"So think as
if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon
the sky. For so, in truth, it is.
So speak as if the entire world were but a single ear
intent on hearing what you say. And so, in truth, it
Language is so instinctual
that we often don't stop to think about it. And yet
it is so powerful that it affects our lives to the very
core. In hypnosis, this is particularly significant.
Every hypnosis word we use has meaning. The words we
choose and how we say them reveal our thoughts and our
intentions and affect others profoundly. Hypnosis is
a verbal art form, and it's important for us to take
a good look at our canvas.
It's well known
that when we describe something to a person in hypnosis,
that description can become a deep suggestion: "Your
hand is becoming very light, floating in the air like
a balloon." Other suggestions are powerful, "You
feel very peaceful." or "Your body is healing
perfectly." But this kind of well-known verbal
skill is just the tip of the iceberg with hypnosis.
Let's dive even deeper. Let's take a look at authoritarian
vs. permissive language; at the use of negativities;
at regional language differences; at the use of only
visual language, and more.
The "I want you to..." Conundrum
It never ceases
to amaze me how many practitioners use the words, "I
want you to
" when asking their clients to
take the next action. It's truly an instinctive use
of language, and yet it is very significant. It, in
fact, tells the client, "I'm not really interested
in what you want, but here's what I want you to do.
And I'm your boss, so here's what I want from you."
The significance of this is that the practitioner and
client have a relationship that says, "I know what's
good for you, and therefore, I have one up on you."
But there's another truth that this point of view misses;
it's that our clients have real wisdom, that they often
know what is good for them, and that they are worthy
of great respect. Milton Erickson knew this deeply.
He rescued the old authoritarian hypnosis from its own
language - and from itself. So grew the popularity of
such phrases as: "Just let yourself
or "You may find that you want to
"If you would, just go ahead and
clients and hypnotherapists rejoiced at this. Others
paid little or no attention and kept on with "I
want you to
" language. The upshot of this
is that sometimes clients are treated with a paternalistic
attitude that implies that the hypnotherapist is a demigod.
So, if that is what floats your boat, there are then
all kinds of practitioners with many variations of behavior.
If you are one who uses authoritarian language and would
like to see what a new way might be like, I'd like to
suggest just becoming aware and trying on a new hat
and a new way of using language - if you like.
Negative Language and Negative States
I was taken by surprise
one day when I heard a very skilled and wonderful hypnotherapist
use this suggestion: "When you feel your anxiety,
just breathe deeply." That sounds innocuous, but
think about it. If we use a word like "anxiety"
in our positive suggestions, it may make a client anxious.
Not only that, it also implies that the client will
keep on feeling the fearful state. So it might have
worked better if this hypnotherapist would say, "Whenever
you want to or need to, you can always breathe deeply."
This doesn't bring up the negative states, and it offers
a possible action just in case the client needs to do
something for healing. And yet, I've heard many hypnotherapists
who give such suggestions as, "You don't feel so
tired anymore." Or "Your tumors are not so
painful." Well, in addition to using the word "not"
- there's also the very negative words and concomitant
images that are evoked.
It's a well-known
fact that negative language can create negative states.
My dear friend Dianne Kathryn Short, a marvelous hypnotherapist,
created a list of commonly used phrases that can create
eats my heart out."
need a break."
driving me crazy."
to die for."
makes me sick."
So when you listen
to what your clients are saying, you may find negative
words or phrases that may be contributing to their current
issues. Hopefully the words you, yourself, use will
contribute to the process of healing instead.
What's Your Neck of the Woods?
In my neck of the
woods, the word "hypnotism" conjures up a
vision of someone with a black cloak lined in red satin
and a watch fob dangling from his fingers as he intones
in an otherworldly voice, "Look into my hypnotic
eye!" and implores his subject to go to sleep under
his spell. In other geographical areas, the word "hypnotism"
is the chosen or legal phrase, while the word "hypnotherapy"
is forbidden. In my area, the word "hypnotherapy"
is the chosen phrase, the one that distinguishes between
Svengali and modern-day practitioners. This is understandably
a regional difference. On World Hypnotism Day, one practitioner
went on the radio. The interviewer kept calling it "World
Hypnotherapy Day." So we can see that regional
differences are significant. There's also no absolute
"right" and "wrong." There's "appropriate"
and "inappropriate." There's "legal"
and "illegal" - but there's no absolute authority
that can tell us what is written in the annals of language.
We may have our preferences, as I do with my attention
on the words, "I want you to
" - but
none of these expressions is "wrong." Language
is a changing part of the social fabric, and it shifts
according to the times and places in which it's spoken.
You May Not be Able to See It
It's also good to
remember that not all people are visual. Many hypnotherapists
and others who do visualization assume that everyone
has the ability to see things inside their minds. But
as NLP so aptly taught us, only some people are visual.
Others are auditory or kinesthetic or olfactory or whatever
other sense is their dominant mode of experiencing.
This may sound rather
basic, and yet how often do you hear an induction that
starts out saying, "Just picture yourself on the
beach on a beautiful day." Not everyone can see
that kind of picture. And not only that, some people
don't like the beach, so you've got two strikes against
you if you go that route. One way to circumvent all
of this is to use non-visual inductions - like counting
or letters of the alphabet or progressive relaxation.
Or you can ask the client to write the induction and
tell you their preferences before you even go into trance.
Or you can use visual pictures with non-visual language:
"Just imagine yourself on a beach. You may see
it or feel it or just know it's there - any way that
is best for you to experience it."
The great Walter
Sichort, master of the ultra-depth trance, once told
me that he never used visual inductions because they
made people think too much. He said that it was good
to take people to more primitive parts of their brains,
and so he used numbers and letters and, of course, his
voice. It's good to be sensitive to different peoples'
varying modes of experiencing life and to choose appropriate
Language and Linguistics
I used to be an
English teacher. We studied the "doctrine of usage."
That meant that language is fluid and changeable because
human beings use it and those human beings are always
transforming and growing. In school, I also studied
linguistics. Linguists often go around the world with
their tape recorders asking people what kind of language
they use. "Do you call it a 'bag' or a 'sack'?
Do you say 'soda' or 'pop'"? We can ask hypnotherapists
or hypnotists the same things. We can ask, "Do
you say, 'I want you to?' Do you call it 'hypnotism'?"
We're likely to get many varieties of answers. The best
thing is to be aware of the many ways that practitioners
speak, to listen and do our best to use language that
does the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
A great teacher
named Aivanhov** said, "Where does the power of
a word come from? It doesn't come from the spoken word
itself, but from the energy, the quintessence with which
it is impregnated. This quintessence is found in the
aura of all beings." So the more we are filled
with energy, power and light, so too our words are worthy
of being "etched in fire" across the sky for
all to hear.
* Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad, Penguin Books,
** Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, www.prosveta.com, 2005