Basics

Personal Development: Part 7

Healing and Trust

The doorway to adulthood opens in that moment when we realize that we don’t know how to be an adult. The years from infancy to independence only teach us how to express ourselves. They don’t teach us how to be a responsible member of society.

By the end of a successful adolescence, we have found a competitive niche. We have found strengths that command support from our peers. But behind those strengths lie unresolved deficits. The masterful video gamer can’t sustain a romantic relationship. The social butterfly overspends her credit card. The project planner at work doesn’t allow time for play at his 5-year-old’s birthday party.

I have found this definition to be helpful:

An adult understands power and love and has the wisdom and experience to know when to express them.

Clearly this is an aspiration.

But the first three steps on our pathway to maturity focus on power. In survival the guiding concern is “How am I?” With sex we focus on “What is my identity?” During exchange we shift to “What is my value?” At every step, however, the self is first. We assume that everyone else will be taken care of. They have parents, after all.

When separation from the home is complete, however, we confront directly a fact that we always took for granted: whatever benefits (even if scanty and begrudged) we received from our parents, we received due to their love. With that support removed, how are we to survive?

The strong choose the path of force – they impose their will on the world. This is the method of the Second Amendment absolutist in America. Not trusting in love, the armed zealot wants to carry a concealed weapon everywhere. The problem with this strategy is that intimidation works though fear, and people don’t like being afraid. It’s both psychologically and physically draining. They resist, which builds fear in both parties.

The second option is to reassess our strategies for living and rebuild our personality with love as a conscious choice.

In the competitive modern world, that second choice is not easy. The Christian psychotherapist F. Scott Peck recognized this in the title of his landmark book “The Road Less Traveled.” Learning to love involves owning up to your flaws, taking responsibility for past wrongs, and making a commitment to healing not only for ourselves but for others.

The primary venue for this work is the sanctuaries of the major world religions. For those seeking to undertake serious internal work, the challenge is identifying and scheduling time with a mature spiritual guide.

The magic begins in healing. We realize that what didn’t kill us made us stronger. When we begin, it feels as though our heart is going to break. But the heart is a muscle, and the more it is exercised, the stronger and more sensitive it becomes. We learn to trust in its strength, and that allows us to be more trusting of others.

The principal role of the therapist is to provide encouragement and support. In bearing witness to our internal work, our therapist helps us to recognize when we need to take a few steps back from the edge or pick up the pace so that we can jump the next hurdle. Sessions are also an opportunity to feel how we are doing in a process that almost always brings up resistance from friends, family and employers.

Hypnotherapy offers powerful practices to facilitate this stage of development. Journaling allows us to clarify our goals and priorities. The Kappasinian Mental Bank allows us to enlist the subconscious as we broaden our concerns. Guided imagery journeys can identify hidden resources that we can integrate into our lives and allow us to visualize the results of behavior change. Spiritual guide work bypasses the doubting conscious mind to connect us through ancestors and ethereal beings to the universal source of love that sustains us in our growth to maturity.

But none of this is meaningful without the change that occurs between sessions. We learn how to integrate concern for others into our lives, and to balance concern for self and others. We build deeper and more satisfying relationships. We surrender control of the process of exchange, confident in the knowledge that when we have need others will rally to our aid.

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Basics

Hypnotherapy vs. Psychotherapy

If we have a behavior that causes us grief – whether biting our nails or watching too much TV – we may arrive at the conclusion that we can’t make change by ourselves. In that case, we have many options for finding help.

Most of those choices boil down to finding a friend. Life coaches, religions, meetups and intramural sports: these are all methods for meeting new people that we hope will give us encouragement and direction for change.

But what if that still doesn’t work? What if there’s something wrong with our minds?

Now we know that same fear as it relates to our bodies. When I started having pain in my back, I worried that I had an injury – perhaps a slipped disc – that would require surgery. To my relief, I discovered that the pain went away through yoga. I stretched my back and strengthened the muscles of my abdomen. Problem solved!

As regards the mind, the same basic options are open to us. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have a special license to treat wounded minds – minds that are abnormal because they are missing parts or are overly sensitive to certain kinds of stimulus. They are the surgeons of mental health. Hypnotherapists – as encoded in California’s Business and Professional Practices Code Section 2908 – are allowed to support clients seeking “vocational and avocational self-improvement.” We are the yoga instructors of mental health. We help you change yourselves.

This is a critical insight. If I hadn’t taken my yoga practice seriously, I might eventually have needed surgery to correct misalignment in my spine. So also with behavior change: if we don’t deal with our TV addiction, we might get divorced and lose our job and then, sure enough, we have sufficient cause to be depressed and go on medication.

But the question still remains: why hypnotherapy as opposed to paying someone to be our friend? Irving Yalom in “The Gift of Therapy” describes psychotherapy as relationship modeling that builds relationship skills. If psychotherapy is another form of friendship, is hypnotherapy also just another way of finding a friend?

The answer is “no” because hypnosis is not a technique, it is a behavior that enables the client to learn with maximum effectiveness. When in hypnosis, the subconscious receives suggestions and immediately translates them into changes in our deepest behavioral programs. Those changes are made by reconfiguring the connections between our neurons, but also by modifying the flow of blood in the brain. This happens more efficiently in hypnosis because the conscious mind – while monitoring what goes on – is relaxed and comfortable and doesn’t chime in “well, we tried that before and it’s not going to work!”

In effect, when in hypnosis you learn like you did in elementary school, before you started to question authority. Or doubt yourself.

Let’s compare this to psychiatry, which uses drugs to modify the way the brain works. Our basic emotions are controlled by two chemical systems: the dopamine system that creates euphoria and the norepinephrine system that creates fear. The two are kept in balance by the reasoning part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. Several psychiatric disorders involve imbalances between euphoria and fear.

Where a hypnotherapist would use techniques and suggestions to strengthen reason and reallocate energy between euphoria and fear, the psychiatrist prescribes drugs that amplify the weaker signal. In physical terms, it’s like giving someone with a strong right side a brace to straighten their spine. Of course, the other option would be to strengthen the left side.

Just as in maintaining our bodies, it’s important to adjust the operation of our minds to prevent serious breakdowns. Hypnotherapists help you make those minor adjustments before they become major issues. Because hypnosis is only a learning process, if the changes don’t work, you can always over-ride them later on.

It is for this reason that I promote hypnotherapy as “mental hygiene.” Just as with dental hygiene, we should not be ashamed to come in to get our behaviors cleaned up every once in a while. In fact, it’s the best way to avoid more serious problems later on.

The root of many psychological and physical problems is unreleased anxiety. Even if you don’t have a specific behavioral challenge, every hypnotist will help you to remember what it feels like to be relaxed. So if you haven’t, contact a hypnotherapist today!

And Bring Your Whole Self to Life!

Basics

Personal Development: Part 6

Exchange

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 either to freeze and do nothing or to ignore anything except our current goal. When unexpected talent was punished by parental rejection, fear of success can prevent us from taking the final steps that bring the greatest rewards. 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.

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Basics

Personal Development: Part 5

Sex

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.

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Basics

Personal Development: Part 4

Survival

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.

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