By Marilyn Gordo, BCH, CI
“So think as if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon the sky. For so, in truth, it is. So speak as if the entire world were but a single ear intent on hearing what you say. And so, in truth, it is.”
Language is so instinctual that we often don’t stop to think about it. And yet it is so powerful that it affects our lives to the very core. In hypnosis, this is particularly significant. Every hypnosis word we use has meaning. The words we choose and how we say them reveal our thoughts and our intentions and affect others profoundly. Hypnosis is a verbal art form, and it’s important for us to take a good look at our canvas.
It’s well known that when we describe something to a person in hypnosis, that description can become a deep suggestion: “Your hand is becoming very light, floating in the air like a balloon.” Other suggestions are powerful, “You feel very peaceful.” or “Your body is healing perfectly.” But this kind of well-known verbal skill is just the tip of the iceberg with hypnosis. Let’s dive even deeper. Let’s take a look at authoritarian vs. permissive language; at the use of negativities; at regional language differences; at the use of only visual language, and more.
The “I want you to…” Conundrum
It never ceases to amaze me how many practitioners use the words, “I want you to…” when asking their clients to take the next action. It’s truly an instinctive use of language, and yet it is very significant. It, in fact, tells the client, “I’m not really interested in what you want, but here’s what I want you to do. And I’m your boss, so here’s what I want from you.” The significance of this is that the practitioner and client have a relationship that says, “I know what’s good for you, and therefore, I have one up on you.” But there’s another truth that this point of view misses; it’s that our clients have real wisdom, that they often know what is good for them, and that they are worthy of great respect. Milton Erickson knew this deeply. He rescued the old authoritarian hypnosis from its own language – and from itself. So grew the popularity of such phrases as: “Just let yourself…” or “You may find that you want to…” or “If you would, just go ahead and…” Some clients and hypnotherapists rejoiced at this. Others paid little or no attention and kept on with “I want you to…” language. The upshot of this is that sometimes clients are treated with a paternalistic attitude that implies that the hypnotherapist is a demigod. So, if that is what floats your boat, there are then all kinds of practitioners with many variations of behavior. If you are one who uses authoritarian language and would like to see what a new way might be like, I’d like to suggest just becoming aware and trying on a new hat and a new way of using language – if you like.
Negative Language and Negative States
I was taken by surprise one day when I heard a very skilled and wonderful hypnotherapist use this suggestion: “When you feel your anxiety, just breathe deeply.” That sounds innocuous, but think about it. If we use a word like “anxiety” in our positive suggestions, it may make a client anxious. Not only that, it also implies that the client will keep on feeling the fearful state. So it might have worked better if this hypnotherapist would say, “Whenever you want to or need to, you can always breathe deeply.” This doesn’t bring up the negative states, and it offers a possible action just in case the client needs to do something for healing. And yet, I’ve heard many hypnotherapists who give such suggestions as, “You don’t feel so tired anymore.” Or “Your tumors are not so painful.” Well, in addition to using the word “not” – there’s also the very negative words and concomitant images that are evoked.
It’s a well-known fact that negative language can create negative states. My dear friend Dianne Kathryn Short, a marvelous hypnotherapist, created a list of commonly used phrases that can create unwanted manifestations:
“That eats my heart out.”
“I need a break.”
“That’s driving me crazy.”
“That’s to die for.”
“It makes me sick.”
So when you listen to what your clients are saying, you may find negative words or phrases that may be contributing to their current issues. Hopefully the words you, yourself, use will contribute to the process of healing instead.
What’s Your Neck of the Woods?
In my neck of the woods, the word “hypnotism” conjures up a vision of someone with a black cloak lined in red satin and a watch fob dangling from his fingers as he intones in an otherworldly voice, “Look into my hypnotic eye!” and implores his subject to go to sleep under his spell. In other geographical areas, the word “hypnotism” is the chosen or legal phrase, while the word “hypnotherapy” is forbidden. In my area, the word “hypnotherapy” is the chosen phrase, the one that distinguishes between Svengali and modern-day practitioners. This is understandably a regional difference. On World Hypnotism Day, one practitioner went on the radio. The interviewer kept calling it “World Hypnotherapy Day.” So we can see that regional differences are significant. There’s also no absolute “right” and “wrong.” There’s “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” There’s “legal” and “illegal” – but there’s no absolute authority that can tell us what is written in the annals of language. We may have our preferences, as I do with my attention on the words, “I want you to…” – but none of these expressions is “wrong.” Language is a changing part of the social fabric, and it shifts according to the times and places in which it’s spoken.
You May Not be Able to See It
It’s also good to remember that not all people are visual. Many hypnotherapists and others who do visualization assume that everyone has the ability to see things inside their minds. But as NLP so aptly taught us, only some people are visual. Others are auditory or kinesthetic or olfactory or whatever other sense is their dominant mode of experiencing.
This may sound rather basic, and yet how often do you hear an induction that starts out saying, “Just picture yourself on the beach on a beautiful day.” Not everyone can see that kind of picture. And not only that, some people don’t like the beach, so you’ve got two strikes against you if you go that route. One way to circumvent all of this is to use non-visual inductions – like counting or letters of the alphabet or progressive relaxation. Or you can ask the client to write the induction and tell you their preferences before you even go into trance. Or you can use visual pictures with non-visual language: “Just imagine yourself on a beach. You may see it or feel it or just know it’s there – any way that is best for you to experience it.”
The great Walter Sichort, master of the ultra-depth trance, once told me that he never used visual inductions because they made people think too much. He said that it was good to take people to more primitive parts of their brains, and so he used numbers and letters and, of course, his voice. It’s good to be sensitive to different peoples’ varying modes of experiencing life and to choose appropriate language.
Language and Linguistics
I used to be an English teacher. We studied the “doctrine of usage.” That meant that language is fluid and changeable because human beings use it and those human beings are always transforming and growing. In school, I also studied linguistics. Linguists often go around the world with their tape recorders asking people what kind of language they use. “Do you call it a ‘bag’ or a ‘sack’? Do you say ‘soda’ or ‘pop'”? We can ask hypnotherapists or hypnotists the same things. We can ask, “Do you say, ‘I want you to?’ Do you call it ‘hypnotism’?” We’re likely to get many varieties of answers. The best thing is to be aware of the many ways that practitioners speak, to listen and do our best to use language that does the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
A great teacher named Aivanhov** said, “Where does the power of a word come from? It doesn’t come from the spoken word itself, but from the energy, the quintessence with which it is impregnated. This quintessence is found in the aura of all beings.” So the more we are filled with energy, power and light, so too our words are worthy of being “etched in fire” across the sky for all to hear.
- Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad, Penguin Books, 1962
** Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, www.prosveta.com, 2005
Marilyn Gordon, BCH, CI
1 (800) 398-0034