Hypnotism has long been shrouded in mystery. Understanding it or even getting consistent information about it has been elusive at best.
The word hypnotism comes from a Greek root meaning “putting to sleep.” A hypnotist is said to be able to induce an altered state of consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility. The term was originally coined by James Braid in 1842 to describe a phenomenon previously known as animal magnetism or mesmerism (see Mesmer, Friedrich Anton). Superficially resembling sleep, it is generally induced by the monotonous repetition of words and gestures while the subject is completely relaxed. Although almost everyone can be hypnotized, individuals vary greatly in susceptibility.
The hypnotic state is characterized by heightened suggestibility and represents an altered state of consciousness as recent research has shown electrical changes occur in brain activity when a person is hypnotized. Ernest Hilgard's neodissociation theory (1977) has been influential in the explanation of hypnosis. Hilgard's theory asserts that several distinct states of consciousness can be present during hypnosis, such that certain actions may become dissociated from the conscious mind. In the late 19th cent., it was used by a number of medical practitioners, who found that individuals susceptible to hysteria are highly suggestible and can be put into deep hypnosis, sometimes leading to a cure. Sigmund Freud used the method in psychoanalysis. In recent years, hypnosis has been widely used by practitioners as an aid in medical practice and psychotherapy and pain management. Hypnosis is also used in some criminal investigations, to help defendants to recall events they might otherwise not remember.
However in light of the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton, hypnosis finally begins to make some sense. Lipton writes that the subconscious mind has about a million times the data processing power of the conscious mind and is in charge almost all of the time. He describes the subconscious as being like a powerful tape recorder or computer program that governs almost all of human behavior. He further says that DNA is only a blueprint for cells to use for a pattern of growth. But it is a signal from the subconscious actually switches on stem cells and determines whether they will become skin, hair, teeth, nerve tissue or whatever is needed for normal growth and maintenance of the body.
This subconscious programming happens very early in life, during which time the brainwaves are similar to what would be seed in a hypnotic trance. And this programming is not directly accessible consciously. Respiration, digestion and blood circulation are also beyond our conscious control so these processes are ongoing without needing to be aware of them. Once the body knows how to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, or even drive a car, consciousness is free to be otherwise engaged.
But if there is too much data, or trauma, the whole system goes into a protection mode and prepares to fight or flee. And the chemicals normally used for growth and maintenance are converted to those necessary for physical strength and healing wounds. In ancient times these stressors were more likely to be short-lived. Running away or directly engaging a hostile treat likely brought relatively swift resolution of conflicts.
However modern life involves a greater variety of sustained stress. Machines and pollution of all sorts, together with greater competition, often leaves us with inadequate means to cope. Most people seem unaware of even the need to even develop a strategy to deal with sustained stress levels, and are falling victim to various stress related illnesses.
The best tools for this are apparently more down time, sleep and relaxation, recreation. Meditation, and guided imagery, and the like are very successful because they deal directly with the subconscious. All forms of meditation involve some level of hypnosis. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are examples of fairly recently developed healing practices that engage the subconscious.
Attempting to change bad habits using only the conscious mind has a much lower success rate than a more subliminal approach. The brain has a reward center or circuitry that reinforces addiction of any kind. Impulsiveness, promiscuity, smoking or eating/drinking too much are examples of someone with a flawed self-image (I am not good enough). Deep seated shame or guilt expects punishment on some level. And whatever the subconscious expects is what the cells will deliver.
See E. Hilgard and J. Hilgard, Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (1984); D. Waxman et al., ed., Modern Trends in Hypnosis (1984).