More Hypnosis Information & Suggested ReadingHypnosis 4 Health® | San Francisco Hypnotherapy
How does hypnosis work on the subconscious part of the mind?
To better grasp how Self-Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy create lasting change, it can be useful to think of this in terms of the conscious and subconscious parts of the Self, instead of the mind.
The most important function of the subconscious part of us is to maintain homeostasis by regulating our multiple bodily processes. When something is out of balance, this part of us seeks to compensate, restoring the harmony between yin and yang as in the goal of Chinese Medicine.
With all its work done autonomously, below the threshold of our awareness, this autonomic/instinctual part is our most basic and primary operating system through which we live, grow, reproduce, heal, and respond to our world.
It also faithfully manages energy, stores and retrieves impressions through association, protects, defends, motivates, adapts, creates, emotionally reacts, visualizes, nurtures, and, most importantly, when specific conditions and needs are met, heals itself, both physically and emotionally.
It is finely attuned to our environment, developing a vast storehouse of sensual impressions and learning experiences in our long-term memory bank.
Since its inbred functionality precedes our ability to speak, the language of the subconscious part is imagery. It derives meaning from symbols and metaphor.
The conscious part of us, or the intellect, is mostly used for weighing options in problem solving and strategizing for survival, functioning primarily as a binary, “yes/no” decision-making apparatus. It organizes the impressions of our world through critical thinking, analysis, correlation and comparison, discrimination, judgment, rationalization, and abstraction. It also contains the short-term memory and develops predominantly during formal education.
Through our intellects we learn the means to describe ourselves and navigate in our world. Its language is rule-based logic, and it derives meaning from reason.
As our self-awareness develops and matures, we are generally taught in school to spend less time in our subjective, child-like, “fantasy” world and focus more on learning a set of prescribed societal rules and problem-solving skills in order to navigate in the consensual reality of the adult, “real” world.
For example, instead of describing ourselves by who we fantasize ourselves to be, we learn to describe ourselves by our gender, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, nationality, age, school, club, sport, or sexual preference, etc.
This places the locus of our identity in our intellects, or the conscious part of our Self, basing our self-image largely upon the sometimes flimsy conclusions about ourselves (or from others) we have incorporated, the conscious intentions we may (or may not) have formulated, and the criteria of our social network to which we conform. This is what we start to think of as the Self, the intellect. “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, says Descartes.
And at the same time, in the English language at least, we also identify ourselves by our sensual and emotional experiences, i.e. “I am cold, hungry, sleepy”, or by our feeling state, “I am happy, sad, stressed”.
So on the one hand we are defined by qualities that are relatively stable and on the other hand by qualities like feeling/sensing states that are often not so stable.
Additionally, in the course of our intellectual development, we also learn to lie about our experience, intentions, actions, and ourselves in an effort to fit into a particular social scheme and avoid facing punishment or exclusion.
We soon develop a personality or ego through which we interact with the world, and we learn to lie to ourselves and others in the service this often inconsistent personality.
We might feel one way, but claim to feel the opposite in order to avoid conflict, unwanted attention, or to seek attention.
Sometimes how we appear to others is far from how we feel about ourselves.
Over time the personality can separate us from the subconscious parts of the Self and deep schisms are formed between the two.
We start to feel a split in ourselves that is sometimes hard to straddle and anxiety provoking. The sense of Self, circulating mainly around an unstable personality, is splintered, weakened, and vulnerable to the moods and opinions of others. Dreams in REM sleep are one way for the mind to resolve or alert us to these inner conflicts.
We become compartmentalized; we “wear different hats for different occasions”, and when the separate parts of the Self are fighting with each other, we can become “balkanized” too, stuck, cut off from our inner resources, and unable to change
Problems can arise when there is conflict between parts of the Self, notwithstanding the emotional and intellectual problems caused by trauma, bullying, poverty, neglect, physical or emotional abuse. Mood can be affected, thoughts distorted, and overall health impacted.
The subconscious part with all its quirks, repository of unmet needs, fantasies, and archaic beliefs usually prevails in the struggle, sabotaging our best intentions with negative self-talk, and compromising ego-strength. We then can fall prey to confirmation bias, selecting only what supports our erroneous, negative beliefs and disregarding any evidence to the contrary.
Split parts of the Self can also seem hopelessly mired in the Bardo, an ungrounded, “not present”, anxious place, a twilight zone of endlessly replaying a nightmarish trauma of the past and projecting the fear into the future.
Consequently, unable to bridge that schism with just our good intentions, we become frustrated and confused when we act out irrationally or continue self-destructive behaviors even though we know rationally that the behavior is unhealthy for us.
Do you know any smokers who think it’s completely healthy for them to smoke?
We all too often ignore or minimize the subconscious part of the Self and its warning signs even though it is a very powerful force in our lives and contains many key elements of our psyche, like our immune system, creativity, and intuition.
Take stress, the “silent killer”, for instance, a major cause of heart disease, overeating, IBS and hypertension. In order to make a living, keep our job, maintain our relationships, and get through our hectic day, we become accustomed to ignoring, ingesting or stuffing our stressful feelings until suddenly the body breaks down.
And then there are times in our lives during stormy emotional turmoil, sudden loss, or trauma when we are made very aware of this powerful subconscious ocean and our lives seem to grind to a halt. We cannot function, eat, sleep, talk, or even think clearly… we can only witness how the subconscious part of the Self can completely override the rational part.
Or sometimes, years after a traumatic event, when we “think” we have resolved our feelings by repressing them, the subconscious part creates a wake-up call: a psychosomatic symptom or illness sprouting up just to show us we cannot go on stuffing our feelings indefinitely.
Many of my clients come to see me feeling frustrated, agitated, and bewildered; their doctor has run out of tests, or pharmaceuticals for their symptom (or cluster of symptoms), or has told them, “sorry, there is nothing wrong with you, it is all in your head”.
“That’s my worst fear!” the client tells me, as though the doctor were denying the reality of their symptom(s). Yet, they are stuck in a vicious cycle of unintentionally reinforcing the problem, focusing more on symptom (and worrying about their sanity) than eliminating the root cause, such as an insomniac keeping themselves awake by worrying about not being able to fall asleep. They are fighting with themselves.
We are more than our thoughts!
The intellect is really just an island floating on a vast subconscious ocean; an ocean the depths of which we are unaware, and downplay due to our identification with our thoughts, status, bank accounts, and the roles we play in daily life.
To follow through with intentions, make lasting change in behaviors, heal illness, or maintain our health, we need to enlist the support and cooperation of the subconscious parts of the Self, learning to communicate in its language, rather than living in the dark or filling our intellect with more medical knowledge.
Healing is not an intellectual process. The state of mind in which we can reconnect with the split off parts of the Self and galvanize our inner resources is the trance or meditative state…and the dream state.
There are processes that naturally occur during the dreaming stage of REM sleep that help us manage our emotions and memories, and our modern world causes a great deal of REM sleep deprivation!
Most of the people I know and see as clients don’t remember their dreams and most are sleep deprived in general.
Alcohol, stimulants, cannabis, stress, sleeping pills, computer screens, MAOI anti-depressants, and poor sleeping habits all contribute to inhibiting the REM cycle of our overall sleep architecture. Sleep deprivation causes poorer concentration and recall, and make a person more emotionally volatile.
Interestingly, the drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease produce more REM sleep, suggesting a link between getting enough REM sleep and memory function.
It would appear that the natural processes that occur in REM sleep and dreams is healthy for our mental health, while being chronically REM deprived is not so healthy.
On the other hand, most people don’t enjoy having a good nightmare, which IMO are designed to get our attention, although some people certainly love watching scary movies!
Hypnotherapy induces a lucid dream state in which REM is present, although the Hypnotherapist acts as a guide and you can stop the process at any point. Ever have one of those dreams where you try to wake up, or move or call out, and can’t? Since you are generally self-aware in a Hypnotherapy session, you still possess the ability to open your eyes at any time.
In trance, the critical intellect is relaxed, awareness is expanded beyond the realm of thoughts, and the sense of Self begins to include more of the the unseen parts.
Self-Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy are methods to bridge the schism between the different parts of the Self, literally, through the brain’s neuroplasticity, “rescue” and help integrate the split off parts, which is a healing and empowering experience.
Once you establish a conscious “beachhead” of self-awareness in the subconscious part of the Self as in lucid dreaming, techniques like Self-Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy enable you to communicate with the subconscious part through creating, recreating, or releasing symbolic mental images and memories.
You can access buried memories, unmask erroneous beliefs, repair your self-esteem, motivate yourself for change, strengthen your conscience and resolve, improve your intuition, and restore your physical, mental and emotional health.
The results can sometimes be miraculous!
“Where can I learn more about hypnosis?”
Well, my friend, if you have read this far and want more information, I applaud your interest!
Here are some books I recommend:
Leslie M. Lecron / Mass Market Paperback / N A L / May 1976
Self-Hypnosis and Other Mind Expanding Techniques
Charles Tebbetts / Paperback / Westwood Publishing Company / June 1977
Hypnosis for Change
Josie Hadley,Carol Staudacher / Mass Market Paperback / Random House, Incorporated/ October 1987
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hypnosis
Roberta Temes / Paperback / Macmillan Publishing USA / October 1999
If you are already practicing Clinical Hypnotherapy and wish to refine your technique or expand you knowledge base, here are some books which I found invaluable in my training:
The Art of Hypnosis:Mastering Basic Techniques
Roy C. Hunter / Paperback / Kendall / Hunt Publishing Company / February 2000
The Art of Hypnotherapy
Roy C. Hunter/ Paperback/Kendall / Hunt Publishing Company / June 1997
Trance-Formations: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Structure of Hypnosis
John Grinder,Connirae Andreas (Editor),With Richard Bandler / Paperback / Real People Press/ June 1982
The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson: Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy, Vol. 1
Ronald A. Havens / Paperback / Irvington Publishers / September 1989
Become the Dream: The Transforming Power of Hypnotic Dreamwork
Randal Churchill,Cheryl Canfield (Editor) / Hardcover / Transformi / July 1997
Hypnosis: The Application of Ideomotor Techniques
David B. Cheek / Paperback / Allyn & Bacon, Inc. / December 1993
Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis
Judith W. Rhue (Editor),Irving Kirsch (Editor),Steven Jay Lynn (Editor) / Paperback /American Psychological Association / June 1997