Everyone has heard of hypnosis, and have formed a lot of ideas about what it is – usually from seeing it used incorrectly and in a very exaggerated way in movies and TV. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there. I know when people find out I’m a hypnotist I get this sort of side eye look that’s somewhere in between bewilderment and “Are you a wizard?” The impression a lot of people have is that hypnosis is a lot like this hilarious scene from The Simpsons.
But everyone always has a lot of questions about what hypnosis is really like, since after all it is a fascinating process that really does capture our imaginations. So today I’m going to start a series where I talk about the most common myths and misconceptions I encounter when people ask me about hypnosis.
Today’s Question – Am I Asleep When I’m In Hypnosis?
You are NOT getting sleepy when you are in hypnosis! Despite the fact that hypnosis takes its name from Hypnos, the Greek God of Sleep, and that many hypnotists (myself included) will occasionally say “sleep” when working with clients, you’re actually awake the entire time. You are never unconscious when you are in hypnosis.
In fact, sleep still remains commonly used by hypnotists because of this deep association people have with the suggestion that a hypnotist saying “Sleep!” Sends one into hypnosis. So it becomes a bit of a shorthand for your mind when in hypnosis to relax and go deeper into the trance.
So yes, we say sleep, we tell you to sleep, but you’re not asleep! In fact we don’t -want- you to go to sleep! We want you in a relaxed state that appears as if you are asleep, because then your unconscious mind is front and center, allowing us to speak directly to it in order to create the change you want. But, those suggestions still have to be filtered through the conscious mind so you actually do hear them!
In fact – this surprises a lot of people – but we naturally go into hypnosis several times a day every day. Without looking as if we’re unconscious! Just behaving normally and doing normal every day activities, only we are in hypnosis.
One of the most common forms of this “waking” hypnosis people experience is commonly referred to as “Highway Hypnosis.” You’ve likely experienced it before, say driving down the road, mind adrift then all of a sudden, you’ve arrived at your exit. That’s because you were in hypnosis. You were still awake, you were still safe and aware of everything that was going on around you and able to function, except your unconscious mind came to the front.
I remember one time when I was in college, it was a very rainy day. Just a complete downpour and I was driving into work. I decided to take side streets because I knew the freeway was going to be completely congested. I’m driving in, its obviously a dreary and dark day with the rain pouring down, hearing it on the windshield, the wipers going back and forth, music playing – all very hypnotic things. The next thing I know I am a block and a half from work and the album I was listening to is on the next to last song! I didn’t know it at the time but that was pure highway hypnosis.
Being in hypnosis is actually more comparable to being so absorbed in a movie or book that you lose awareness of your surroundings because you are so laser focused on what you are reading or watching.
Another fun example of everyday hypnosis that occurs are called positive and negative hallucinations. If you’ve ever seen a stage hypnosis show, a form of this is often used to make participants believe that the hypnotist’s belt is actually a snake. This is what’s called as a positive hallucination because it is adding something.
A negative hallucination in hypnosis is when something is subtracted. So the every day example of this would be if you were running late for a job interview, you’re a little stressed out and you want to make sure everything goes perfectly. It’s about time to go and you tell yourself “Don’t forget your keys” and you turn to look, but suddenly you can’t find your keys. They’re not in your pocket, they’re not where they usually are and they’re not on the table so where are they? Frantically you look around then all of a sudden there they are, right in front of you on the table where you thought they were. But you looked there 5 times and didn’t see them! What gives? I’ll tell you my friend, you just hypnotized yourself!
Your brain took the suggestion of “forget your keys” and briefly, you forgot all about your keys and even though they were right there you couldn’t see them.
Another common example of this is looking right at something in the fridge and not seeing it. Example, one night I was making burgers and everything was ready and my daughter said “Dad, you forgot the ketchup.” So I went to get it out of the fridge. I open the door and I look right where the ketchup is supposed to be but it wasn’t there. I’m like what the? How can we be out of ketchup? I’m staring right at it and I ask my daughter “Are you sure we have ketchup? Didn’t we just get a bottle of it?” And she comes over to the fridge and is like “Dad! It’s right there!” And sure enough, the ketchup was right in front of me that entire time.
Completely normal things that happen to all of us, and are all examples of hypnotic phenomenon that take place while we are awake and actually moving around!
Hypnosis is actually a normal state of heightened focus, concentration, and suggestibility. You may look like you’re sleeping, but the reality is you’re incredibly attentive. You appear asleep because your hypnotist guides you into a relaxed state, because who doesn’t like to relax? When we want to increase our focus so we can really concentrate on something we’d like to change – anything from removing a fear or phobia, to losing weight or quitting smoking, it’s a lot easier to do when we are relaxed – but not asleep!