Earlier I claimed that you can accidentally hypnotise someone, to the point where overhearing someone hypnotise someone else can hypnotise you. One of the reasons is that everything is hypnotic. Our brains enter trance states all of the time, so a normal conversation has good odds of hypnotising you.
A hypnotist, then, is someone who uses phrases and gestures that are more hypnotic. They combine them into an experience that’s more likely to hypnotise a subject. They then use the trance state for a specific purpose, whereas laypeople let trance states end.
I got a few reactions to those posts. Trained hypnotists shrugged and said ‘duh’. They know how common trances are, how easy they are to enter (and leave) and how hypnosis directed at one person can affect another. There are a few inductions that use that – ask your hypnotist friends about the “my friend John” induction.
Others enjoyed the posts. These ideas are surprising and intriguing if you’re untrained. Hypnosis seems mysterious and this principle is more mysterious than most.
Others still didn’t like these ideas. I’m happy for them. When you hear an idea that you don’t like – one you reject instinctively – it’s a valuable source of information about yourself. What, exactly, triggered the emotions? What set off your internal defences?
When someone presents you with threatening information, your mental walls snap into place automatically. If someone tries to get you to do something dangerous (“kiss this snake!”) or says something that threatens your worldview (“your political party is okay, I guess, but have you read these articles contradicting your views?”), your brain rejects the idea.
As it should. If you are too easily swayed, you go cold and hungry.
But there’s a beautiful irony in all of this.
Some people reject these ideas about hypnosis – that it’s common, easy and often accidental – because it threatens their own sense of control. Popular-but-wrong ideas about hypnosis equate it to brainwashing or, at least, a battle of wills between hypnotist and subject. If you think this is what hypnosis is, then this idea makes the world a scary place. So the brain rejects the idea.
Or maybe it puts too much power in this hypnotist’s hands. If one hypnotist can entrance everyone within earshot, they can bring an enter village under their sway in ten minutes. This is both scary and obviously wrong. So the brain rejects the idea.
And that’s the irony:
The same mental mechanism that blocks unwanted ideas…
… is the same that blocks unwelcome hypnosis.
You can’t be hypnotised against your will. Once in a trance, you won’t accept any suggestion you don’t want to. Hypnotists can make people abandon a phobia, stop a bad habit or cluck like a chicken because these ideas are useful or fun. Subjects reject wrong, dangerous or self-serving ideas. It’s instinctive.
Hypnotists often say that anyone can be hypnotised. The corollary is that anyone can resist hypnosis.
If someone tells you to punch them in the face, you hesitate. When they say to touch fire, you don’t. If they say your beliefs are objectively wrong, you question it. It’s automatic and instinctive. You resist bad ideas and harmful information.
Your brain likes to change but it keeps tight control on how it changes. That’s too much power to offer to just anyone.
This is fantastic news. Yes, everything is hypnotic. The world teems with opportunity for growth. But you have full control. When some sleazeball tries to NLP their way into your bedroom, you can accept it or reject it. If someone tells you that you don’t even like cigarettes anymore, you can accept it or reject it.
People can’t make you think anything. Sure, they can make some ideas more appealing than others – and there’s enormous skill in that – but you will block any bad information, no matter how dressed up it is.
To hypnotise someone is to be invited into their private reality. Like any host, you will welcome whomever you like and deny whomever you don’t. If a guest behaves while in your world, you might keep them around. If they disrespect you, you will kick them out. You won’t even have to think about it.
And no one can change that. Your defences are too strong.
So the next time an idea or person rubs you the wrong way, explore it. Take the time to make sure your mental defences are calibrated. Sometimes a bad idea gets lucky because it looks like a good one. Or you reject something that seems wrong but isn’t. But the problem lies in your defences, not the attack. You’re already skilled at rejecting bad things and welcoming good ones. A little improvement to your accuracy can do wonders, though.
Or you can simply marvel at how easily your mind deflected an influence you don’t like. It really is impressive.