people think.  You may have been scared by something other than the spider, saw a spider, and “pinned” the blame on it.  Maybe someone bullied you with a toy spider and you became scared of the toy and not the person.

However, phobias that develop in adulthood are quite often due not to something psychological, but physiological, i. e., due to hypoglycemia or a lack of sugar in one’s system.  This mimics a panic attack and the person associates that shakiness and panicky feeling with something around them.  People skip breakfast or eat poorly, get that panicky feeling later, and suddenly they begin to develop a phobia around whatever they were doing or where they were when the feeling hit them — driving, eating a specific food, or taking tests (when a person is already pretty nervous to begin with).

Ironically, for such a potentially life-disrupting condition, a phobia is fairly simple to manage.  The technique of systematic desensitization allows for the person to feel absolutely calm and then imagine that when they wake up they’ll no longer have any irrational responses to anything.  From then on when the trigger is referred to or seen they associate it with comfort and relaxation and the negative symptoms disappear.  The client is able to think about the phobia trigger and the fear is gone.

It will often take one to three sessions for a phobia to resolve.  A phobia that was produced by a significant trauma is very different since we need to diffuse the incident and all the additional damage it has caused.  This requires more time and may require working in partnership with a psychotherapist.

Hypnosis, Health, and Lifestyle

Question: 

I’m trying to get healthy but I’m always in a rush and fast food just seems like the easiest option.  Can hypnosis help me?

Answer:

Here we have a few goals to tackle — the first is to get you in control of your schedule so you can get everything you need done comfortably on time and we need to train you so that you no longer think of fast food as an option.  Schedules are fairly easy once we discover the right one and avoiding fast food isn’t so hard — imaging driving down a busy street and as far as you’re concerned you don’t see any place that has a drive-thru!

But the underlying issue is making you your first priority and taking control of your life.  Luckily, you wouldn’t be asking me this question if you didn’t know that you needed to make the change to a healthy lifestyle.

The way you get through the day is a series of habits and these ones are all relatively easy to change.  By the first session we’ll be finding convenient and creative ways to reaching your goals.  Making lunches and dinners over the weekend to take to work become second nature.  Just the thought of eating a fast-food burger becomes unpleasant once I link it to how every bite can be doing damage to your body.  And you won’t leave my office without beginning some sort of exercise regimen even if it’s just stepping side-to-side twenty minutes before you go to sleep at night.  We’ll come up with more and it shouldn’t be long before you’re living your life the way you want.

Can Hypnotherapy Help With Smoking?

Hypnosis is all about changing habits, getting your subconscious to stop associating something with a behavior that you don’t like — like smoking.

Question:

I cannot stop smoking and would like to know if hypnotherapy can work for me.     Sam

Answer:

In nearly every case, yes.  The techniques I use have about a 90% success rate and usually take from 2-8 sessions, depending on the situation.  Obviously, someone who has been smoking since they were ten takes longer than a 28 year-old who started in college.  Ultimately, however, the only deciding factor is if you are really ready to quit now.

First ask yourself “WHY DO I WANT TO QUIT?”  If the answer is that my doctor told me to or my wife did, it’s going to take longer because we’re going to be spending a few sessions getting you to want to quit for your own sake.

No matter what, smoking cessation will require you to do some work.  I’ll have you cutting down regularly, smoking in unfamiliar and uncomfortable places all while we replace the habit with something positive.   If you smoke for social reasons, I’ll teach you to be comfortable without anything in your hands.  Breakfast is coffee and a cigarette?  You need a better start in the morning to begin with and this is a great time to take control of your health in every way.  If your cigarette is your best friend, well, there are a lot healthier ones out there and we’ll find one you like even more.

We’ll need a check-in session three months after we’re done and three months but the six month can easily be done by phone.