• Ursula Rose

Are you suggestible enough to stop smoking with hypnotherapy?

Many people have doubts about their ability to respond to hypnotherapy and some even worry that if they are suggestible it might mean they’re gullible or not very bright! This is far from the case. In actual fact, the ability to accept and respond to suggestion is a vital human survival trait.

Suggestibility is an adaptive human trait that helps ensure our survival

We are at our most suggestible between the ages of 0 -7 years when our brain wave frequency is very 'unconscious'. During this phase we are learning at a phenomenal rate by modelling and imitating peers, teachers and caregivers. Above the age of 7, we develop greater conscious awareness and our critical faculty begins to better weigh up and filter social and environmental influences.

Imagine attending a dinner party where a guest grunts like a pig continuously, urinates in her chair and licks food off other people's plates! How would the host react? The guest would most likely be asked to leave and cast out of that particular friendship circle. At a primitive tribal level, without the innate desire to adopt and assimilate cultural and behavioural norms, we risk being rejected and cut off from communal survival resources.

Although most of our basic survival needs are easily met in modern times, our primitive 'monkey brain' is still hardwired to seek approval and avoid rejection. Retaining a mild degree of suggestibility into adulthood is beneficial in helping us continually adapt to changing social roles and expectations across our lives while our critical faulty helps us steer a mid line between extremes.

How is suggestibility enhanced by hypnosis?

The subconscious is highly suggestible and is designed to act on our strongest and most regularly reinforced beliefs. Research has concluded that as much as 95% of our decisions, emotions and behaviour are subconsciously driven and we are largely acting on beliefs we internalised in childhood. The ego is prone to want to rationalise our subconscious drives, preferring to believe we are making conscious choices. These intelligent conscious 'choices' only reach our awareness many seconds after a decision has been made at a subconscious level!

Our critical faculty acts as a barrier between our conscious and subconscious minds. Hypnosis allows us to bypass this barrier and effectively 'reprogramme' specific problem thoughts, feelings and behaviours at their subconscious root.

Will I always be able to reject any suggestions that I don’t agree with?

Yes. In hypnosis your critical faculty is still active, just slightly more subdued than usual so it is still free to reject any suggestions that may be harmful or inappropriate. Hypnosis and acceptance of suggestion is something you ‘allow’ to happen, not something someone ‘does to you’. Your therapy session is designed to offer only suggestions that positively match your goals for change. Furthermore, your subconscious mind’s primary function is protective, hence it will only respond to suggestions that are safe and healthy for you. You will naturally reject suggestions that conflict with your personal beliefs or moral code.

Your critical conscious mind is quieter but still active during hypnosis and will automatically become more alert to intervene and reject any inappropriate or unhelpful suggestions.

For example, if your hypnotherapist asked you to imagine relaxing in a flower garden but the idea grates on you because you suffer from terrible hay fever, you’d be free to reject that idea and imagine any alternative that you are comfortable with, such as reclining on a quiet beach. Your hypnotherapist doesn’t even need to know because the specifics are less important than the main objective which is simply to attain a consistent level of internal focus and relaxation throughout your session.

How do I know that the suggestions I’ll receive will be effective?

If your toaster stopped working and a salesperson came to the door selling kettles, it’s unlikely they’d ever convince you to buy one (that’s assuming your current kettle was still working well!). However, if the salesperson offered you a new, good quality toaster at a reasonable price, the chances are you’d consider buying one without too much hesitation. If they offered you a high spec toaster with 10 different functions at twice the price of the old one, you might hesitate and decide to look elsewhere, or request a discount to buy one for your mum as well.

Acceptance of hypnotic suggestion is no different. An ethical hypnotherapist simply offers your subconscious mind an opportunity to accept the change that best fits your current needs and goals. It actually feels very pleasantly therapeutic to absorb hypnotic suggestions that are fully in line with your predefined goals!

When new, healthy ways of thinking, feeling or behaving naturally resonate with your current needs and values, they are easily accepted and acted upon at a deep and lasting level.

A client case study

Stacey came to see me to stop smoking in 2017. She sat down in the chair and immediately declared herself terrified of hypnosis and completely unhypnotisable.

Stacey reported that she had previously visited three hypnotherapists and none had been able to ‘make her go under’ successfully. I resisted the temptation to be facetious and ask her why in that case she had booked a fourth hypnotherapy session!

Instead, I asked her how she knew she hadn’t been hypnotised and what ‘going under’ meant to her. She replied that she hadn’t felt any different to normal during the sessions and that she was worried hypnotherapy would never work for her because it hadn’t resulted in her stopping smoking. Stacey admitted that she was so terrified of being out of control that she didn’t think our session was going to work either, however she remained desperate to stop smoking. I realised that sadly Stacey had not been given clear explanations by her previous three therapists as to what hypnosis actually was and what to expect during a session.

Stacey’s fears and misconceptions about hypnosis had caused her to believe she wasn’t suggestible. She had in fact been consciously rejecting suggestions to enter hypnosis due to fear.

After re-educating Stacey, she appeared visibly relieved to know that she was in full control and could accept or reject suggestions at will. Stacey allowed herself to enter a wonderfully deep hypnotic trance and was finally able to stop smoking.

Will hypnotherapy work for you?

There’s every chance you’ll respond successfully to hypnotic suggestion if you have:

  • A strong desire to make a positive personal change

  • Confidence and trust in your hypnotherapist

  • An understanding that hypnosis is no different to a deep meditation and simply a natural extension of our ability to narrow our focus of attention

  • An understanding that at all times you're choosing to enter and remain in hypnosis of your own accord

  • An understanding that you’ll retain full self-control at all times

With these understandings in place, successful hypnotherapy simply depends on your full mental and emotional commitment to change.

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