(Published 22 May, 2012 by CharlestonGrit.com)
CAN YOU BE HYPNOTIZED – “NO” or “YES?”
We’ll save the answer to that question for later. But the question is frequently asked. People wonder if they can be hypnotized. The very word (hypnosis) conjures up fascination and mystery. The idea of giving up control can be inviting as well as frightening. People generally believe that during hypnosis, they lose control and are under the influence of another person. To a certain extent, this is true. A very entertaining television episode to this effect was produced by Alfred Hitchock. It was called, Murder Me Twice. I include the link so you can enjoy this episode when you have about 20 minutes. http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi499385113
It is fairly well recognized that people are born either more or less susceptible to trance (being in a hypnotized state of mind). You might be such a person if you enter a store to purchase a single inexpensive item, but you leave the store having spent much more than you intended. In such a case, you probably came under the “spell” of a mesmerizing salesperson. Similarly, if you go to a mall and forget where you parked your car, you might be a person more susceptible to trance.
You might believe certain people are specially equipped to hypnotize others. Actually, this too, is true. If you experience another person as being quite attractive, or having an unusual blend of admirable qualities, you might be more inclined to suspend critical judgement and simply follow that person’s wishes. People with such special qualities can become our “leaders.” Winston Churchill and Ronald Regan might be considered in this category for their inspirational manner of communicating. Not surprisingly, the concept of cults also includes a “leader” and followers who are typically under the leader’s influence.
Curiously, people can enter trance states when they are intimidated or frightened by a person they believe is powerful. In such an instance, people could be commanded into a trance state. When watching the film The Exorcist it seemed to me that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to refuse to do the bidding of the devil. The devil was mesmerizing us with his power. Even the priest appeared to be quite frightened and struggling to prevent himself from allowing the devil to control him. Seen from this perspective, the well-known Stockholm Syndrome where kidnapped and abused individuals may help or defend their captor, could indeed represent a form of hypnosis.
Yet, hypnosis is rarely as dramatic as all these examples. In reality, you and I are falling in and out of trance states daily without even recognizing it occurs. I remember one fine Spring day in 3rd grade. The windows to class were open, the air was fresh, the sun was shining, and I never heard the teacher calling my name. My mind was elsewhere – captured by a moment in time, my mind was simply incapable of paying additional attention to other events (like the voice of the class teacher calling me.)
How many of us have blissfully driven unaware past our intended exit or turn-off? How many of us have ended up in Mt. Pleasant while driving down I-25 intending to end up in downtown Charleston? How many of us have driven unaware through a Stop Sign or a Red Light? Add talking on the phone or “texting” while driving and we could well experience tragic consequences rather than simple inconvenience. What all of these situations have in common is that we are “pre-occupied” or “day-dreaming.”
Ergo, if you can day dream, you can be hypnotized. Put a little differently, whenever you daydream, you are already in a trance.
About now, you might be asking, “That’s all nice but what GOOD is trance?”
Presumably trance has survival value for us or it would likely have evolved out of us by now. In the animal world, playing dead sometimes can be lifesaving. Even today, we still hear about how a person was saved by playing “dead.”
More commonly, hypnosis is utilized for self preservation when we are in a medically life-threatening situation. For example a farmer on his tractor suffers a traumatic accident. Yet, he is able to not feel pain and to think about what needs to be done to save himself. This represents “self-hypnosis” and is a state of mind that is natural. It’s purpose is to block out distraction (and pain) so that we can think clearly and save our own life.
There exist many battlefield stories of how injured traumatized soldiers who would normally be experiencing extreme pain appeared to be unaware of their pain.
In “medical” hypnosis, doctors are taught how to guide patients into a trance state so they can require less anesthesia. I have observed a woman undergo a c-section without anesthesia and a medical student have his fractured nose repaired without anesthesia.
Generally, in the medical profession, we help people learn how to place themselves in a trance. This can be used for help with chronic pain, for help with relaxation, for help with concentration, for help with insomnia, for help with habit control, and for help overcoming phobias. There are a number of other legitimate and useful purposes for hypnosis.
Personally, I like to think of hypnosis as a mode of mental awareness where we are oblivious to a large variety of normal stimuli. I compare this to the commander of a submarine focused completely on his target in the periscope. During this phase of awareness, our subconscious mind is more susceptible to be influenced.
Conversely, when not in a state of trance, our mind is in a mental awareness mode similar to that of a radar that is continuously scanning the environment for any signal greater than the normal background threshold.
It used to be thought that people had to be “simple minded” to be hypnotized. In actuality, the opposite is true. People with dementia, or brain injury are less able to enter trance.
By now, you know if you can or can not be hypnotized. If you can daydream, you can be hypnotized. If you understand that hypnosis is a natural state of mind that we slip into and out of spontaneously, you won’t be fearful of hypnosis. If you understand hypnosis, you can learn how to make it work for you. It becomes another tool in your armamentarium to utilize in a variety of ways for your self-improvement or comfort.