With a little practice, most people can be hypnotized and can use self-hypnosis. Hypnosis allows us to experience thoughts, fantasies and images as almost real (Soskis, 1986). The hypnotized person knows the experience is not real, however, because he/she doesn't act like it is real. Under hypnosis we may vividly imagine being at the beach but we don't take off our clothes and try to jump into the water. Yet, by experiencing a situation differently, e.g. seeing public speaking as a way of influencing minds, we may act and feel differently (more positive, less scared).
The mental scenes can seem very real to us but we know it is all just in our head. It is the same experience as watching a film and feeling we are there, we really get "into it" and become afraid, inspired, sexually aroused, very sad and so on. This imagery is something we do, not something done to us. It used to be thought that the hypnotist gained power over the subject through "animal magnetism." Actually, there can be no hypnotic experience without the subject's agreement and participation. Thus, all hypnosis is in a sense self-hypnosis. Could anyone force you against your will to get deeply emotionally involved in a good book or movie? No. But you can do it by yourself...and feel wonderful.
No one knows who discovered hypnosis. No doubt a storyteller thousands of years ago. We do know that hypnosis was used to treat illness long before Christ. During the Middle Ages, priests used self-hypnosis to make God more real to them and to intensify their relationship with God. Hypnosis has been used by physicians and faith healing by preachers to cure people. In the early part of this century, a Frenchman, Emile Coue' (1922), popularized the idea of auto-suggestion. His most famous self-instruction was, "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better."
At first, you are likely to believe that an experienced hypnotist could perform impressive feats but you couldn't possibly do much. That is a reflection of the stories you have read and movies you have seen. Research has shown (Fromm, 1975) that some people reach deeper trance states in self-hypnosis than with a hypnotist. They have more vivid, richer imagery. Self-hypnosis costs nothing, is easy to produce, and allows the person to make changes in the procedures so that they work best for him/her. So, again, an old therapy technique may become even more effective in the hands of an informed self-helper (Fisher, 1991). Alman & Lambrou (1991) also provide a self-hypnosis induction method and specific self-instructions for several specific problems, like self-confidence, pain relief, weight loss, phobia reduction, etc.
It is not necessary to be hypnotized in order to have vivid imaginary experiences. Daydreams are vivid. The basic idea of hypnosis and mental imagery is this: if you want to do something, imagine yourself doing it over and over. This is also called goal rehearsal. The idea is father to the act. Books by Lazarus (1977) and Fanning (1988) are filled with examples of visualization (without hypnosis) serving many purposes.
By using hypnosis or mental imagery (without hypnosis) a person can sometimes produce impressive results. Perhaps the most astonishing is the control of pain. Many people (not everybody can) have had dental work, surgery, and babies without pain. One of the easiest experiences to have is relaxation which can counteract fears and stress. If your behavior or someone else's is hard to understand, the key is likely to be uncovering the thoughts and images occurring between perceiving the situation and responding. Example: One paraplegic sees only misery, another plans on going to graduate school. Developing new intervening images and self-suggestions can change certain behaviors, such as studying and concentration, help control anger and sadness, build self-esteem, reduce bad habits, and so on.
STEP ONE: Become familiar with self-hypnosis and/or mental imagery.
There are several things to learn. First, you need to get a "feel" for what is involved--some basic understanding. Second, you learn a simple procedure for inducing self-hypnosis or using visualization. Third, you practice these procedures several times. Fourth, you make plans of exactly how to use hypnosis or visualization to change the things that concern you. Only after this preparation do you start actually trying to use hypnosis or visualization as a self-help method.
Almost all of us daydream. Our daydreams tend to be helpful re-living of the past or rehearsing for the future, i.e. useful stuff. Very few of our daydreams are self-aggrandizing or erotic fantasies. Sometimes they relieve the boredom, but most of the time they involve some emotion--a important event, a threat, a frustration, a hope, etc. Daydreaming is like brainstorming, a chance to mentally test out and practice different solutions. There is evidence that daydreamers concentrate better, are more empathic, less fearful, more lively and alert, may enjoy sex more, and generally are more fun to be around (Klinger, 1987). Of course, obsessions with harming others, using drugs or eating, past or possible future catastrophes and so on are a serious problem. In most cases, however, a good fantasy life should be of great value, nothing to be ashamed of.
Most of us know how to daydream, it comes naturally. Perhaps you can encourage more daydreams and guide your fantasies into more constructive, fruitful, creative areas, rather than leaving it entirely up to the "whim of the moment." You might refer to chapter 15 where guided fantasies are used for insight. Perhaps your re-occurring daydreams reveal some frustrated needs that deserve more conscious attention. Otherwise, I'm going to assume you know all you need to know about daydreams and go on to hypnosis.
Most hypnotists start by giving the subject some introductory experience, often a demonstration of "suggestion effects" or an illustration of how ideas influence behavior, called ideomotor action. For example, they will ask you to clasp your hands together and imagine that your palms are tightly stuck--glued--together. Then they ask you to try to take your hands apart. Many people find it is somewhat difficult to separate their hands after the suggestion is given. Other hypnotists will have you stand with your eyes closed, heels together, and imagine swaying backwards. Most people actually sway backwards (the hypnotist must be prepared to catch the subject). In other words, thinking of some action tends to produce that action if your imagination is vivid enough.
You can have similar experiences by yourself (Soskis, 1986). For example, make yourself a pendulum out of a small, round object that has some weight to it. A spherical button or glass ornament is ideal, but a medallion or set of keys or heavy ring will do. Make the string about 10" long. Then draw a circle on a piece of typing paper and draw two lines intersecting in the middle of the circle. Put the paper on a table in front of you. Put your elbow comfortably on the table and grasp the string at the point where the pendulum is just resting on the center of the circle where the lines cross. Now, lift the object off the paper slightly (1/8 inch) and think of the object moving back and forth along one of the lines. Don't consciously move your hand or fingers, just think of movement back and forth in a certain direction. Guess what? The pendulum will start to move (an inch or so) in the directions you are thinking about. Wow! Then think of the object moving in the other directions, then in a circle, and so on. Play with it for a while. Of course, your thoughts aren't moving the object, very tiny imperceptible movements in your hand are. Most people are impressed.
Another hypnotic experience is extending your arms in front of you and carefully noting that the palms are facing each other at the same height and about two inches apart. Then close your eyes and imagine your right arm is getting heavy while your left arm is getting lighter and lighter. Tell yourself over and over that the left arm is feeling very light...the right arm and hand is getting heavier and heavier all the time. Dwell on those images...then add to the images...a helium balloon might be attached to the left arm by a soft ribbon and it is gently lifting that arm higher and higher into the air. On the right arm there is a bookstrap and several heavy books are pulling it down...further and further down. After imagining this for a minute or so, open your eyes and see how far your hands have actually moved. Six inches or more is not unusual but an inch or two makes the point that thoughts influence behavior.
Consider some other factors about hypnosis. It should be an interesting experience and it may be helpful. However, if you have had a bad experience with hypnosis, you should not use this method by yourself. If you expect magical, instant, major changes, like a cure for cancer or a new personality, forget it. Yet, pain can be lessened and new attitudes learned. Also, you can get started on a diet or quitting smoking, but one hypnotic session isn't all you need.
You may wonder if you will be able to respond, e.g. to a telephone or the door, while hypnotized or if you will remember what happened. The answers to both are yes. You can come out of it at any time. Is hypnosis like sleep? No, you know what is going on (although it is easy to fall asleep while so relaxed). If you fall asleep, don't be concerned, just take a nap. You won't do anything weird, like with a stage hypnotist, because you are in control. You won't hurt yourself although a warning is in order: very rarely a person trying hypnosis for the first time will have a reaction that alarms or scares them, such as going into a trance state very quicky (within a minute or so) or having some fantasy or sensory experience they didn't expect. My advice to a person having such a reaction is to stop trying to use this method, unless one seeks the services of a professional with hypnotic experience. Much of the effects of self-hypnosis is due to expectations or placebo or suggestion; therefore, only use hypnosis if you believe it can be helpful and safe.
Decide if you want to use self-hypnosis and what you want to use it for.
Before trying self-hypnosis, you may want to do some reading or talk to a friend or a professional. But in the kind of experiences I will suggest you try, there are no more dangers than in using other self-help methods. As suggested under purposes above, hypnosis is best used with (a) problems that primarily concern only you, not your spouse or boss or family, (b) recent problems, (c) problems that involve your feelings (e.g. anxiety), not your performance (take a speech class if you want to be a more skillful speaker), and (d) problems that can be helped by new cognitions--thoughts, attitudes or images--not problems requiring insight or new knowledge.
Do not use self-hypnosis with (a) serious, long-term mental illness, (b) problems involving a troubled relationship with someone else or if you are a loner with "spacey" or peculiar ideas, (c) problems that have not responded to professional help in the past, or (d) problems which you are not willing to devote 15 minutes each day for a month or so. Also, do not try to uncover suspected traumatic early childhood experiences, e.g. abuse or incest, or to explore past lives. In fact, don't try to use hypnosis to "discover the truth" about anything because many of the vivid "memories" one might have under hypnosis may be radically different from reality. Yet, mental imagery is used (with caution) to gain insight and new awareness (see chapter 15).