Hypnotic Suggestion

Illustration of hypnotic suggestions

Hypnotic suggestion takes two distinctly different forms. The first is one we give during our self hypnosis sessions that are intended to produce a desirable result for the listener within the session itself. For example, one of our hypnotherapists might suggest something like; “you will go deeper with each word I speak and each breath you take.” Whereas a post-hypnotic suggestion is one that is designed to have little or no  effect during a self hypnosis session itself, but will implant an idea into the subconscious that a desired motor action can and will occur later, outside the hypnotic state.

We use suggestion to induce and deepen the state of hypnosis and then we usually take the listener even further ‘under’, whilst using more suggestion, which can be direct or indirect, to help by-pass the Conscious Critical Faculty. And, of course, we must bypass the conscious critical faculty efficiently so that our later suggestions, the ones that are going to help the listener get from where they are to where they want to be, to ‘take root’ and flourish in the subconscious. These later suggestions are, obviously, the most important part of any hypnotherapy.

How long does hypnotic suggestion last for?

Hypnotic suggestion is effective in the mind for as short a period as just a day or so, or as long as several weeks. But the change created during that period, providing we have done our work properly and  provided that that change was something which the listener wanted to happen, can last a lifetime. This might sound like a contradiction, but it actually is not. If you receive a severe cut, you need to have it stitched for a while until it heals, after which the stitches can be removed. Indeed, to carry the analogy still further, some surgery uses soluble material for stitches which last only until the integrity of the organism is fully functional. Hypnosis is a tool which, used well, can allow us to produce beneficial change. When the change is made, the tool that procured it is simply no longer needed.

How does hypnotic suggestion work?

If a hypnotic suggestion is to stand a chance of being successful, it must be:

  • Positively phrased
  • Devoid of ambiguity

But that is certainly not all. In addition to those two concepts, it is also of equal importance that when hypnotic suggestions are delivered there is:

  • An intense interest in the idea of the suggestion
  • No conscious disagreement
  • The presence of emotion

Let’s take a look at these factors in more detail.

The importance of positivity

It is of enormous importance that any hypnotic suggestion must be phrased in a positive format if we are to be reasonably sure of success. Look at these two statements:

  • I am determined not to fail.
  • I am determined to succeed.

They encapsulate the very essence of the difference between positive and negative attitudes, which is just about the most important thing to learn about hypnotic suggestion. They certainly do not mean the same thing at all – not to the subconscious, at any event. The subconscious has great difficulty with the word ‘not’ and all its derivatives: won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t.

Want proof of this? All right. Imagine a one foot square box, wrapped in brown paper, bearing a card which says: “In this box there are no marbles.” What did you think of? Marbles, of course. OK, imagine the same box, but this time the card says: “In this box there are two dozen marbles.” What did you think of this time? That’s right, marbles again, so now you can see how the subconscious mind works. If the first statement had read: “In this box there are some/no pens,” then you would not have thought of marbles at all, but pens.

So that ‘I am determined not to fail’ statement, whilst it sounds positive because of the word ‘determined’, it is actually extremely negative – it only mentions failure. Success is nowhere to be seen.

The only way that any form of negative suggestion can be effective is when it is conceptual, i.e. when we use something like: “You will have NO NEED to smoke tobacco.” Here, although the word ‘No’ is used, it is coupled with the concept of ‘no need’ along with the assertion: ‘you will have’.

If you are having difficulty with this concept, just accept that, for the purposes of hypnotherapy, there is no such thing as a ‘not anything’ in the subconscious processes of our mind. The subconscious works with whatever image it is given, and there is no image available for ‘not to fail’ other than failing – exactly the opposite of what we are seeking to achieve.

Ambiguity and implication

The subconscious is extraordinarily literal and does not handle ambiguity at all well. So the well-crafted post-hypnotic suggestion is unambiguous and says what it means to say. Implication can be used, but needs extreme care, when it can then become an indirect suggestion. The ‘cleaner’ the suggestions are, the more effectively they will work.

Consider this: When you lay your head on the pillow, it will feel warm and relaxing. What is it that feels warm and relaxing: ‘your head’ or ‘the pillow’? Well, of course, what was meant is: When you lay your head on the pillow, you will feel warm and relaxed. That is what was meant so that is what should have been said. And how about this:

“When you need to concentrate on your studies, the book will seem easier to grasp.” The problem is implication, here; ‘grasping the book’ is an implication for the conscious mind that the information within the book will be easier to grasp, to understand. But ‘grasping the book’ taken literally, means just that – the book will be easier to hold… which is of no great help with concentration on studying. You will feel yourself gaining knowledge with every word that you read, works better. It is possible that you can think of something even better – though there are no prizes if you do!

Now, here is a hypnotic suggestion in which the problems may not be immediately obvious, perhaps: On each and every day now, you will feel easy whenever you mix with others on social occasions. This is actually a disaster area. Mix with others carries an implication – ever heard the expression ‘mix with’ to imply fighting or arguing? And since it is clearly a suggestion to help with social difficulties, the individual is being told that the answer is to pick a fight in order to feel relaxed!

There are other problems. What about ‘easy’? That has all sorts of connotations, mostly not complimentary, especially for a female listener. And the on social occasions statement can imply that the individual will not feel ‘easy’ at times that are not social occasions when she needs to ‘mix with others’… In fact, there is a very strong implication that the individual may only feel ‘easy’ whilst with others, mixing it or not; so what happens the rest of the time, while driving, walking to the shops, laying in bed, etc. What about the way that suggestion begins… ‘On each and every day, now…’? So what happened to the evenings and nights?

Do not lightly dismiss any of what you read here, for ambiguity and poor implication such as this can cause definite problems.

An intense interest in the idea of the suggestion

This is of extreme importance; the closer an individual can come to wanting the total outcome of the suggestion above everything else in the world at the time the suggestion is made, the more likely it is that the suggestion will be absorbed by the subconscious. If our listener is only luke-warm towards the idea, there is little chance of success.

For ‘interest’ you could also read: ‘attention’, and attention can be generated in several ways. For instance, if we are able to tell an individual listening to our stop smoking self hypnosis CD something that they did not previously know about smoking and which grabbed the attention, that would do it. In the same way, helping somebody to discover a previously unnoticed advantage of succeeding OR disadvantage of NOT succeeding (yes, I know that is a negative but it would only be used to focus upon the positive issue!) we will have their attention. The closer we can get to gaining an individual’s undivided attention, the more success it will be.

No conscious disagreement

It is important that an individual truly wants what they are asking us to help them achieve, for if there is the slightest conscious objection the suggestion will be ignored and there may even be an abrupt exit from the hypnotic state. It is not unusual for somebody to use our self hypnosis recordings because they have been coerced into it by another person. Under these circumstances, they may have only decided to listen in the first place to keep the other party quiet – so they can say: “See? I listened to the hypnotherapy track, just as you suggested, and even that didn’t work!” This is why our self hypnosis recordings do not make very good gifts for people. If someone is only listening because of somebody else’s say so, then it’s unlikely to succeed. A person truly has to want to change.

The presence of emotion

It was Dr. Hippolyte Bernheim, in the late 1800’s, who propounded points 3 –5 in our list. He stated that the presence of emotion, any emotion, was necessary for hypnotic suggestion to have an effect. Now, this is an easy one! If we as therapists cannot find some way of firing a person’s enthusiasm for achieving the desired result of the session, then we really are not trying! As a matter of interest, it does not really matter if the emotion is a negative one; even if it is something like anger, guilt or sadness, it will still allow the suggestion to ‘take root’. It is far better for the listener, of course, if we can help them find a positive feeling – and enthusiasm is probably about the best to aim for.

The power of hypnotic suggestion

The use of suggestion is sometimes dismissed as ‘only’ suggestion therapy. It should not be assumed that suggestion is the only or best form of therapeutic work that we use within the hypnotic state. Indeed, our self hypnosis CDs and downloads include a variety of advanced hypnotherapy techniques, in addition to hypnotic suggestion. But it is important to understand that hypnosis and suggestion can achieve spectacular change for many individuals and its power should never been underestimated. Nor should the implications surrounding the way hypnotic suggestion works.