- Julius de Jong
Hypnotized Without Realizing (Episode 27-39)
And how to use this hypnotic power to our benefit
Initially, I was skeptical to the thought of researching the idea of hypnosis. It’s an ambiguous concept which is not always presented in the best light. Hypnosis could also instill some fear or anxiety, and is, as I learnt, surrounded by misconceptions. However, hypnosis is all around us. When we watch TV, commercials, or any marketing material. When we’re sucked into YouTube or social media, we’re hypnotized by the content that is presented to us and the algorithms behind it that keep feeding us more. We can, and will get drawn in, and become ever more suggestible if we’re not mindful. Therefore, to better understand this process, and if hypnosis could also enhance our lives, I decided to dive in.
‘Accepting suggestion in any form is considered hypnosis’ (Bastaracha, 2009). When we think of hypnosis, there is a good chance one thinks of swinging watches, a very relaxed state of mind, and a calm, even sleepy voice providing instructions. However, there is not one clear uniformly agreed definition of hypnosis. The difficulty of defining hypnosis is to determine whether it’s a state, a process, or something else. Some of these definitions refer to describing a certain state of mind, while other refer to the process of hypnosis. ‘State’ hypnosis definitions are ranging from referring to a ‘sleep-like state’, a ‘unique or special state’, ‘a trance state’, a ‘state of fascination’, a ‘state of focus’, an ‘altered state’ and of course a very ‘relaxed state’. Hypnosis is also defined as an art, while other definitions focus on the suggestion element of hypnotism, defining hypnotism as an inherently a suggestion-based process. ‘Eventually hypnosis became viewed by many as something which the subject is responsible for—or more accurately, capable of—given the right instruction. This eventually led some to conclude that all hypnosis is in fact self-hypnosis’ (Jacquin, 2016). Hypnosis also has a lot to do with the expectations of the subject who is being hypnotized. Furthermore, ‘[i]t can be argued that all hypnotic experiences take place in the realm of imagination’ (Jacquin, 2016). Beatrice Crassus defines hypnosis as ‘a state of nervous sleep that is different from the normal sleep that we undergo. In this particular state the mind is focused singularly on one object as opposed to general awareness to anything in the periphery’ (Crassus, 2015). In this state, the focus is with one singular thing, without being conscious of anything else. To date, there is not yet a generally accepted working definition. Ina Oostrom is using is the definition of Dave Elman, which states that hypnosis is ‘the passing of the critical factor, with that being enabled to establish an acceptable suggestion or idea’ (Oostrom, 2022).
Typical fears and misconceptions about hypnosis
In all honesty, I personally felt some anxiety imagining myself undergoing hypnosis. I fear losing control and not having any influence on what happens to me. I also read about the fear of being taken advantage of during hypnosis, and the fear of remaining stuck in the trance state, not being able to get out and come back to normal. The misconception about hypnosis which induces the most fear is the fright of remaining stuck in hypnosis according to Ina Oostrom (Oostrom, 2022). As Ina explained, hypnosis is about using a very natural state that everybody can attain and experiences throughout life. For instance, when you fall asleep, you go through a hypnotic state, similarly, when waking up. Similarly, we can get carried away by music and dance, but also through stories, or a movie. All of these involve that same hypnotic state. We do not have to be fearful of this state. A great example for this was shared by Ina from her teacher Gerald Kein. While he was with a client, who was fully hypnotized, Gerald suffered a heart attack. His subject came out from hypnosis instantly, and was able to notify the emergency services, saving his life (Oostrom, 2022).
Another misconception is that someone else controls us during hypnosis. This is not the case, emphasized Ina Oostrom. As illustrated in the before-mentioned definition as shared by Ina, hypnosis involves acceptable suggestions. This means that what is suggested to us throughout hypnosis must be in alignment with our values and conceptions. This also implies that we are able to reject hypnosis or step-out of it when something happens which is not in alignment with our values and being. ‘[H]ypnosis [is] something which the subject is responsible for—or more accurately, capable of—given the right instruction. This eventually led some to conclude that all hypnosis is in fact self-hypnosis’ (Jacquin, 2016). Another often mentioned fear concerns the loss of hearing during hypnosis. However, as Ina explained, this is not the case. Hypnosis actually causes a heightening of our senses (Oostrom, 2022). As she elaborates, you experience enhanced hearing, feel more, and become more susceptible in your mind. Contrary to having an external focus, during hypnosis, the focus of our awareness shifts inwards. This helps us for instance, to go back deeper into our memories while under hypnosis (Oostrom, 2022).
Hypnosis as a form of manipulation and free will
During my talk about hypnosis with Ina Oostrom, I asked her about the relation between manipulation and hypnosis. As she responded, ‘when someone comes for hypnotherapy, the provides suggestions are in line with the objective of the subject of the hypnosis. One can therefore not speak of manipulation in this regard. The suggestions are in alignment with the values and desires of the hypnotic subject’ (Oostrom, 2022). Only acceptable ideas, in line with our values, can find ground in our subconscious though hypnosis. There is a form of verification of our consciousness if indeed a change is desirable. In other words, we need to be motivated for what’s suggested through hypnosis. Instead, Ina mentioned, there is manipulation during our waking hypnosis, through for instance politics and marketing. However, it is very important to realize that we always exercise our own free will, and in order to be hypnotized, we need suggestions which in some ways are in alignment with our values (Oostrom, 2022).
Naturally, when awake and present in the here and now, we have a clear sense of judgment, grounded in reality and objectivity. This we can refer to as our critical faculty. When someone is under hypnosis, ‘he is in control of all his faculties except one. He can hear, see, feel, smell, taste, speak. Though he may sometimes look unconscious, he is completely aware and can therefore cooperate. The single exception to this control is what I call the critical faculty. If you give him a suggestion which pleases him and which seems emotionally and morally reasonable to him, he will accept it despite the fact that under ordinary circumstances he might consider it an impossible suggestion’ (Elman, 1977). In hypnosis, both the body and mind are equally suggestible, as one. When we bypass our critical faculty, we are susceptible to suggestions and selective thinking. As was mentioned during my talk with Ina Oostrom, a young child has not yet developed its critical faculty. Because of this, the child is highly susceptible and prone to interpret events in a subjective manner. Because of this, a lot of fears and phobias that surface later in life can be traced back to the early childhood, when one’s critical faculty was not yet developed or fragile, as can be the case during adolescence.
In the before-mentioned definition of Dave Elman, there is no mentioning of a trance-like state. As Ina explained, this is a good thing. She would rather view this process as de-hypnotizing, as hypnosis is all around us. ‘When we are born, when we go to school, [everywhere] we get suggestion after suggestion. A child, until the age of seven does not have a critical faculty, they are programmed fully without any blockage’ (Oostrom, 2022). In many cases as she elaborated, clients come to resolve issues which happened at the younger age when they could not yet protect themselves (Oostrom, 2022). Thus, in those instances, the process of hypnosis is about undoing of some form of earlier ‘programming’ which doesn’t serve the individual subject of hypnosis. In these cases, we’re speaking of hypnotherapy, which should be distinguished from hypnosis for entertainment purposes or otherwise.
Left and right brain
During hypnosis, our neocortex is side-tracked. The neocortex is a part of the human brain where the higher cognitive functioning originates from. It is thought that the neuronal computations of attention, thought, perception and episodic memory originate here. In more popular terminology, this is the left-brain thinking. During hypnosis, it’s more our limbic system which is active (Oostrom, 2022). This is the part of our brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses. In particular when it comes to survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses originate here. The limbic system is able to take suggestions from the hypnotherapist, which can even overrule pain triggers for instance. The activation of the limbic system makes us also highly susceptible to fear triggers. Hypnosis is a shift from your analytical thinking mind to your feeling mind. This also happens when we’re watching TV or a movie: we get into a dream state and become deeply involved with the story forgetting about all around us in many cases. When we’d watch a movie from our analytical mind, we’d notice the lighting being off, small consistency errors between different shots, etcetera. When on the other hand, we’re watching TV or a movie from the feeling mind, or our right-side brain, we’re experiencing it as if we are a part of what we’re watching. I’m sure you too had the experience after finishing a movie to suddenly come back to the reality of your couch thinking, ‘ah, yes, I’m actually home instead of all engulfed in this movie’.
Waking hypnotic suggestions
We do not need to be in a deep trance in order to be hypnotized. Even while awake and present, suggestions through news media, marketing and commercials, our focus and attention is directed without our conscious being fully present. In other words, these messages and suggestions bypass our critical faculty. For instance, would you prefer a beach or a nature holiday? This question is highly directive (and thereby suggestive) as it doesn’t consider staying at home, or a million other options. Only the question already shapes our thinking and our perceived options. This question offers a subtle way of directing our focus. A more direct, yet also more effective way is the mobilization of human behavior through fear. Fear connects us with our primal survival instincts and forms a very strong push for action. A lot of our everyday hypnosis is induced by fear.
Many people struggle with strange fears and phobias, for which as adults, the cause is not always obvious. As was explained during my talk with Ina, a lot of work in the field of hypnotherapy has to do with this, and with the changing of bad habits and limiting thoughts. Hypnotherapy focuses on clearing the root causes of fears, phobias, habits and limiting thought patterns. Let’s take a particular fear as an example. Though the process of hypnotherapy one revisits the first triggering events which caused the fear. From there a shift is established focused on creating acceptance about that experience with the recognition one has overcame it, survived it. Typically, these are events from our childhood which have been impactful. When going back in time, ‘there is actually an exchange between your adult self and that former child self’, Ina explained (Oostrom, 2022). It’s about explaining and making sense of that earlier situation, and releasing the pent-up energy related to it. From there, it’s about building new neuropathways in relation to that fear. ‘From now on, every time you feel that fear, you will become more relaxed and in control’ (Oostrom, 2022). So, in essence, in the process of hypnosis, the old response to a trigger, e.g. fear or anxiety, will now be replaced by relaxation and a feeling of confidence and control. ‘Our brain I neuroplastic. When we have a fear, it builds up, and becomes stronger. Once we replace it with a positive suggestion, that new suggestion can grow and become stronger’ (Oostrom, 2022). This works on all levels. ‘Hypnosis has an effect on the unconscious as well as the conscious mind, and on the autonomic nervous system, too’ (Elman, 1977).
Our critical faculty functions as a gate keeper shielding off ideas and suggestions which are not in alignment with our values. At the early ages in childhood, with this critical faculty not yet being developed, seemingly small events can have long lasting consequences. I asked Ina about this, and she explained that in some cases, unprocessed emotions or events from these early years of life that are the original trigger for events later in life such as burnout or depression (Oostrom, 2022). It is then through hypnotherapy that one revisits the original experience while in the process creating a new experience around this event. As Ina elaborates, as an adult, we often think these early life experiences must be significant events, which they sometimes are. But more too often, they are small events which from the point of view of a child where very impactful at that time (Oostrom, 2022).
During our talk, Ina shared a vivid example of Gerard Kein who worked with a stewardess with years and years of flying experience, who at one day became too afraid to fly. One day, upon entering the plain, withing a few moments a terrible fear takes hold of her. She has to leave the airplane and is forced to call in sick. The next day, she tried again but is still unable to fly, overwhelmed by fear and panic. After a few month, and ultimately staying home sick, she sees Gerald for a hypnosis treatment. Through hypnosis, he then mobilized the feeling of the fear. When that fear is at its height, Gerard guided her back to the first moment where she ever experienced that fear. Through this, she arrived at a moment in her early childhood when she was walking home from school passing a tree on the way. In the tree, there is a bird with a nest full of young birds. Aiming to protect her nest, the bird dives down towards the head of the child who happened to be walking under the tree, causing her to feel scared. She runs home, and the story is forgotten. However, the fear was not processed. Perhaps her mother wasn’t at home at the time. As they identified through hypnosis, the link to this childhood experience and the sudden fear of flying, was a man in the front row of the plane reading a newspaper. On that newspaper front page, was a large photograph of a diving bird, in exactly the same figuration as that bird diving down protecting her nest. Her right eye, and though that her subconscious mind, saw that same bird again, causing her to trigger that same fear again (Oostrom, 2022). The sudden fear, with the conscious and rational mind linked to flying triggered subconsciously by this newspaper photo, is what is called the final sensitizing event. Typically, our focus is with that. However, through hypnosis, we are able to access the root cause of our fear. By dealing with this root cause, we also mitigate the consecutive fears and effects (Oostrom, 2022). The negative energy of the event is then dealt with.
Hypnosis requires us to shift from our analytical mind to our feeling mind. This process makes it challenging to conduct self-hypnosis. For this reason, Ina argues, we need someone else to guide us and ask us the right questions in the process. With hypnosis typically being a passive experience, the paradox with self-hypnosis is the fact that it requires and active guiding at the same time as a passive subject. This can be overcome when we learn a self-hypnosis technique which provides us with a learnt Pavlovian response to a particular self-induced trigger. However, this is typically done after having been the subject of hypnosis with another hypnotist (Oostrom, 2022). Self-hypnosis into the deep state is difficult according to Ina. She knows of only a very few cases of people being able to do this. However, there are some ways to achieve forms of self-hypnosis.
‘Self-hypnosis is an instrument for self-control. It has proved to be an effective tool for controlling one’s mind of its divergences, urges, worries, anxieties, etc. It is a modern method of hypnotherapy also called autohypnosis; this method is self-induced and is based on self-suggestion and is quite effective in gaining control of the mental state of mind and relieving oneself of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, obesity, asthma and various skin conditions’ (Crassus, 2015). Also Ina spoke of self-suggestions as a means for changing habits and thinking patterns. Through the creation of a self-suggestion, which you then read out to yourself, you can enter the hypnotic state taking this suggestion with you, allowing the suggestion to do its work (Oostrom, 2022). Beatrice Crassus identified three stages for self-hypnosis, as outlined below:
Preparation. This begins by clearing the mind of every thought and focusing on nothing except performing the process. This ensures a stable one-track mind free of any kind of mental deviations. Loose fitting clothing, a comfortable room temperature, a relaxed atmosphere, and a secluded well-ventilated place where you can be undisturbed is important. The room shouldn’t be too light, nor too dark. Have a proper posture, without any crossed hands, legs, or other body parts. It’s important to have a clear aim and focus for the practice;
The procedure. Get comfortable, close your eyes, and clear out any thoughts. Relax. Focus on letting disturbing thoughts pass, as clouds in the sky. Rid yourself of all tension in the body. One can achieve this by performing a body scan, consciously relaxing every muscle and area of the body. Slow down your breathing. Imagine that the breath that you take in is filled with positive and bright life energy. Then picture the breath that you exhale is an embodiment of pushing out any negativity in your body. ‘Now imagine that you are standing on top of a flight of stairs. Halfway down, the stairs are submerged under cool water. Think of yourself starting from the top as you walk down. Once you reach the water, step into it slowly and allow yourself to feel the sensation of the cool and calm water. Slowly walk down till the last step and allow this calm sensation to pass through your entire body. Once you are at this stage, you should feel like you are floating. Here, start addressing your problems and what you want. Talk to yourself in positive sentences. Think about what your issues are and what you want instead. Speak out to yourself confidently and convincingly. For instance you could say, ‘I am calm and positive’. Keep doing this as you float around in the water. The experience will depend entirely on your imagination as you move through the water. Keep repeating all the positive statements that you wish to come true in your life. After some time, start walking up those stairs again. Once you get above the water, you will feel a little heavier again. Just stay in that position for a while until you feel stable and relaxed again and then walk up the rest of the way. Now take a few moments to slowly open your eyes as you exit your visualization’;
The result. ‘The third stage is about making complete use of your session. Self-hypnosis is not just about those few minutes that you performed in the previous stage. You need to let it impact your life. Make yourself believe that it will work and everything that you positively stated will come true. Visualize the positive things that you want. When you think about it happening it makes it easier for you to actually work towards it. Keep working on this type of hypnosis till you feel that you have reached the stage in your life that you wanted to. You can work towards any goal and make it happen. You need to be patient and persistent. It won’t work immediately so you must keep practicing to get better at it. The results will appear soon enough’ (Crassus, 2015).
We can also achieve self-hypnotization by listening to hypnotic audio recordings, which I personally am not a fan of. I’d like to be in control of the messages and suggestions going into my mind. When we aim for a hypnotic induced change of behavior or thinking, we can then consider creating an autosuggestion script ourselves. As mentioned above by Ina, Rene Bastaracha suggests recording this, with breaks for repetition. ‘Autosuggestion is simply the art of giving yourself positive affirmations or suggestions. This can easily be done by creating a self-affirmation or autosuggestion script, recording it on your choice of recording device, and then playing it back to yourself. The most successful way of using an autosuggestion script is to repeat what is being said on the recording back to yourself either quietly or out loud. In order to be able to do that, when you are recording your autosuggestion script you must give yourself a break or pause between sentences so you will have time to repeat the suggestion to yourself’ (Bastaracha, 2009). Also reading and writing can be very hypnotic. When we read, stories can take us away and inspire us. ‘There is something magical that happens when you write things down. The act of writing ingrains things in your subconscious mind. By writing things down, you remember them more and you are more aware of what you are doing’ (Bastaracha, 2009).
Hypnosis is omnipresent
What I’ve learnt by researching the topic of hypnosis, is that it’s omnipresent in our everyday lives. Especially when our lives are almost continuously connected through screens, media, people, statements, and opinions (suggestions). This actually very much aligns with my mantra: where focus goes, energy flows. The hypnotic power of the messages and suggestions with which we are bombarded on a daily basis have a clear influence on this focus. It requires us to stay present, breathe, and focus our attention with careful consideration. The process of hypnosis, be it in the form of hypnotherapy or self-hypnosis can be very helpful with this. However, probably more times than we’d like to admit, we are being hypnotized without realizing. It might be time to shift our focus and use this hypnotic power to our benefit. I know I’ll be exploring this more now that my suspicions regarding hypnosis have transformed into curiosity. Now close your eyes, and relax…
For this time, I’ve explored something which is both intriguing and a tad bit scary at the same time to me. The topic of hypnosis. To learn more about hypnosis, self-hypnosis and how to achieve this, I have had the pleasure to talk to Ina Oostrom, a very experienced hypnotist, hypnotherapist, and teacher of hypnosis.
Ina is an authority in the field of hypnosis and the author of the books ‘Hypnosis, the Key to Self-Empowerment’, which by now is published in three languages, and ‘Surgery in Hypnosis’. The latter book providing a very interesting account of hypnosis as natural anesthesia during surgery. Ina has helped me to reevaluate some of my own limiting ideas regarding hypnosis and managed to explain this highly interesting practice in a very accessible way.
Her examples and illustrations really brought this topic to light for me, and I’m sure the same will be true for you. Instead of something for entertainment purposes, or a spooky party trick, hypnosis is about empowering yourself and taking back control, backed by science. I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did recording it!
Ina Oostrom’s hypnosis training school: https://hypnosementor.nl/en/
Website with free hypnosis audiotapes, info, and science links: https://hypnosiscommunity.nl/login
Bastaracha, Rene, 2009, The Everything Self-Hypnosis Book: Learn to Use Your Mental Power to Take Control of Your Life. https://amzn.to/3LtnlWN
Crassus, Beatrice, 2015, Hypnosis for Beginners – Master Techniques for: Hypnosis, Mind Control, Manipulation and More. https://amzn.to/3oLvaxk
Elman, Dave, 1977, Hypnotherapy. https://amzn.to/3Bgtm4k
Jacquin, Anthony, 2016, Reality is Plastic. The Art of Impromptu Hypnosis. https://amzn.to/3LyOcRa
Oostrom, Ina, 2016, Hypnosis the Key to Self-Empowerment: Explanation, Application, and Scientific References of Hypnosis for Adults and Children, Including a View from the Perspective of Quantum Physics.https://amzn.to/3JmRjKf
Oostrom, Ina, and Mirjam Borsboom, 2018, Surgery in hypnosis: Removing a breast tumor with hypnosis as natural anesthesia, a personal report. https://amzn.to/3rUWMCl