Our emotions are a massive part of our success as a species, but we require a very delicate balance between them all in order to be comfortable during our day to day lives. Events in those lives though can upset that delicate balance so that we have too much of one or the other emotion and it can feel that the whole delicate balance comes tumbling down.
When this happens we may reach out for help and there are many different ways to reset the balance: we can go to a counsellor and talk about the events that sparked off this topple in the first place, make our peace with what has happened and start looking forward again; we could try something such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy where we identify the exact thought processes that are causing us to feel this way and intercept them with better thoughts; then there is the pharmaceutical option where we go straight to the nuts and bolts of the problem and try to rebalance the chemicals in our brain so that we can stop feeling that overwhelming emotion and get back to experiencing the right balance again; or there’s hypnosis where we can really get in touch with the part of the mind that creates these feelings and deal with the problem in what is often a fairly abstract way.
An Example Metaphor For Anxiety
If when we are feeling anxious someone tells us to just make that feeling less intense, we are unlikely to know how to respond. How do we just feel less of something? If someone asks us where that anxious feeling is, we might reply that it is in our stomach for example, and if we are then asked to focus on that area, the sensation of the anxiety in that area and then asked what colour it is, many of us will be able to answer, a colour will just come to us, and each of us will likely answer differently. Some of us may have trouble with a colour but find it easier to say what shape the feeling is or texture. What we are doing here is engaging the subconscious mind in a way that can give us more control over the situation. A feeling like anxiety is quite intangible, but a blue swirl for example is much more tangible and the mind can do something with that. Also, whilst engaged in this process we are distracted from the thoughts that are making us anxious.
Now if we are asked to change the colour of the swirl or slow the swirling motion down, stop it or get it swirling in the opposite direction, something is likely to change in the way we are experiencing that anxiety as our relationship with the problem is changing.
In reality, the anxiety is coming from an electro-chemical activity in our neurology, but that knowledge is not useful when someone is having a panic attack as there is nothing there for the mind to work with. The electro-chemical activity is manifesting in specific thoughts and physiological reactions in our mind and body which take over control and influence the way that we are thinking, behaving and feeling. When experiencing a strong emotional state, a feedback loop is often created – you start to feel anxious so you feel anxious about the oncoming anxiety or you feel depressed because you can’t seem to feel happy, so it seems impossible to climb out of it, caught in a downward spiral. It is almost as if the mind needs to justify feeling that way in order to make sense of it which means it is all too easy to find further reason to feel that way and skip over the reasons to feel different. The only way to stop this happening is to create a different electro-chemical activity, but how do we do that?
In hypnosis, by turning that process into something else, by building a metaphor that represents what is happening, the mind can actually get a handle on it, solve the problem in a creative way and do something to reverse the process so that our thoughts are determining the electro-chemical activity instead of the other way around.
To stick with the simple anxiety example above, we will find it a lot easier to slow down a blue swirl that we have identified as describing our anxious feeling than we will to just feel less anxious, but the effect will likely be the same as we have just created an opportunity to solve the problem from outside of the problem, seeing it in a different way and distracting us from the thoughts that are perpetuating the negative feeling. We step outside of that downward spiral and make a change that is relevant to our experience and by doing so set up a different feedback loop that takes us in the opposite direction.
With some of us, all that needs to happen next is for the hypnotist to remove our blue spiral from our stomach and throw it away, and we will not experience that particular anxiety again, but others of us may find that it is just a symptom that has been removed and it will be back unless we work further to find the actual cause which can still be done with metaphor.
Where Do The Metaphors Come From?
The metaphor will often come spontaneously from the person themselves as they describe how they feel. These are probably the best ones to use as they are what the person is already using to understand their situation. Otherwise the metaphors will present by asking questions such as ‘what does that feel like?’ ‘If it was in this room what would it look like?’ ‘What colour is it?’ ‘What is that feeling doing?’ These are more leading, but they still illicit answers from the individual with the problem.
Sometimes it may be that nothing comes up or they cannot answer these questions as nothing is coming to them, then it is up to the intuition of the hypnotist to use the right metaphor with which to guide their mind, again, there will be clues in how they have described things. Inspiration can be taken from their interests, hobbies or profession so that their mind will identify quickly with the metaphor. When creating a metaphor for them it is best to give them the bare bones and engage their mind by getting them to put the flesh on those bones in order to make the metaphor their own before it is used to make changes to the way they experience the world.
Anxiety itself is a metaphor. By thinking in a specific way (often involuntarily) we can become anxious, but to call this Anxiety gives it a presence, a form or an identity as something that has power over us. Anxiety and any other label we give to emotional disorders are not necessarily healthy metaphors because they do not really exist – we are just thinking and behaving in ways that make us feel anxious and if we think and behave differently we will feel different.
Anxiety as a cloaked figure that is always lurking close, Depression as a bird trapped in a phone box, Fear as an open Pandora’s Box, Comfort Zone as a village on a floating rock island, Anger as a reservoir of energy are all examples of metaphors given by people.
So instead of dealing directly with the emotion that was causing them their problems, the cloaked figure was struck down with a sword. The bird was released from the phone box so it could fly free. Pandora’s Box was locked with the shadows inside and then given to the hypnotist. Bridges were created from the rock island to other islands so that the Comfort Zone could be left and returned to at will. The reservoir of anger was drained as the situation for which the anger was created was long in the past and the ‘fight’ was no longer going on.
Treating People Individually
A good hypnotist will not treat the problem that the client as come with, they will treat the client who is creating that problem (through no fault of their own). They will need to identify what they are doing in their mind and then change it. One person’s anxiety is not the same as another person’s anxiety because there is no such thing. We are the writers of our own destinies or own fates and so what might help Bob may not help Mel. The answers are there in their own minds, they just need the guidance in how to find the solution and then resolve the problem.
This makes it very hard though to do clinical tests which is why hypnosis is not a mainstream treatment. Hypnosis works with a lot of people but not on everyone. Of everything on offer hypnosis is likely to be the fastest to find out whether it works or does not and therefore a good place to start rather than a last resort.
[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]Alex Vrettos is a hypnotist working in Worthing, West Sussex, UK specialising in fear and anxiety related issues. For more information, visit Alex’s site at http://www.lifechangeexperience.co.uk [/thrive_text_block]