Self-hypnosis, as the name suggests, is a way of creating the hypnotic trance state by ourselves, rather than relying on a hypnotist or hypnotherapist to do it for us. In every other respect, it's exactly the same as any other form of hypnosis. Indeed, some practitioners argue that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, since it's a collaborative process that simply doesn't happen unless the subject agrees to participate in it.
In a formal hypnosis session, the hypnotist acts as a guide, leading the subject into a trance state by narrowing down the focus of attention and turning it inwards. This is developed with guided imagery and carefully constructed suggestions to achieve a desired end. In self-hypnosis you follow the same procedure, acting as your own guide into the trance state. This is, as far as we know, something that is unique to human beings - the ability of the human mind to contemplate and communicate with itself.
There are many techniques for achieving self-hypnosis, and a simple one is outlined later in this article. But first of all, it's worth examining just why you should want to do this in the first place.
As with any form of hypnosis, the purpose of self-hypnosis is to establish communication with your own unconscious mind. It's a way of taking control of automatic behaviour and directing it in a more helpful way - to solve problems, access unconscious resources, learn more effectively, mentally rehearse a future event and so on. If you're taking your driving test or sitting an exam, for instance, you can use self-hypnosis to vividly imagine feeling calm and in control whilst doing so. This will significantly improve your chances of success on the actual day.
Another important aspect is the use of self-hypnosis to relax. This isn't to be underestimated. Regular deep relaxation promotes clear thinking, lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, encourages better sleep, makes you feel more energetic and generally reduces the toll that stress takes on your system. In short, it's a significant and easily obtained investment in your mental and physical wellbeing, but one which modern life frequently seems to conspire against.
This is doubly concerning when you consider that our brains are supposed to relax in order to function properly. The cycle of the ultradian rhythm dictates that dominance switches from the left to the right brain hemisphere every ninety minutes or so, producing a feeling of daydream-like fuzziness for about fifteen minutes as the metaphorical, pattern matching right hemisphere assimilates everything that's happened over the previous hour and a half. Sadly, the demands of 21st century life mean that we often push on through this natural downtime, by charging ourselves up with caffeine or other stimulants, or through a sheer brute force act of concentration. This is like constantly driving your car at 80mph in low gear.
Self-hypnosis is a way of cooling down and refuelling our mental engines by creating some of that natural downtime for ourselves. This allows the brain to do its housekeeping, switching off emotional arousals and flushing stress out of our system, keeping our mental and physical processes in good running order.
To practice self-hypnosis, all you need is somewhere where you can sit or lie quietly for a while without being disturbed. Self-hypnosis is different from meditation, in that the aim is not to clear the mind, but rather to direct it towards a purpose, so it's a good idea to have that purpose in mind before you start. This might be mental rehearsal of a future event, or it might simply be to relax very deeply. There is no right way to experience self-hypnosis - whatever you experience is right for you.
The Betty Erickson Method
This method was developed by Milton Erickson’s wife, and is a useful one for stilling the everyday conscious chatter of the mind.
- Make yourself comfortable, and find something that you can comfortably focus your vision on for a while.
- Make four statements to yourself about things that you can see in the room out of the corner of your eye.
- Now make four statements to yourself about things you can hear, either inside the room or outside - ticking clock, passing traffic, birdsong etc.
- Now make four statements to yourself about things you can feel, such as the texture of your clothes or the pressure of your feet on the floor.
- Whilst maintaining your visual focus, make three statements about what you can see, three statements about what you can hear, and three statements about what you can feel. You don't need to find new things each time, so it's fine to repeat yourself.
- Repeat, making two statements about what you see, hear and feel.
- Repeat, making one statement about what you can see, hear and feel.
- At some point during this process, your eyes will probably want to close, which is fine. Simply make statements about things you can see in your mind's eye.
- If appropriate, spend some time reliving a time and a place where you've felt perfectly relaxed, or imagine yourself at a forthcoming event acting in exactly the right way.
- Return to the room when you are ready.