You Are Getting Sleepy: The Art of Hypnosis

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)

How Does Hypnosis Work?

According to the gate-control theory in neurology, when two impulses are given to a nerve at the same time, the nerve transmission or brain perception is diminished because the fibers can’t send each message clearly. An example is when a dentist gives someone an injection and at the same time shakes the cheek or lip. The nerve fibers have to transmit the feeling of vibration or shaking at the same time as the feeling of the injection, which, in a sense, distracts some of the transmission of pain.

Hypnosis is a similar process. In deep concentration, the filtering portion of the cerebrum’s frontal lobe is distracted and diverted to allow the hypnotist (or sometimes self-hypnotist) to address the deeper areas of the brain without being blocked. Usually this requires that the subject trusts the hypnotist. At this stage, frequently either some hidden information can be elicited or some behavioral changes can be implanted by inserting suggestions, which — not being filtered or blocked—can actually become and be considered as part of one’s internal makeup.

Most people in the field think that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. This means that someone can only be hypnotized if they want to be hypnotized. This is probably true most of the time. Hypnosis is done is by making the subject concentrate with their conscious mind on a thought or an object, using their full powers of concentration. One method of hypnotic induction is to have the subject sit comfortably, close their eyes and imagine they are in a beach or country scene. By slowly increasing the images at the beach scene and following their breathing pattern, sometimes accompanied by suggestions of progressive states of relaxation, their conscious mind becomes occupied, leaving an opening to talk to the subconscious.

Any number of inductions work, with the same process of tying up the conscious with a
task requiring full concentration. Sometimes distraction is used, either visual (e.g., spinning colors) or verbal (something like a riddle or play on words). In all of these cases, the most critical capacity for successful hypnosis is trust. If the person being hypnotized does not trust the hypnotist, the guarding mechanism will not be dropped and hypnosis will not occur. Therefore, going along with this is the desire to be hypnotized. Under these circumstances, self-hypnosis is obviously usually successful.

Once one has reached this deep state of concentration, hypnotic suggestions are possible. For example, to get someone to stop smoking, you can remind their subconscious of all the negative things about smoking that it tries to keep away from the conscious, such as cigarettes causing bad breath, making clothing smell, killing your lungs and heart, etc.

Sometimes you can help mask or alleviate pain, if doing so would not cause damage that the deeper recesses of the subconscious would not allow. The deeper parts guarding the person would not allow someone to shoot someone or rob a bank or even just shame themselves, such as disrobing in public.

Positive suggestions are more likely to be accepted. Hidden memories are usually available to be expressed. Sometimes a hypnotist can reach deep anxieties and be able to deal with them under a safe and trusting situation. Sometimes, posthypnotic suggestions can be given for the subject to act upon after coming out of a hypnotic state. If they are minor or non-threatening, they may be followed as if the subject desires it.

Remember the story of surgery subjects rubbing their ears? They were under anesthesia and
the conscious blocking was not working, so the instruction to rub their ears was placed in the subconscious, and when they were questioned, they rubbed their ears. Being part of their subconscious, their own mind told them to do it. The interesting part was that they had to come up with a rational reason of why they were doing it. Because it itches, not because someone told me to do it, in which case they wouldn’t do it.

There are some stage hypnotists who usually pick out people who are extroverts or who like to act out. You may see one or more of them test the person by asking them to fall backwards until the hypnotist catches them. This is a method of testing their trust — he will pick out those who can concentrate on him and tune out a large audience, which makes them good and quick hypnotic subjects.

Waking hypnosis basically requires the same distraction or concentration while you try to talk to the subconscious. This is frequently done with biofeedback, where the person is asked to concentrate on changing an internal bodily function, such as slowing the heartbeat or lowering the blood pressure, thus speaking to the subconscious and actually having an affect on something usually unreachable.

Some thoughts bypass the conscious and go directly to the unconscious through strong emotional impact. Most people remember exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot or when the World Trade Center was attacked. Sometimes a trauma will be seared into the subconscious, leaving a permanent scar that can only be reached by reaching into the subconscious. Hypnosis is a great help.

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)

1 Comment

  1. I’ve often wondered whether a person can be made to act against his or her conscience while under hypnosis. Would it be a safe assumption this is not the case – based on “You Are Getting Sleeepy
    – The Art of Hypnosis”?

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