Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Hypnosis (Part 13/20)

My Interpretation of Suggestion and Suggestibility

Statements such as, "You feel drowsy," "Your eyes are getting heavy," and "You are going into a deep sleep" have no inherent power to cause or induce drowsiness. So why do they have this power in the hypnotic setting? It seems that a number of conditions have to be operating for this to occur.

First, the subject has to trust the person offering the suggestions. Second, the subject has to want it to work (Erickson's willingness factor, Yapko's "investment" of time, money, and hope). And third, he has to believe that the hypnotist's pronouncement of the words will produce the expected result. It appears that hypnotic suggestions are accepted only when there is a predisposition to accept them.

But why would a person wish to put himself at the disposal of another's suggestion? Most neurotics are simply bone weary. The chance to relax in the safety of another's care is just too enticing to bypass. Indeed it might take more effort not to succumb to hypnotic suggestion than to do so. When presented with an authority figure whose very demeanor speaks to unmet need (it is simple, soothing, reassuring, direct and directing), the critical brain may have a very hard time staying out "in front" or "on top." Having someone else do the thinking and the suggesting are pleasures for which most neurotics have waited a lifetime.

Moreover, accepting suggestion may be all that many people have ever done. Hypnosis simply provides another situation in which to re-enact and perpetuate their suggestibility (which is really their dependency). Surrendering to a parental figure who you feel has some quasi-magical ability to do things for you without your having to think for yourself may represent the chance to finally have something which was denied when it was more appropriately needed – as a child. In fact the actions and suggestions of the hypnotist conjure up in my mind the picture of an attentive, caring, loving parent sitting on the child's bed at the end of a day and encouraging him to "Go to sleep...sleep well...sweet dreams."

As a child is the key because the hypnotized person is childlike. As Erickson noted earlier, the hypnotic subject is naive, pliant, open to direction, literal-minded, non-analytic, and uncritical. The crucial question is, does hypnotic suggestion actually create childlike behavior, or does it simply elicit the child still inherent in the adult neurotic? I take the latter position because, as I have argued, you have to be psychologically still a child to be hypnotizable in the first place.

Still being a child means still being run by the needs of childhood which were neglected, denied, or abused. It doesn't matter how seemingly adult the person may be in everyday life. Indeed, seemingly adult behavior may only be a way of defending against the pressing childish need. Even though two people react differently to deprivation in childhood and have radically different personalities, they may both be susceptible to hypnosis because of the deprivation.

The neurotic is "not all there" in his everyday life. To be fully present would mean feeling his repressed Pain. To avoid this he becomes heavily engaged in living out the post-hypnotic (post-dissociation) suggestions of his childhood. These suggestions were usually given indirectly, sometimes as much by what was not said as by what was. They stick in the mind, prodding away at us from the inside: "You're worthless, " "You'll never be good enough," "Lie because if you tell the truth you'll be punished," "Take care of Mommy," "Touching is for sissies," "Big boys don't cry," and on and on. These "post-neurotic" suggestions run our lives; they continue to guide us long after they were uttered or otherwise communicated to us. Susceptibility to suggestion is based on a lifetime of experiences with the subsequent dissociation needed to defend against Pain. I do not believe it is possible to hypnotize a person who is in full possession of himself, who enjoys a state of inner connection, whose thoughts are not dissociated from his feelings, and who is not engaged in battling Primal Pain and need with repression. Such a person is not in the neurotic's trance and cannot therefore be susceptible to hypnotic suggestions.

Levels of Consciousness and Hypnosis

The third level of consciousness is the most "plastic" area of the brain. Because of this plasticity, it can be easily "deceived." It can accept as true an idea from the outside – that "Mommy loves you," or that "God is watching over you" – even when that idea is false. The first level of consciousness is not so plastic or malleable; it deals with survival functions and therefore is not as susceptible to change imposed by fluctuations in external circumstances. For example, if it were possible (which it is not) to program someone to have a continuing pulse rate of 250 through hypnotic suggestion, that person would soon die. This imperviousness of the first level is clearly a survival mechanism. As one moves up the levels of consciousness, however, the functions become more alterable, more susceptible to outer influences, and more adaptable. This, too, is in the service of survival.

It is the function of third-level processes to provide us with external orientation. This means that the third level must be able to perceive as well as adapt to new conditions, events, and ideas. This adaptability can work against us as easily as it works for us, depending on what we must adapt to. The neurotic has been forced to adapt to an unreal world, a world at odds with his deepest needs and feelings. He has had to adopt false concepts about himself and the world in order to survive. For instance, for a child who does not feel loved by his mother, due to the way she treats him, it may be necessary to believe her when she says she loves him, because the full realization that his mother does not love him would be emotionally shattering. Many of us appear to have adapted well to false ideas and sick values, but there are always telltale signs that this is not really true: symptoms and illnesses, nervous habits and compulsions, depressions, anxieties, and unhappiness. Indeed we can adapt, we can continue to function – but at what price?

The second or feeling level of consciousness ideally acts as a safeguard against the plasticity of the intellect. Through our feeling responses we can evaluate and discriminate which ideas, values, courses of action, etc., we want to accept and which we want to reject. But the second level doesn't "know" in the same way that the third level knows. The second level is intuitive rather than cognitive; it is global rather than specific; and it is immediate rather than mediated. When we allow the second level its proper function, our feelings occur first and then our minds come along afterwards to articulate the feelings. In many ways, the third level of consciousness is meant to serve the second, for it is the second level that provides us with a personal sense of self. For example, it provides us with a kind of global "gut response" to such questions as, "Is this person right for me?"; "Do I want to follow this career?"; "Do I agree with this idea and want to act on it?"; "Do I want to live the way I've been living?", and so on. The third level can then articulate the gut response via specific ideas and concepts.

When we are cut off from our gut responses – when there is a split between second and third levels – we no longer have an inner, personal source of evaluation. We are at the mercy of ideas (suggestions) with little or no way to screen them. This is why the intellect can believe it is well-adapted even when it is not, and it can believe its owner's needs are fulfilled even when they are not. This pattern of deceptive adaptation is usually well established in childhood. As children we are fed ideas that we are happy when we are not; that the family is ideal when it clearly is not; that Daddy loves us even though he is never home; that Mommy wants us even though she doesn't act like it. Out of necessity we accept these ideas, which are really commands, and we continue to function despite great Pain. Eventually we may come to believe our parents' ideas about our reality rather than believing our own experience of it. This happens because it is simply too threatening for the child to challenge the parents' views (on these matters most parents are usually quite defensive); and then it becomes too conflicting for the child to suspend himself between his own felt reality and the false reality "suggested" by his parents. At this point he gives up personal feeling for so-called parental love. He responds not to gut feelings, which have been repressed, but to what his parents tell him he should think and feel and do.

Without a solidified third level – that is, without the reality concepts adults have – children are easily able to accept someone else's version of reality. That is precisely why fairy tales are so effective for children: they love entering fantasized worlds in which reality changes with each word. Whether it is harmless fantasy or harmful parental attitudes, the child is wide open to believing it. The fact that children are more hypnotizable than adults also suggests that for the adult hypnosis depends upon third-level disengagement.

In the adult a false reality can be imposed over actual reality via the same mechanism that allows parents to impose false family realities on their children: third level disengagement.[1] Indeed, the adult becomes more childlike when hypnotized precisely because the hypnotist is addressing the intact child-brain without the interference of the reality-oriented adult brain. What this really means is that the hypnotic relationship re-enacts the neurotic paradigm: the hypnotist speaks to the subject and asks him to follow his instructions and suggestions, just as the neurotic parents did when the person was a child. This is similar to what occurs in any dominant-subordinate, leader-follower relationship in which the authority figure is able to appeal to the follower's unfulfilled childhood need. With his critical thinking abilities suspended, driven by the need to be accepted and loved and felt worthy, the follower parrots the leader's ideas, no matter how bizarre, and becomes an instrument of the leader's will. In extreme cases – Jonestown, Waco, the Taliban, and so on – followers have been known to enact their leader's hypnotic suggestions, to the point of giving away their spouses and even killing at the leader's behest. Thus the Taliban are willing to behead a poor, helpless woman who may have unwittingly shown too much ankle or leg. In one sense, the military in reproducing monotonous behavior, marching back and forth, turning on a dime together, shouting out certain phrases over and over, are hypnotizing soldiers to behave and not ask why. It is a good parallel to hypnosis. “Yours is to do and not ask why.”

There is one point to clarify. Although our childhood brain is contained within our later-developing adult brain, it is not this fact alone which makes us hypnotizable. It is the fact that, through neurosis, the child brain retains the functional quality of childishness. Hypnosis addresses the child brain of a person who in many ways is still a child – which is precisely what makes it possible to link up with or uncover the child brain in the first place. In an adult whose history was one of healthy integration, addressing the child brain would have little or no effect. A fully-integrated self could not be delineated along the lines of child self and adult self. Every aspect of the developing selfhood would have been incorporated to form a seamless, whole self which functioned as such. Thus although the child brain would retain its neurological identity, it would not manifest as separate or differentiated at the psychological and behavioral levels.

What is suggested by the hypnotist to the child-psyche of a neurotic person will have an unconscious effect later on precisely because the neurotic paradigm of imposing a false reality over the truth is so well established. This explains why post-hypnotic suggestions can work: the new parent-authority (the hypnotist) has put information into the second level or child-brain, which it obediently receives and later acts upon out of habit.

Because the hypnotic subject is unaware of what is going on outside of him, we have the notion of a magically altered state of consciousness. From the Primal viewpoint, however, it is neither magical, special, nor altered; it is simply different. The hypnotized person is operating from a lower (different) level of consciousness than is usual in the waking state. The same situation occurs in the dream state. While we are dreaming we are unaware of what is happening in the room we are in; we are unaware of the whirring of a fan or the noises emanating from the television. We are also unaware of what is happening in our own body; we do not feel the headache we had when we went to bed. Within a few minutes upon awakening, however, we again perceive the room, we again feel the pain. This is because the third level is disengaged during sleep in order to block out external, waking realities. When it re-engages upon awakening, it immediately resumes its job of attending, perceiving, sorting, and responding to waking realities – and hence, we experience a renewal of sensory inputs and pain. To go to sleep is to become unconscious which is the same in hypnosis. As I said, we cannot get well unconsciously.

In neurosis, the innate adaptability of the third level is taken advantage of as a means of repressing and dissociating from pain. Third-level disconnection helps to keep the pain from being felt because, as I have pointed out, one needs all levels of consciousness for true feeling. Instead of mediating adult realities, as it should be, the neurotic adult brain is still heavily involved in mediating a child' s reality. A third level working for a child will be drawn to external situations which serve a child's needs, such as psychotherapies or religions which are reassuring and quell a child's Pain. False ideas – such as that you can relive and resolve a past trauma in hypnosis, or that God will save and protect you – will be accepted because they suit these defensive purposes, and because falsification is already firmly established.

Hypnotic suggestion, then, takes advantage of an innate third-level plasticity and an established state of disconnection which it both reveals and amplifies.

[1]In very young children it would be more accurate to say that the third level is undeveloped rather than disengaged.


  1. So a well developed intellect can be a good thing. Having it undeveloped does not seem so good.

    I have often seen adults as stunted. I call it arrested development. That is, they seem stuck at a young immature age, of 5, 10, or 12. They at least seem to resemble these ages.

    Art, do people stop at a certain age and remain there, even though physically, they progress do adult size and development?

  2. Hi,

    Ok, judging from what you have said here, then any mentor, any one we respect, particularly if they are older, could be persuasive without either party knowing at all, or how, or why.

    So basically it's the blind leading the blind then?

    I mean, you don't have to answer that. When I think of past events I see just that and I was more blind then than I am now. More entranced.

    I am rather concerned at how the group situation amongst us (which represents a real need to be social creatures) can produce a hypnotic state you might call the "herding instinct". I wonder if this also applies to "hunting instinct"?

    People behave differently in groups; we believe differently in groups and we all crave that difference sometimes in our lives. We are social creatures.

    Interestingly the archetypal mentor relationship is nearly always "one to one", ie: one mentor, one recipient of 'love'(advise, suggestion). There seems to be some strange 'brain circuitry' that clicks in for group situations where the audience (voters / siblings) can believe and do things that ordinarily they would not do in a one to one situation. It is as if we will go along with the lowest common denominator. Possibly agreeing to disagree but mostly just putting the blinkers on and following the beaten track, the arse of the poor wildebeast infront of you.

    Could it be that somewhere deep inside our brainstem there are fibres that unite us all as completely merged amoeba when in a group situation? I think so. Like plankton just waiting to be swallowed by a whale. Or; conversely 20,000 soldiers at the Somme marching terminally into machine gun fire on a rainy afternoon.

    Why do we so much more easily succumb to madness in groups? If we say it's the herding instinct, or the hunting instinct then what is going on because I also read that there is evidence that trauma and PTSD is less when experienced in groups. The worst traumas are the un-witnessed ones are they not?

    Why is this?

    Paul G.

  3. Apollo: yes. that is what makes a pedophile. art

  4. Hi,

    I don't believe intellectual reasoning power or the accurate assessment of external risk or of adverse controlling external stimuli is a fair measure of 'maturity'. That's what the Nazis' believed, all believable criteria. 'To control or not to control'.

    I struggle with various different age groups in me. Sometimes they unite to make a whole me, still only a young'n.

    I was once 'a little professor' now I'm just me.

    Paul G.

  5. Hi,

    John Lennon liked being approximate too; sort of vaudeville. Not 'camp' but what happens when you are waiting to escape from the camp. You can see this in the careful but satirical humour he expressed in so many of the interviews with authority figures whilst they tried to 'figure' him out.
    Thankfully he and Paul Macca saw through the intellectualism of Maharishi.

    What a good example John was able to set us by getting through all of that and into the clinic.

    For those of us still waiting to "get out" of the prison, still on "remand" check out: On Being Approximate by Mady Schutzman.

    Paul G.

  6. Hi,

    Love, love me do,
    Coz I, I love you,
    You know I'll be true. . .

    So plea-ea-ea-ease,
    Love me do-oo.

    Paul G.

  7. An email comment:
    "Hello Dr. Janov,

    I am able to do weird "things" in my dreams and would love to hear your opinion about this.

    1) I am able to explain to me what is happening in a dream and why I am dreaming this WHILE DREAMING!
    So I see what happens in my dream and say to me: you dream this because yesterday you watched this movie, or had this thought or feeling

    2) I am able to wake myself WHILE STUCK IN A DREAM. Once I was in a dark room, and there was something outside I was afraid of. And suddenly I said to myself in this dream: Open your eyes. So I did so and was awake.

    3) I dream that I am in an apartment, there is a woman and suddenly I say to myself WHILE DREAMING: This is not real Peter, it is just a dream, wake up! wake up Peter!

    What is happening here Dr. Janov? "

  8. And my response:
    I am going to tell you my dream and I want you to analyze it. OK?
    I was in this washing machine turning round and round and was getting dizzy and I felt like I was going to faint or die.
    What does that mean?
    Only I know. Get it?
    It also means that your unconscious is very close to consciousness which ordinarily is a good sign if you sleep OK. art

  9. Dear Art,

    May I ask about sleeping?
    I sleep more then 12 hours per day, is that mean my unconsciousness is close to the consciousness. I dream every night, more then one dream/
    Have you ever treated hypersomnia? and helped?
    My dreams are never shocking, and dramatic, it is the time when I am about to wake up-terror, fear, closeness to death...


  10. Hi,

    This dialogue is very helpful to me because I kept a dream diary for years (on and of) and I knew for sure from certain notorious and infamous sources that one should not necessarily take dreams too seriously. . .

    I sense that dreams become more obvious the more we can express our true feelings, again, which is 'cause or effect' is debatable but lets not get caught up in the story!

    Paul G.

  11. Nenad: Not sure how to answer you since sleeping 12 hours could be normal, abnormal, the result of a medical condition: a result of being a parasympath. You see how dangerous it is to make a wild diagnosis without having all the facts. art janov
    If your body temp and blood pressure are low there is some chance of being a parasympath, as most of them need a lot of sleep for reasons spelled out in several of my books.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“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.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
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Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

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Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
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downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.