everyday trance states
A question that people often ask about hypnosis is "can anyone be hypnotized?" It used to be believed that only 30% of the population could be hypnotized. This figure was based on the results of "suggestibility tests", "scales of hypnotizability" and other practices associated with the traditional, authoritarian approach to hypnosis. This approach is increasingly outmoded, as our understanding of what hypnosis is has grown and more indirect, personalized methods of hypnosis have developed.
It may well be that only 30% of the population respond to authoritarian hypnotic commands, but hypnosis itself is a universal human trait. 100% of the population experience it in some form or another on a daily basis. It may even be that we live most, if not all, of our lives in various trance states, an idea suggested by the psychotherapist Stephen Wolinsky in his book Trances People Live.
Wolinsky observed that the so-called Deep Trance Phenomena (DTP), generally believed to be exclusively part of formal hypnosis sessions, are actually present throughout much of our daily lives. "Normal" consciousness, he argued, is made up of these phenomena, which we switch into and out of all day long.
So what are these Deep Trance Phenomena? The following is a list, together with examples of how they might be encountered in everyday life.
Age Progression - or projecting yourself into an imagined future. In hypnosis, the subject might be guided by the hypnotist to vividly experience a future when they have lost weight or stopped smoking. On an average day, you age progress every time you sit in a doctor's waiting room, imagining what will be said when you go in for your appointment, or when you see a pair of shoes in a shop window and picture yourself wearing them to a party at the weekend.
Age Regression - reliving an event from the past. Hypnotists often do this to remove or change the emotion around painful memories. You age regress in your daily life every time you relive an argument that you had with someone twenty years ago.
Disassociation - a feeling of being separate from all or part of your body, or a distancing from emotions. Hypnotic subjects often say that they can't feel their arms or legs, and this can be a useful tool for pain control. At other times, you're emotionally disassociated if you ever find yourself thinking "I really don't like you" as you have an outwardly pleasant conversation with a colleague, and you're physically disassociated if you've ever paused with a forkful of food halfway to your mouth because something on TV has caught your attention.
Post-Hypnotic Suggestion - issuing specific instructions or commands to be acted on later. This is a mainstay of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, of course. It also happens when you find yourself thinking "I really must phone my mother”, “don't forget to fill up with petrol on the way home”, “remember to buy cat food" and so on.
Amnesia - forgetting an experience. Hypnotic subjects frequently forget the details of the hypnosis session, and sometimes this is actively encouraged to avoid over-analyzing what has been said. You experience amnesia every time you can't remember where you left your car keys, wallet or mobile phone.
Negative Hallucination - failing to perceive something that is actually there. Hypnotists might encourage this if, for instance, somebody is acutely conscious of the sound of their own voice in social situations. An everyday example would be failing to see your car keys, wallet or mobile phone as you frantically search for them, even though they're in plain view on top of the kitchen counter.
Positive Hallucination - perceiving something that isn't actually there. Therapists might encourage their clients to imagine a "circle of confidence" that they can step into before getting up to deliver a speech. If you've ever had a fantasy or daydream about someone, then you've positively hallucinated. This is quite closely associated with age progression as well, of course.
Confusion - this is often deliberately employed as a trance-inducing technique, and we all experience moments of bewilderment, perhaps at those times when you wander into a different room of the house and wonder what you're doing there.
Time Distortion - a sense of time slowing down or speeding up. This is a major feature of hypnotic trance, and subjects often feel that more time has passed than is actually the case. You experience time distortion in traffic jams and boring meetings, which seem to last forever, and also on those occasions when you're really enjoying yourself and time just seems to fly by.
Sensory Distortion - increasing or decreasing sensory awareness. In hypnosis, the hypnotist might draw the client's attention to various bodily sensations, as a way of inducing and deepening trance. Sensory distortion is also evident at those times when you manage to tune out a persistent noise - people who live near railway lines, for instance, simply don't notice the passing trains after a while.
Wolinsky became fascinated by the role these phenomena play in keeping problems in place. In a typical case of anxiety, for instance, we might see age progression and positive hallucination, as the sufferer conjures up a terrible future and sees signs of imminent catastrophe. We might also see sensory distortion, as anxiety sufferers are often acutely aware of unpleasant sensations in their body, such as heart palpitations, which further fuel the anxiety.
Identifying the deep trance phenomena behind a problem points the way to a solution, as that trance state can be changed or broken. This raises the interesting possibility that hypnosis works by bringing people out of unhelpful trance states - unhypnotizing them, in effect!