Personal Development: Part 6


When living in tribes, young adults left home with all the skills they needed to survive off the land. Living now in cities, most of us have only the skills to keep track of our obligations: we can write and read directions and make change, but little else.

What city dwellers lack in survival skills we make up for in choices. Which friends? What food? What religion? Which career? Relationships control how many of our choices we get to realize. Under the free market, the desires of others determine the reward we receive for our time, skill and personality.

Hypnotherapists can’t tell you how to succeed in the marketplace. We can only help to fortify your determination to succeed. In some cases, that determination is undermined by too many choices – we become distracted.

But determination can also be undermined by harsh lessons from childhood. If perfection was the price of parental acceptance, fear of failure can cause us to ignore anything except our current goal. When unexpected talent was punished by parental rejection, fear of success can prevent us from taking the first step toward our goals. In both cases, hypnotherapy can help the subconscious release those childhood lessons, allowing us to lead a more fulfilling life.

If we are free of internal conflicts, the next challenge is to build stable relationships. For example, we would be upset if our favorite restaurant went out of business. If the owners aren’t the best at marketing, to keep patronage up we might recommend it to our friends. Or if we’re in advertising, we might give the owners our business card. We’d become their partners.

Building effective partnerships is complicated. It’s not just a matter of bringing together the right skills. It’s also about harmonizing motivations. Some people seek money, others want social recognition. Some enjoy steady work, while others find routine tedious.

Again, hypnotherapists cannot tell you what elements to bring together to create a successful organization.

Hypnotherapy works, however, because it prepares the mind to learn. In general, minds take in information directly or inferentially. Let’s say that we need to see on the other side of a head-height wall. The direct instruction would be “Jump!” The indirect instruction would be “Find out what’s on the other side.”

It turns out that parents stimulate these two ways of learning through the way that they care for their children. Children that are protected from danger become adventurers and trust direct instruction. Children that can’t predict their parents’ behavior become protectors and prefer to figure out how to solve problems themselves.

In the extreme, adventurers are constantly after that next thrill while protectors go off and hide in a closet. Wonderfully, though, they tend to balance each other out. Most marriages and business partnerships contain one of both – or each partner takes turns being the adventurer in their areas of strength while the other plays protector. It’s a partnership based in complementarity: the adventurer goes into the world while the protector watches and plans the next step.

Things go wrong when the partners fail to develop shared interests and goals. The adventurer creates anxiety in their protector. The protector seeks refuge and the adventurer feels insecure. To relieve the insecurity, the adventurer tries to force the protector to come on a thrill-ride, which makes the protector withdraw even further. Eventually the partnership ceases to be a relationship.

Hypnotherapists understand these two styles because adventurers and protectors are hypnotized using different methods. Hypnotherapy can also move extreme behaviors toward the middle. By linking muscle activity with mental imagery, we can enhance blood flow in the parts of the brain that are underutilized, strengthening their influence.

Unfortunately, not understanding the natural tendency of partnership to join opposites, most of us assume that our behavior is “normal.” When our partner disagrees, we think they are “wrong” and proceed to drive them crazy.

The key to recovery is to recognize that protectors give people their minds, while adventurers offer their hearts. Breakups are painful because those gifts are spiritual entanglements that last long after physical and social bonds have been broken. The hypnotic methods of therapeutic imagery are a powerful means for restoring psychic integrity.

Part 1 || Part 5 | Part 7


Personal Development: Part 5


Of all the paradoxes of human behavior, none is greater than that the act most enhanced by love is driven by the emotions most likely to disrupt our relationships and corrupt our behavior.

Considering animals, nature would appear wise in ensuring that physically mature individuals are driven to leave the family group. As well as preventing the weakness of inbreeding, dispersal ensures that good genes spread.

Unfortunately, in people physical maturity comes a decade before psychological maturity. The brain adapts as we age, adding new parts as we learn to relate with family, friends and community. The highest skill is altruism – the ability to imagine “walking in someone’s shoes” and to act for their benefit. The part of the brain that supports altruism doesn’t form until our mid-twenties (if then).

The sex drive, of course, comes with puberty, shortly after turning ten. In boys, testosterone drives aggression and the growth of muscles to back it up. In girls, estrogen engenders bonding and the sensitivity to manipulate emotions. In both, the ecstatic thrills that swept through the whole body in childhood are focused in the sex organs. Unless released, those urges build, disrupting sleep. Exhaustion leads to irritability, sowing tension among family, friends and community. The immature brain rarely recognizes these defects, tending rather to project fault upon others.

Fortunately in modern society elementary school prepares children with conditioning to pursue self-improvement through education. As long as the teen achieves some academic success, school acts as a brake on serious misbehavior. Other supervised group activities – such as sports, scouting, and religion – also provide adolescents positive outlets for their energy and the opportunity to practice adult roles.

Sleep habits also change among adolescents. The sleep cycle delays by as much as three hours, giving youth time at the end of the day to develop relationships free from adult supervision. During the deepest stages of sleep, the brain sheds connections. The thought patterns that are preserved are those that support success among peers.

Given the biological drives of puberty, we shouldn’t be surprised that success with peers is often driven by sexual attraction. Unless confronted, this is a deep subconscious lesson that comes to the fore whenever our relationships are dissatisfying. Since sexual urges facilitated separation from parents, they are often indulged by adults separating from spouse, children or employers.

The well-adjusted adolescent explores social roles, entering adulthood with a well-formed identity that reflects their natural strengths and skills. Less fortunate peers are hobbled with role confusion, a problem that may lead to career and relationship hopping. Role confusion may be heightened by parental over-involvement, either during adolescence or as a hold-over from childhood.

For those suffering from role confusion, therapy guides them through experiences to reach a rational choice of role. Pre-hypnosis dialog reveals negative self-talk and builds positive expectations. In hypnosis, a positive self-image is implanted to encourage the subconscious to allow the chosen role to emerge. Subsequent sessions reinforce those motivations until the client reaches a conclusion about the role. If unsatisfactory, accomplishments are celebrated and reinforced, and another role is pursued.

Almost universally, young adults carry wounds from the chaotic romantic collisions of adolescence. Sexual attraction forms in the right side of brain, which reaches its subconscious conclusions as much as a second before the conscious mind realizes that a potential mate has been encountered. Given the power of sexual desire, the conscious mind usually proceeds to rationalize the attraction, projecting imaginary virtues on the new crush. When reality collides with fantasy and the relationship tanks, we awake with bruised self-confidence and – particularly when sex was part of the romance – wounded self-esteem.

Along with educating clients about relationship complementarity (more in the next post in this series), the primary goal of therapy is to reawaken romantic confidence. A wounded romantic partner is a defensive romantic partner. When both partners are wounded, after the “honeymoon” a relationship tilts rapidly into mutual disdain. Therapy in this case is like role confusion therapy, rebuilding confidence in our ability to heal from heartbreak while restoring the motivation to be our authentic selves. The only wrinkle is that the absent partner may attempt (consciously or subconsciously) to undermine progress. While many hypnotherapists can provide general guidance regarding relationship patterns and effective communication, to deal with interpersonal dynamics, a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) must be brought into the therapy.

Most seriously, overly demanding parental expectations can cause teens to rebel against the changes of puberty. Subconsciously, the perfect princess may seize upon an eating disorder to prevent menstruation. Insecure adolescents may use insomnia to delay changes in the brain. Such syndromes require specialized therapy in collaboration with licensed practitioners of medicine and psychology.

Part 1 || Part 4 | Part 6


Personal Development: Part 4


During childhood, our survival depends upon our parents. Naturally, we have almost no control over what goes on around us. To grow out of that vulnerability, the child’s brain is designed to take in everything, and then to learn to avoid conflict with our caregivers.

Obviously that’s easier if our parents are kind. That’s the first gate in life: can we trust the world? The foundation of trust is suckling at our mother’s breast, and builds when she is attentive to our needs to be clean, warm and touched. If those are unreliable, the child may find no value in other people, and even look at them as objects.

Even a loving mother has other interests and responsibilities – mostly naturally taking care of other family members and herself. When we realize that mother manages herself, we can also aspire to independence. Why not learn how to pee and poop without making a mess of ourselves? Why not learn to use silverware and drink from a cup? When those goals are encouraged and rewarded, we enjoy our autonomy (independence). When suppressed, we learn shame.

Eric and Joan Erikson organized development as eight “stages of development.” Each stage describes a change in the relationship between a person and their society. At first the society is “mother,” growing rapidly to “parents,” “family,” and “school.” Acceptance or rejection by the “society” leaves expectations that stay with us for the rest of our lives – even after the practical skills have been mastered – until we revisit the relationship.

Even when explained in a way that makes adjustment seem reasonable and necessary, change is challenging because the brain changes. A child’s brain is designed with the assumption that a parent will be available to protect us from our mistakes. It seeks as much experience as possible. That changes dramatically in adolescence when the brain changes its priorities, focusing instead on figuring out how to influence our peers. That focus comes with neural “pruning” – the loss of connections in the brain.

Thus painful rejection in our childhoods becomes “locked in” because later in life the brain takes longer to rewire those behaviors. It’s just not as flexible as it was in childhood. In fact, the pruning that takes place in adolescence may even weaken the memory link between our behavior and the events that caused us to adopt them.

From the hypnotherapist’s perspective, the complex changes in the brain are summed up in a few words. An infant is born with a united mind, and is so always in hypnosis. By adolescence, the barrier between the conscious and subconscious is firmly established. Hypnotherapy reunites the conscious and subconscious, allowing us to adjust the childhood attitudes and behaviors that no longer serve us.

For those struggling with behaviors linked to painful childhood memories, the added layers of adult behavior often favor indirect methods in hypnotherapy. Therapeutic imagery discovers resources in the subconscious landscape that empower us to make adult choices. Kappas’ Mental Bank model is a nightly personal practice that uses fantasy dollars to motivate change in the subconscious during sleep. The hypnotherapist may also recommend journaling, which has similar goals.

Some clients request age regression therapy to confront painful memories. The American Hypnosis Association counsels against such work, recommending instead that the subconscious be allowed to reveal those memories in its own timing. When revealed in dreams, hypnotic suggestions can support our ability to redefine the conflict in moral terms that allow us to claim justice from the dream antagonists. (This is often called dream therapy.)

More directly, inner child work or self-parenting brings forth the child-like personality as it currently is in the subconscious landscape. The conscious adult self offers wisdom, comfort and protection. There is no confrontation with past memories – just encouragement to share the joyful attitudes of childhood with the adult self.

Part 1 || Part 3 | Part 5


Confronting Death’s Psychic Epidemic

At the one-year anniversary of the Parkland assault, Nancy Pelosi warned President Trump that a Democratic president could use his declaration of emergency as a precedent to take unilateral action on gun control. This post describes my engagement on the problem, though from the perspective of someone who operates at the top of the maturity scale: that is to say, in the space of imagination.

It’s framed as a presentation to the local Rotary Club – thus the reference to vaccinations.

I suffered through an epidemic in the spring of my seventh-grade year. The graduating class of eighth graders harbored a core of malcontents. This was before the iPhone, so rather than photo-bombing, they apple bombed – that is, the boys threw apples across the lawn into the girls’ lunch circles. When that was brought under control, they started pulling fire alarms. In the last few weeks of school, we could count on class being interrupted once a day.

It was an irritation but did not carry the weight of inevitability. We didn’t leave school expecting that one day they’d set it on fire.

Perhaps that history makes me sensitive to the insanity of modern education, as our youth practice for active shooter incidents with the rational expectation of an occurrence.

I could analyze the politics of that transformation, but let’s address the problem at a deeper level. The basic principles that fuel gun worship in America are at play in other situations. When ISIS beheads a journalist, when China breaks up a coral reef to make an airfield, when North Korea tests a ballistic missile, or when a president proclaims terrorist infiltration across our borders: they all beat the same drum. They beat the drum of Death.

I occasionally become embroiled elsewhere, but it is particularly in mass shootings that I become psychically enmeshed. That story tracks through darkness, but also shines with grace. I know that both of those can be challenging for those that enjoy the distance of medical vaccinations. Eradicating a disease is accomplished through financial and material exchanges that buffer the suffering. Healing psychic trauma is a far more intimate affair.

I’m not going to criticize those that lack the nerve for it. In fact, it is for that reason that those of us that maintain the barriers against darkness rarely talk about it. I reveal this now because of the Borderline shooting. I heard echoes there from 2017’s events in Las Vegas and realized that I can no longer hold the darkness at bay. Cluelessness is a gaping hole in the shield I maintain.

Let me offer a theoretical statement as prelude:

To uphold violence as a necessary element of political discourse is to worship Death.

I spent most of my formative years confronting a variation of that principle: the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction that drove Cold War thinking. Raised by parents who celebrated Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor,” I was appalled. That emotion was not idle: I spent most of my young adult years trying to understand how to make love work as a social principle. In college that carried over into my philosophy classes where I read love into the political theories of Plato, Locke and Foucault.

Perhaps for that reason my experience of mass shootings is intimate. When the Sandy Hook murders occurred, I found myself dreaming of the teacher who laid down over her huddled students to take the bullets fired from the assault rifle. I don’t feel the physical pain in such moments: rather it’s a psychic tearing that I receive in the heart and close over as the saintly spirit departs the ruined body. I witness such victims in the grace of their sacrifice. I prevent the violence from leaving a permanent mark.

That is service – though too late – on the individual scale.

On the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, I was present at the sparsely attended observance outside the Federal Building in Westwood. I had been following the Barden’s reflections on their angel Daniel and went to bed reflecting on the apathy that condemned the nation to repeat their tragic loss. As I dreamed that night, witnessing to the Most High the great need for love to sustain us in the struggle, Nicole Barden’s grief settled in my heart. The Most High sent Daniel’s spirit to answer her need. Seeing her grief and shame as the political tide turned against her, the heart of a lion rose within him. Astonished, I heard him promise to lead the angels to find everyone who had suffered from fear of a gun – whether it was a woman in an abusive relationship, a parent that had lost a child, or a citizen whose protector had been assassinated.

We three then expanded under the protection of the Most High: the child’s determination, the philosopher’s open heart, and the mother’s wounded psyche. Love found the vibration of that wound in every cranny of American society, and angels followed behind, bearing courage and hope across time to liberate those oppressed by death.

Did it hurt? Yes, for a moment. Diagnosis is always the most painful episode in a psychic cure. But it’s possible to bear when you have faith that healing is waiting in the wings.

There are other episodes in that story, and other mass shootings to recall. The upshot was this: I considered such experiences to be a process separate from early responder activity. I would hear of a shooting and feel the call to book a ticket and fly out to minister to the survivors and reason that I would never be able to penetrate the security filters. I didn’t have institutional credentials that would allow me to get close.

And I still don’t.

But when the Country Arena shooting occurred in Las Vegas, it was simply a matter of renting a car and driving overnight to the scene. The dreams had been particularly intense. Perhaps it was due to proximity, but I think there was a further factor: the gun nuts were rattled and began to entertain guilt.

I rented a car and drove to Las Vegas.

On the way out, I had visions involving the staff of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Upon my arrival, there were physical circumstances that corresponded to those visions, but it was my encounter with the victim’s memorial that drove events. I won’t relate the details. Time…came apart. I followed the trail of need from location to location. The culmination came at the Church of the Holy Redeemer, a Catholic congregation that anchors the opposing corner of the field fired upon by Pollard from the Mandalay Bay’s 32nd floor.

The Church had been commandeered by law enforcement in the week following the shooting, and at noon I attended their first service since the incident. The candle for the deceased was lit and the liturgy honored the Good Samaritans that had saved the wounded and led others to safety. Perhaps because the church had served as the center of the investigation, I found myself amidst the night’s events, warning the terrified crowd to “run to the cross” and “see each other so that angels can guide away the bullets.”

As communion began, the pianist meditated tenderly on “Amazing Grace.” The harmony echoed backward in time, and I felt Pollard’s desperate rage transformed into horrified realization. The purpose that moved me was then fulfilled. I had come because the Holy Spirit wanted me to confront the demon that had invaded his mind. It was trying to set up shop in the Mandalay Bay. As we wept over the phrase “that saved a wretch like me,” I caught Pollard in the embrace of Divine Mercy as he put the gun in his mouth and blew a hole in the spirit that had wound itself into his brain.

Recall my statement: “Time came apart.” You should understand that ten hours earlier as I lay in my suite I had received the souls liberated in that moment.

Sandy Hook is a town. Las Vegas is a city.

Then came Parkland.

In America, the NRA is the flimsy cover for Death’s worshippers, and Florida is the NRA’s model society. Parkland was the collision between that cult and the witness of children raised under the threat of mass shootings. Chris Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and others had the desperate temerity to shout “bullshit” back at the purveyors of death.

As the political wheels were set into motion to grind those courageous and wounded spirits into dust, I could not sleep at night. The shame of the police, the grief of parents, but most of all the bewildered violation of the promises believed by Christian youth: all of these rang in my mind every night.

I got on a plane and flew out on Thursday, arriving the night before they finished their first three days back at school.

My premonitions were fulfilled more accurately than they were in Las Vegas. No commercial motives disturbed the waters.

As I waited on Thursday morning in the Burbank Airport parking shuttle, the driver told me to get out to see the full moon on the horizon. In the Biblical Book of Revelation, a virtuous woman is declared as its avatar, and I felt upon me the beneficial omen of her smile. During the flight to Florida, I formulated an invocation of love’s twelve methods and twelve fruits. I offered it several times as I walked the two accessible sides of the school: first in the dark on Thursday night, and similarly before sunrise on Friday. Finally standing across from the entrance of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School as the full moon descended toward the horizon, feminine virtue answered my call as the invocation draped a protective tent over the campus.

Learning that the students were to be released at noon, I was back at 10:30. This time I listened to my two favorite pieces of restorative music: excerpts from Brahm’s First Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Ninth. Sitting again across the street from the school entrance, as Ode to Joy unrolled majestically, the attention of their generation was captured. Not just in Parkland, not just in Florida, not just in America. We are the last society to remain ignorant of Death’s palsying grip upon our political process. Media coverage had touched a nerve across the globe. Conscious of Canada, Mexico, Europe, Central and South America, Asia and Africa: when the global assembly of their generation was complete, I announced firmly:

We must sing a new song.

Where I had tip-toed through raw grief on Thursday night, the atmosphere was tender on Friday night. Relieved, I spent Saturday among the memorial canopies set up outside the stage in the main park. The only recognition came from an elder who – to my admission that my contributions were “mostly abstract” – responded “Sometimes that’s the best way.”

Wishing that I could have more direct confirmation, still I reflected in awe, as the airplane lifted from the Fort Lauderdale tarmac, “I made 150 million new friends this weekend.”

When I marched in support of Ventura’s youth in last Spring’s Walk for Life, I carried a sign that read “Bear Cross plus Bare Arms equals Perfect Love” – obviously a rebuke to America’s evangelicals. There was a pregnant moment as I took the northward leg of Santa Clara. The chants of the crowd had fallen silent. I cried rhetorically: “What does love look like?” continuing without support

This is what love looks like.

But of course, I was only giving voice to the thought we had formulated before my shout rang out.

My name is Brian Balke. I live in Port Hueneme and opened my Ventura hypnotherapy practice in 2019, hoping that by preserving my attention for healing each day, I might be more sensitive to developing tragedies, able to intervene if possible, and otherwise available to pour love into the trauma meted out in mass murder.

I was at the Borderline memorial once the 101 reopened, kneeling to touch each cross. The Billy Graham Ministry chaplain caught my eye and testified “We’re lucky to have you.”

But the children that celebrated life in that building need healing still. When I lean against the cinder block corner, I imagine the empty interior, bottles and glasses still standing. I see the abandoned boots in closets. And then a vision of dancing to Christian praise from bullet hole to bullet hole, restoring the shooter’s broken hope so that he might go to his rest.

And then dancing to the DJ’s private set to kindle the space for the reopening celebration.