When most hear the word hypnotism, they think of a mysterious, suited figure waving a pocket watch back and forth in front of someone’s eyes. Most picture this ominous man guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state with absolute ease. Once hypnotized, the subject effortlessly moves and speaks and acts as if they are on an invisible leash guided by the hypnotist. We believe the subject is compelled to obey any command, no matter how strange or unreasonable, muttering, “Yes, master.” This popular representation is what is shown of hypnotism in movies and television, but in fact, it is so much different. People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. Hypnosis involves the subconscious mind taking over and can be used for shows and entertainment or psychiatric hypnotherapy. Present day hypnotist, Cody Horton has been referred to as “The World’s Most Spell-Binding Stage Hypnotist.” She is the author of several motivating, self-help books, and self-hypnotism audio books that can help you solve just about any problem you may have. “On Hypnotism,” a book written by the famous hypnotist, James Braid in 1860, helps to explain the origin of hypnotherapy and correct many of the historical misconceptions that have developed regarding the actual meaning of hypnotism. Our understanding of hypnosis has enormously advanced in the past century, but the phenomenon is still considered a mystery.
Figuring out how hypnotism works is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle, how the human mind works. Scientists are unlikely to arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it is a good bet that hypnosis will remain very close to a mystery. Psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they even have a model as to how to works. We can easily see what a person does when they are under hypnosis, but it is not clear as to why they do it or what makes them do it.
Hypnotism is considered a trance state where the subject is easily suggested into doing things, relaxed, and has an extremely heightened imagination. It is often compared to daydreaming or “the feeling of losing yourself in a book or a movie.” (Harris, 2010) As you watch a movie you become engrossed in the plot, and most worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you're thinking about is what's up on the screen. Though it is sometimes compared to sleeping, that is not valid because the subject is alert the entire time and fully conscious. You become focused intently on one object, thought, or action and nearly exclude every other thought or stimuli around you. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. He believed that in our everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world becomes incredibly real to us, and can even create real fear or happiness. (Hypnotherapy: an Exploratory Casebook, 8-11) Being in this sort of self-trance fully engages our emotions and can cause us to react to things differently then we normally would.
In conventional hypnosis, the hypnotist causes their thoughts and suggestions to become the subject’s own ideas and emotions. In this “reality,” if the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you'll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel nervous and even begin to sweat. When the hypnotist tells you do something, you'll probably embrace the idea completely because in this state the subject is highly suggestible. But the entire time, you are aware that it's all imaginary and that is why hypnotists cannot get their subjects to do anything they don’t want to do. In this mental state, people feel uninhibited and extremely relaxed, which causes them to tune out...
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