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Hypnosis in Abuse Recovery
I use hypnosis daily in helping people heal from past pain. Here are the three components and why they each work:
The biggest selling prescription drug for the last few years has been Prilosec, created to relieve stomach distress. Why would that be the biggest? Because the leading emotional problem in the world is stress and the first system to go down under stress is the digestive system (don't ask me why). Stress is translated into symptoms in many ways: high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, difficulty thinking clearly, trouble breathing, cold sweats. There are those who even will draw a link from stress to cancer.
Here's an interesting fact I discovered when I was doing my research for my PhD dissertation on verbal abuse: If a woman is being physically abused, she will have more medical complaints like internal medicine, gastroenterological, gynecological and other health complaints than non-victims and more medical complaints than bruises! Now, what does that mean? Simply, it means that stress is taking its toll of their bodies more than the beatings themselves. Stress comes from (1) wondering when the next attack--verbal or physical--will occur, (2) anguish over the deteriorated relationship, (3) arguments inside her head about the injustice of the last attack or how she could have prevented it, (4) worry about what to do to protect her children, etc.
The truth is, I've worked with a lot of men who are victimized by their wives, girlfriends and lovers and the problem is the same for them.
And, guess what? Oddly enough, the perpetrators are equally stressed out. You wouldn't think so, would you? Well, they are. Eighty percent of abusers do not want to abuse according to Neil S. Jacobson and his colleagues. (My clinical guess is that number is closer to 90% and there are some flaws in the research design.) They are upset and angry and their anger escalates. Frequently, they are repentant afterwards. Even those perpetrators who are in denial about the process that got them upset and would tell you later that they were "right" will also freely admit that the entire situation that led up to their explosion was highly stressful.
Now, here is a thought: Stress and relaxation cannot co-exist. Suppose you are very upset because your boss incorrectly and unfairly blamed you for some bad event at work. You go home in a terrible mood, but when you get home there is a game on with your favorite team. In ten or fifteen minutes, even if you haven't forgotten the mess at work, you are feeling calm, maybe even happy. Why? Because your thoughts were redirected and your entire body relaxed.
So the first thing I do in hypnosis is help a person relax. Even though it does not make any of the problems disappear, the physiological process of relaxation makes you feel a whole lot better. It slows heartbeat and breathing; it clears the head.
There's another important benefit as well. When you are in a relaxed state, not only is your head clearer but it is freer. That means it is open to the possibilities. It is no longer busy arguing mentally with the other person about the problem that was upsetting you in the first place. Its not tied up with distractions. This leaves the mind more receptive to other healing about to happen.
The second step is what I will call removal. Meaning that you remove yourself from your worries by "going" in your mind's eye to a different place. Where you "go" can vary depending upond what we want to accomplish. Going back a moment to the topic of stress, I find that most people create an awful lot of their own stress for themselves. Frequently, arguing couples report that they haven't gone to a movie together in I don't know how long. A simple thing like that they deny themselves. Why? Too busy; too much work; not in the mood; etc. But the truth is that sometimes it is absolutely necessary to take time out to nurture yourself. People don't.
So I create that self-nurturing within the hypnosis by having people design their own special place and experience being there. Now, let me anticipate an argument from you. You're going to tell me you "can't" get in a trance. And I will tell you you're wrong. My proof:
(1)Do you enjoy movies? -- That's trance: You have been transported to another world.
(2)Do you sleep at night? -- I would hope so. No matter how little sleep you are able to get, the fact is, at some point you do fall asleep. That process is one of altered consciousness.
(3)Have you ever missed your exit on the highway? -- That's trance.
Let me go further and tell you a personal story. I thought I was one of those people who "couldn't" get into a trance. But I do enjoy movies and I sleep well at night. So I practiced. I decided to make my long trip from my Hollywood office to my Boca office an opportunity to "space out." I decided to get in the car and concentrate on a topic, such as: What new article will I write about next for my website? Or, How will I deal with my client, Jane, and her boyfriend? I let my mind wander. Obviously, I had to look at the road. But over a two-year period, I got so good at this that I started being able to ignore the distance of the trip. That was the goal: to make the trip less boring. In other words, I remained safely aware of the traffic in front of me but less aware of the signs by the exits.
Sure enough, it started to work. Recently, my doctor told me to walk every day a half hour, something that I always knew was right but had resisted for the same reason I didn't like the trip between offices, boredom. Well, just the other day, I had on a music tape and I was marching along singing to the music (under my breath) having a great ol' time---and I walked right past my own street! That's trance.
So anyway, step two of this process is removing yourself to another place. The degree to which it feels real is the depth of trance. Now here is the absolutely most amazing part of the whole thing: It doesn't matter whether you are in a deep trance or not! If you have the capacity to imagine another place, you've hit a home run. I've had people never close their eyes, argue with me in a waking tone of voice, make comments, whatever. It doesn't matter. If you can see the place clearly, then the process will be effective.
Step three of this process I call transformation because it transforms the meaning of something important for you. It may affect the emotional tone of the traumatic event; it may change your judgment of yourself; it may alter the meaning you make of the experience. It can be any of the above and more. As an example, a national television program did a six month study on different approaches to weight loss. Hypnosis did best. Why? Because it changed the meaning of food for the person. Food went from something he did for comfort to something he did less of because that made him feel even more comfortable--after he trained his mind, in hypnosis, to notice the improvement. You see, the meaning of food transformed from something he ate for comfort to something he enjoyed more by eating less of.
In abuse recovery, the traumatic event may lose its grip on you, reducing flashbacks and pain associated with events; you may look at your younger, abused, self with more compassion and less judgment for the choices you made; you may decide that the marriage you think you should never have gotten into taught you some powerful lessons that will be of enormous benefit the next time around. It could be a lot of things. They are all examples of how the hypnosis can be transformative.