What is Hypnosis?

A map of a city is not the city itself. Most maps delete the trees, the people, the bicycles. And maps become outdated as one building is torn down and another built.

There are many models of hypnosis, but all of them are just maps. The following is a model that I like to use when talking about hypnosis or trance. Don’t confuse it with reality. :)

Trance as a State of Openness

Have you ever had the experience of someone sharing their problems with you, you give them what you believe to be your expert advice, and they sorta brush you off and don’t take your awesome advice?

It’s a pretty common experience.

Have you ever had the opposite experience, where someone was really receptive to your advice and really took it to heart, and either did what you advised or at least took it very seriously?

Trance is about engineering that second kind of experience, the state where we are more receptive. In other models, hypnotists call this “suggestibility,” but we might instead call it openness — openness to learning, feedback, or suggestions.

It’s not gullibility but more like a willingness to learn and change. Being in trance doesn’t mean you can’t critically evaluate suggestions, it just means that you take them seriously, and positive suggestions impact you more deeply.

That’s why we induce a trance before giving suggestions, because it increases the likelihood of our suggestions being taken seriously and meaningfully.

Most of the time we are not so open, and that is just fine. As we say in NLP, “all behaviors are useful in some context.” Being less open to feedback or suggestions is wise when we are not prepared to change or when the feedback isn’t helpful. In fact, many people could benefit from learning how and when to close themselves off from feedback, such as not paying attention to what some people think of them (as in social anxiety), or learning to tune out distracting stimuli (as in ADHD). These two things — and many more — can be learned while in trance!

Hypnosis as a Conversation

There’s an old model of hypnosis as controlling others. Exaggerated versions of this appear in old movies such as The Manchurian Candidate. But hypnosis doesn’t work like mind control — if it did, you would find many retired billionaire hypnotists.

In that old model, the “controller” hypnotizes the “subject,” and then gives them “commands” to mindlessly obey. Then the subject pretends to be a robot.

But people are not robots. Even in trance where you feel more open, anyone can reject any suggestion. You can’t be forced to do things that are against your values or morals. If there is a part of you that objects, the suggestion is unlikely to stick due to the inner conflict.

Subjugating yourself to another human is the opposite of empowerment. That old model puts the hypnotee in a passive position where they fail to take responsibility for their life. Many evils in this world have been rationalized with “I was simply obeying orders.” For these reasons, I think it is important to encourage personal responsibility for our actions.

We can instead think of hypnosis as a conversation. A conversation requires two people actively participating. A conversation is not one person blabbing on while the other just sits there. When you go into hypnosis, you are actively choosing to follow along, to make it happen. No one can do it for you. Nor can your hypnotist solve your life’s problems for you — they are yours to do something about. Like hiring a personal trainer, you still have to do the work.

Instead, a skilled hypnotist can get you in touch with your powerful inner resources, even developing new ones such as deep relaxation. A skilled hypnotist can guide you through cleaning up things from your past so they no longer affect you negatively. A skilled hypnotist can facilitate you becoming more resourceful and high-performing in the present. And a skilled hypnotist can design, with you, a compelling vision for your future.

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