What is hypnosis?

Meeting someone new, we all start off with the regular small talk, asking about many general things, among them the job. When it comes to that, I usually look deeply and meaningfully into the persons eyes and say:”I am a hypnotist”. The reactions from people are nothing short of priceless. Many times there is a look of fear on their face, followed by something to the extent of:”ooh, then don’t look into my eyes…”. While this is an amusing episode, it does show that we have been influenced by television and movies to think about hypnosis as something dangerous and potentially damaging for us. Yet, the truth is, we all hypnotize each other all the time.

What is hypnosis? Having so much controversy and history attached to it, we would think that there is a clear cut definition as to what hypnosis is. However, the more research I read, the more I realize one thing: We actually have no clue what hypnosis or the hypnotic state is. For me, as such, it is similar to time. Although we can measure time, and use it as a fundamental in science, we actually do not know what it is. Consequently, when talking about hypnosis, we do not even know what we are afraid of, and we still are. Hmmm….

For me, hypnosis is moving someone from one state of consciousness to another one, or an altered state. As such, any communication really is hypnosis. When you talk to a friend who is upset and you calm him, you have successfully hypnotized him. Or maybe you talk to someone and they are upset afterwards, again you hypnotized him, simply because they changed their state as a consequence of talking to you. So really, you have been going around hypnotizing and being hypnotized all your life, only you didn’t call it hypnosis, you called it communication.

Learning about hypnosis means learning about communication. About what to say, how to say, and what not to say. Knowing about the principles of hypnosis is learning about directionalised communication, making sure that you convey your point or idea in a way that makes it more likely to get across, instead of communicating all over the place.

Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian communication theorist, once said that we can’t not respond. This means that whatever is said has an influence on us, and we respond to it. Hypnosis allows you to take full advantage of this fact, and can help you to get people respond the way you want, or rather, can make it more likely that people will respond in the way you want them to. However, it is far from what is depicted in movies or on tv in general, as a weird mind control tool, where someone else completely controls you (more on this here).

So next time you meet someone who says they work as a hypnotist, instead of being scared, you should take full advantage of it and ask him to teach you something. You might just learn something that changes the way you think…

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