Hypnosis is a sort of spooky and misunderstood phenomenon. Most of what people generally know about hypnosis comes from movies and stage performers, not real clinical hypnotists.
You may not even realize that clinical hypnosis is a very well-established and scientifically validated medical practice. It’s used by psychotherapists, physicians, nurses, dentists, and anesthesiologists to produce a profound sense of serenity in patients who might otherwise be really freaking out.
As it turns out, hypnosis is an incredibly versatile and powerful psychological technique, so it would be in your best interests to know a little bit about it and to be open to the idea. With that in mind, I’ll dispel some of the major myths about hypnosis and tell you some far-out realities about it as well:
1. Hypnosis has no relationship to gullibility
A lot of people believe that only gullible people can be hypnotized. This is actually a pretty natural assumption, since the hypnotic experience does involve a heightened state of suggestibility. There have even been studies done to measure “gullibility” and “suggestibility” as a personality factor, and to try and correlate those factors with hypnotic susceptibility.
In fact, none of those studies has ever established such a correlation. There seems to be simply no relationship at all between how gullible you are and how susceptible you are to hypnosis. You might be a really hard-nosed critical thinker and be highly hypnotizable, or you could be a real sucker and actually have very low hypnotic ability. There’s simply no relationship at all.
2. There is some correlation to intelligence and creativity
Hypnotic ability is actually somewhat related to IQ. Highly hypnotizable people tend to be just a little more intelligent and a little more creative than the rest of the world. Sound familiar?
3. It’s partly genetic
That’s right, to some extent you actually inherit the ability to be hypnotized. Pretty much anyone can be hypnotized to some extent, however, so the major difference is basically just how good at it you are.
There are also a variety of ways that you can actually improve your hypnotic ability, too. Anything that generally improves your mind-body relationship will also tend to improve your hypnotic ability. So things like mindfulness meditation, biofeedback, and artistic, musical, or theatrical training all tend to enhance your ability to experience hypnotic phenomena.
4. You can’t get stuck in a hypnotic trance
We all want to have an Office Space experience and breeze through a few weeks of our lives on autopilot. Some people are probably a little apprehensive, though, about losing control and getting stuck in some catatonic state.
Rest assured, this is not possible. If someone left you in a hypnotic trance, the worst that could happen would probably be feeling a little confused. More likely, you would probably just fall asleep, and eventually wake up feeling happy and refreshed.
5. You probably do it every day
The hypnotic experience is not at all unusual! Have you ever rocked a baby? It’s such a simple thing to do—but just by introducing a nice gentle rhythm into the baby’s experience, you change its whole frame of mind. You hypnotize babies.
Even my cat hypnotizes me! It lays on my chest and matches its purring to my heartbeat, gradually leading me down into slower and slower rhythms so I won’t get up and spoil its nap. Any time a group of people are in a room together, the tendency is for all of them to fall into a similar breathing pattern.
Basically everything we do involves varying levels of trance phenomena. If you’ve ever been driving in your car and suddenly realized you had arrived without really being able to remember the trip, it’s pretty safe to say that you were experiencing a trance state very much like hypnosis. Another great example is when the credits start to roll and you suddenly realize you’re in a movie theatre! You’ve been enjoying a very nice hypnotic trance.
6. People have surgery with no anesthesia, and have a good time!
Probably not everyone is hypnotically gifted enough to maintain a state of complete comfort through a surgery without any drugs, but it’s not nearly as uncommon as you’d think!
7. Hypnosis can turn off inflammation like a switch
Burns, bites, allergies? Your mind has the ability to completely change your body’s response to any of these.
Under hypnosis, burned skin can be told not to swell up or to detach from the underlying flesh. This means that if you know how, you can actually talk your body out of blistering. You can even talk your body into blistering. I’m not sure why you’d want to, but I’ve seen it done! Allergic reactions can literally be convinced not to happen.
8. Hypnosis might be able to alter your genes
There’s a very famous old case from 1952 that was studied by the British Royal Society of Medicine, where a boy had a congenital skin disorder that gave him crusty, fish-like scales all over his body. The disease is called congenital ichtyosiform erythrodermia of brocq, and it means that your skin’s oil glands don’t develop, so your skin cells won’t flake off as they die.
The boy was unwittingly treated with hypnosis by a doctor who thought he simply had a bad case of warts, since hypnosis is very effective for warts. Actually, it turned out that you can do that!
Nobody knows for sure exactly what changed in the boy’s physiology. In order for this condition to be cured, you’d have to modify the way the boy’s genes are expressed. Modern gene therapy isn’t even close yet, but in the early 50s this guy healed a kid’s genetic skin condition using nothing but the power of the boy’s own mind. Crazier still, there’s actually a lot of more modern scientific evidence that hypnosis can affect the way that genes are expressed. What a ride.