Monday, August 8, 2011

On Hypnosis (Part 14/20)

Resistance to Suggestion

We have given attention to the question of susceptibility to suggestion but we have not addressed the issue of resistance to it. Some people simply do not possess the willingness to "go under" which is so necessary for the induction of a trance state. Interestingly, the very factors which make for hypnotizability in some people evoke
resistance in others. To some people, the surrender of reality to another's care could not be more welcome, while others cling to their possession of reality with an iron grip. Submission, passivity, passive acceptance of suggestion, and dependency serve the defensive purposes of one sort of neurosis, whereas to another they are threatening. Some people do not want to lose control by placing themselves in someone else's hands; it makes for too great a vulnerability. They may be afraid of revealing things (as they feel it) involuntarily. Guardedness to the point of paranoia may be at work.

So, just as neurosis makes some people highly susceptible to hypnotic procedures, it makes others highly resistant.

There is another class of people who, though not susceptible to hypnosis, cannot be characterized as resistant. Resistance denotes an active defensiveness. A simple lack of susceptibility, however, may nullify attempts to hypnotize some people. When there is nothing for hypnosis to key into – when there is no pre-existing dissociation – then it is a case of the proverbial water off a duck's back. The suggestions have nothing on which to hook themselves. To an integrated self – one which is free of unresolved Pain and repression – hypnotic suggestion makes no sense.

It is only the unreal self which allows a person to be fooled about reality because that is precisely why the unreal self exists: it was created by a falsification of the child's real world. This is what happens when our needs go unmet when we're little. For instance, a small child cannot understand and certainly cannot accept the fact that his mother does not love him. Repression rushes in to keep the Pain of rejection from consciousness. Perhaps the child remains docile and agreeable, but deep inside a whole other reality churns.

Hypnosis is non-dialectic; it does not address this sub-surface reality, which is the source of the patient's neurosis, and often the generator of somatic symptoms as well. Instead, it utilizes the neurotic split in consciousness. In short, as I pointed out, it targets symptoms of neurosis rather than the neurosis itself, which makes it ultimately non-curative.

Restructuring Reality with Hypnotic Pain Control

The potential to reduce pain to a manageable level is a genuine tribute to the capabilities of the human mind, and constitutes one of the most meaningful applications of therapeutic hypnosis.[1]


Hypnotic pain control has always been viewed as a dramatic testimony to hypnosis as a special, altered state. My intent is to show the opposite. The use of hypnosis for pain control illustrates my thesis that hypnosis works because the "trance state" of neurosis is already established. Hypnotic pain control actually involves a conscious and circumscribed activation of an imprinted neurotic process which is composed of physical, chemical, and neurological alterations in functioning. It thus: (1) arises out of the pre-established mechanisms of defense which are integral to neurosis; (2) is special only to the degree that pathology is special (i.e., different, divergent); and (3) is altered only to the degree that the pathology of neurosis has already altered one's entire physiology.

The ways in which hypnosis is used to control or alter physical pain may soon show us more about the physiological processes underlying the control (read repression) of emotional Pain. It is much simpler to investigate what goes on when a hypnotized subject sticks his hand in ice water than it is to investigate what goes on when a small child is rebuffed by his mother. Investigating ongoing human processes in a controlled and scientific manner is nearly impossible; investigating contrived situations that appear to utilize the same or similar mechanisms is not. So while hypnosis is not a special or altered state, it may end up providing us with valuable information about what must be mankind's most altered state: neurosis. Hypnotic pain control measures are of interest at this point precisely because they demonstrate the degree to which the human brain can restructure reality. According to Yapko, "The person in pain is capable of using her mind to change her perception of the pain...and this ability is amplified with hypnosis."[2] Whether one is transforming severe abdominal cancer pain into an annoying but bearable itch on the foot, not registering the discomfort of one's hand immersed in ice water, or repressing the Pain of being left alone in an orphanage, the neurophysiological mechanisms involved in the restructuring of painful realities into endurable ones remain the same.

Experiments in hypnotic pain control demonstrate that one can become unconscious to some extent of physical pain, and also indicate how this occurs. These experiments have lead to conclusions about the capacity of consciousness to dissociate itself from the experience of physical pain – a mechanism similar to the dissociation from the emotional pain that results in neurosis. The similarity supports the theory that, in the end, the brain does not distinguish between physical and emotional pain. Hypnosis experiments therefore provide excellent models for illustrating the mechanisms through which neurosis is induced and maintained. Conversely, understanding how neurosis works will provide clues as to how hypnotic pain control is possible.

[1]_Yapko, Trancework, p. 274.
[2]Yapko, Trancework, p. 274.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I have noticed in me that I am particularly susceptible to suggestion under certain conditions. Sometimes I'll believe whatever I'm told, other times not at all.

    Being tired, stressed, lonely. Wanting, needing, desiring, expecting something for me, some gratification; these conditions make me 'hungry' for something else too.

    The way I can keep on falling for a certain 'patter'. . . Or alternatively be on my guard against it. It can go either way with me.

    I went to see a hypno-therapist many years ago and 'I believed' then that it helped. But on reflection, now, looking back to that time I can now see the history of that belief system.

    I had a course of shiatsu which made me cry. Good grief if only I knew then what I know now!

    The shiatsu lady was nice enough and good at her art, but she also did not understand the facts and recommended me to see this hyno-therapist down the road. I duly toddled along with "a good recommendation". . .

    So let's analyse this with PT:

    A nice (young & attractive) woman brings me to my feelings and both of us are overwhelmed so we recommend I go and get a professionally induced trance to make me feel better. . .

    Then I discover I'm really resistant to suggestion! But, because I was recommended by the nice woman who helped me find my true feelings I had to believe the hypnotherapy "worked".

    It was really only an expensive relaxation experience. Honestly, as I get older I just can't quite believe the things I used to believe!

    Paul G.


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“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
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Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

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