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What Does Hypnosis Feel Like?

Question:

What does being hypnotized feel like?

Answer:

Every human being has gone into hypnosis regularly since they were born.  Hypnosis is that state that begins approximately thirty minutes before you fall asleep and that you can go back into for thirty minutes after you wake up.  You also enter it when you’re absorbed in reading or watching a movie or TV.  It’s that completely relaxed and comfortable state in which you become less connected to the outer world and begin moving towards that vagueness that precedes sleep.

Your body is as deeply relaxed as your mind.  Sometimes you feel like you’re floating; sometimes you don’t feel anything at all.  One client describes it as a “dream-like state of mind.”  Others talk about being very calm and that, sometimes, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience – except that you always know exactly where you are and feel absolutely safe and secure.  Others just feel relaxed and nothing unusual.   These people are often not sure they’ve even been under hypnosis — until I remind them that their hand rose off the table simply because I suggested it did or they saw the images we developed with peculiar visual, auditory, and emotional clarity.

But, even in the deepest state of hypnosis, you can always hear everything the hypnotherapist says and talk with her or him.  You can even have your eyes open.  If they choose, a person can come out of the state at any time.  But most people enjoy the whole hypnotherapeutic process so much that they rarely do.

So What is a Suggestion, Anyway?

Question:

Every time I hear people talking about how effective hypnosis is, they mention the power of suggestion.  You mention it in your articles, but have never really defined it.

Answer:

In a normal day, everyone gets suggestions all the time such as when someone tells you what route to drive or which shirt to buy.  It’s an idea given to you by someone else that you receive and consider consciously.  Usually their effectiveness depends on the knowledgeability of the other person.  If they know the area better, you’re more likely to travel as per their suggestion.  But, even if they are only as familiar with the place as you are, just hearing a suggestion gives it power.  It goes to the forefront of your mind and overshadows your other ideas.  However, if that suggestion is different from what your subconscious is comfortable with, then when someone tells you to take a route that involves going through a neighborhood you have negative associations with, your subconscious isn’t going to let you take it no matter how much faster it is or more logical.

But there is one time when the subconscious mind is very open to absorbing suggestions — during hypnosis.  Hypnosis occurs during the thirty minutes before a person falls asleep.  You may have heard in school that what you study just before you go to sleep is what you’ll remember best.  This is because during hypnosis, the critical facilities in your conscious mind, such as logic and reasoning, are already only half aware of what’s going on and are no longer filtering out new, potentially uncomfortable, thoughts and ideas.

A hypnotherapist is skilled at coming up with words and images that “speak” to their client.  The idea that a person’s hand can become so light that it will defy gravity and float up into the air seems impossible consciously, but to the subconscious anything is possible.  If a person is not in hypnosis, logic and reason will tell them that their hand is not getting lighter; however, when under hypnosis, the subconscious mind pays more attention to the voice of the hypnotherapist than the physical reality. Therefore, they will believe that their arm is becoming lighter.  If a person is visual, one might concentrate on the image of the hand rising or playing in the breeze.  Auditory people are encouraged to hear the air lift their hand.  Kinesthetically oriented people are told to feel the air lift their hand.  In nearly every case, the hand will rise.

It’s never just the power of suggestion that affects people, it’s how a suggestion is given and when.  When created by a skilled hypnotherapist, the results can be profound and life changing.

How hypnosis changes emotional responses

Question:

My question is tied to my desire to understand how it is that my mind no longer responds to the pressure I was feeling before which I thought was an emotional response based on past situations where I felt attacked and helpless. But it seems that my mind is now able to be rational under pressure and that sort of button can no longer be pushed? Can you explain how it works?  (I had one session with this client.  SF)

Answer:

In your life, your subconscious mind was trained so that certain things in your environment would trigger specific feelings, like how you used to respond to feeling attacked by feeling hurt and helpless.  What we did in hypnosis was to change your response, first by establishing a constant and consistent sense of peace and calm.  Then, instead of having your subconscious immediately jump from “I feel attacked” to “I feel hurt and helpless,” my suggestions re-directed it so that it acknowledged the attack, but you remained calm and focused.  We call that “retraining the brain.”  I also gave you other suggestions that supported this including ones to start, continue, and end the day being focused, and to block you from all negativity.

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.

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.

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.