Hypnosis and Suggestion

Illustration of hypnotic speech bubbles

It is often said that hypnosis is suggestion, but there is actually a quite enormous difference between them. Hypnosis is a state of mind and suggestion is the formation of an idea. The two work wonderfully well together because hypnosis increases most people’s suggestibility, which then makes them susceptible to suggestion – much more so than they would be in ‘normal’ levels of consciousness.

We use suggestion within the hypnotic state and, indeed, we use suggestion to create the hypnotic state, or trance, as it is sometimes known. The old fashioned way of doing this – now something of a music-hall joke, though it is still used by some – is the phrase: “You are feeling sle-e-e-p-y-y-y,” repeated over and again. Although it may seem ridiculous from a logical point of view, if done properly, this actually does produce a state of hypnosis – though often not a very good one.

After that, we use suggestions for things to happen while a person is actually in hypnosis: “Now I want you to let yourself… r-e-l-a-x… deeper and deeper….” And we also employ something that, to the uninformed, seems altogether more mysterious – post-hypnotic suggestion. Here, we give the listener a suggestion that she will think or feel in a certain way, or perform some task, after the session is over and they are safely back into a ‘normal’ state of conscious awareness. Something like: “From this day forward, you will feel steadily more and more confident.”

Suggestion is everywhere

Suggestion is not just used within the state of hypnosis. We are all conditioned to respond to suggestion and you will see examples of it everywhere: “Queue here,” is a common one – that’s a direct suggestion. “10,000 volts,” is another, but is an indirect suggestion. It actually says: “Keep out or you might die!” Some are very subtle. Go into a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room and find people sitting on chairs. What do you do? Well, you sit down, too, of course. Nobody has had to tell you to wait your turn – you just do so.

Experience and previous teaching and learning comes into just about everything that we do. If a traffic light is stuck on orange, you will be likely to either slow down or speed up as you approach. If you give a shop assistant a £5 note to pay for something that costs £3.10, you do not bat an eyelid if you are asked: “Have you got the ten pence please?” and yet you have already handed over more than the cost of the item. The implication, obviously, is that you will receive £2 back. But it is only an indirect suggestion, phrased as a question this time. It suggests two things, actually – one, that you will get £2 back, and two, that the shop assistant may be running low on change.

And how about: “may I take your coat?” when you enter a restaurant? You assume that the individual is connected with the establishment and hand over your clothing to a complete stranger. You probably don’t even bother to watch where it is taken. That particular scenario has been used to good comic effect in more than one film, where the garment has been taken out of the door and into a waiting vehicle. It’s funny because of the ludicrousness of the situation – and yet the situation is only ludicrous because we know what the suggestion was supposed to mean. Tones of voice, environment, style of dress, time of day, age, apparent class status, presentation of self… all these and many more things come into play here.

It is worth a mention here, I think, that suggestion can sometimes be accepted simply because it is so outrageous, that we cannot believe that it would even be made if it were not so. This is how a confidence trickster works. Deliver a suggestion in a matter of fact style, couched in plausible terms, that somehow makes everything seem normal and certain types of people will fall for it. This is how people quite often get duped out of money – usually by somebody claiming to be aristocracy of some sort, or a film-maker or other entrepreneur who, since there is a need for an instant cash boost, is willing to share his or her latest piece of good fortune. It is how women are sometimes seduced by the most unlikely of lovers, and how men sometimes are persuaded to hand over vast sums of money to a female they scarcely know. Sometimes, the suggestion plays upon greed or ego, sometimes on emotional insecurity, sometimes upon sexual pleasure… whatever the core, it is almost always outrageous.

Suggestion works when it is something that we truly want

One of the most important aspects to remember about this fascinating topic is that to guarantee that a suggestion will be accepted, it must either be simply not observed as a suggestion in the first place, merely as a statement of fact, or it must be whole heartedly required by the individual receiving it. Regardless of whether it is for hypnotherapy or in everyday life, the individual must truly want to believe it, want what is suggested to be so, and try to make it so.

How easy is it for a salesman to sell you a car that you already want? You could be wavering because of the price, until he tells you just one thing you hadn’t thought of or didn’t realise… you want this to happen, of course, that’s exactly why you’re sitting in front of the salesman in the first place. Your decision hangs in the balance, somewhere between buying and not buying. Then he tells you the GOOD news – this car has just had a price increase but you can buy at the old price; this car actually has a reserve on it, but if you decide now that you want it, it’s yours; this car is actually a special order that the customer didn’t want after all but you can have it for the price of a standard model… anything really. Maybe it’s a special edition that won’t be repeated, or has a bigger engine than standard, or a longer warranty. What he would choose depends upon the salesman’s assessment of what you will respond to, but it is ALL suggestion. The suggestion is, of course, that you must have this vehicle and you must buy it without delay before somebody else does. You need that suggestion to justify you spending your money, so it bites, because you want to buy the car.

Hypnosis works in the same way

People who listen to our self hypnosis CDs and downloads want to feel better or they wouldn’t choose them in the first place. So because they are going to be trying to get better, our suggestions will be bound to work, right? Well, yes and no. Unfortunately it is considerably more easy to sell a car than it is to persuade a subconscious to accept change. This is what we mean by ‘whole heartedly’ – the subconscious must want the change as well, if any ‘cure’ is to last. But there is resistance to change in the psyche, which is why there is a problem in the first place. To alleviate it, we need to provide the subconscious with another suitable, but more desirable behaviour.

As an example, we’ll take somebody who is too scared to drive. The most common reason for this is that they’re frightened of losing control and crashing – so that the symptom exists for self-protection. We can use hypnotic suggestion to focus on how easily the listener will notice the confidence with which he or she steers the car, the complete responsiveness of the vehicle, the pride in the easiness with which he or she changes gear, brings the vehicle to a perfect stop, and so on. When these ideas are absorbed at a subconscious level, the change can be remarkable.

The importance of well-crafted suggestion in hypnosis

There are many ways to use suggestion in hypnosis. But in order to create high class suggestion that actually works, there are five ultra-important factors that must be adhered to. These are as follows:

  1. Positive phrasing
  2. Avoidance of ambiguity
  3. Stimulate an intensity of interest
  4. Create no conscious objection
  5. Create the presence of emotion

Let’s have a brief look at each of these.

Positive phrasing

We must avoid negatively influential words where possible; words like: won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t. It is possible to use negatives but these must be employed in a conceptual manner, which is illustrated with the phrase: “You will find no need to smoke cigarettes…” where the concept is of finding ‘no need’.

Avoidance of ambiguity

When you lay your head on the pillow, it will feel soft and fluffy.

This is an ambiguous statement – is it your head or the pillow that feels soft and fluffy? Of course, we know exactly what is meant but the subconscious works literally so we have to say exactly what we mean!

An intensity of interest

We have covered this concept in detail already, but to recap…. whatever suggestion we create for use in hypnosis, if it does not somehow stimulate an intense interest in the listener, it will probably be ineffective. It must say what the individual truly wants to happen.

Create no conscious objection

If we say anything that is against a person’s wishes, the suggestion is likely to be rejected. If we fail to by-pass the conscious critical faculty, then it is even more likely. We always make sure that our suggestions are to the point and do not assume anything that may not be agreeable to the listener.

Create the presence of emotion

The presence of emotion is vital to the acceptance of hypnotic suggestion. This notion was first proposed by Dr. Hippolyte Bernheim all the way back in the late 1800’s. He stated that the presence of emotion helped hypnotic suggestion to be effective… and whilst the emotion can be positive or negative, we may as well create the emotion of happiness by creating impressive suggestions that a person loves hearing.

If you would like to learn more about these concepts then please see our article on hypnotic suggestion, where we look at each of these elements in more detail.

We hope you have developed a new found appreciation of the powers of suggestion, and not just within the state of hypnosis. You can safely assume that, as true professionals, we always take great care with any suggestion that we use within our self hypnosis recordings. Each and every word is checked and re-checked many times to make sure it is the best it can possibly be. We know and respect the power of suggestion – and so should you!