“I’m such a loser.” “I look fat.” “Why do I always say so many stupid things?” Lisa repeatedly put herself down and reported feeling increasingly despondent when things went wrong. For years she thought of her life in the most negative light and, not surprisingly, was becoming increasingly anxious.
Lisa judged herself harshly for her parenting skills, saying she was a terrible mother especially when conflicts arose with her teenage son. Social situations were also challenging and Lisa often berated herself afterward.
When Lisa came to therapy, we talked about the roots of this self-defeating behavior. Lisa needed to learn how to self-regulate, quiet her critical inner voice when negative thoughts began to intrude and develop the ability to think more positively.
Lisa tried meditation on several occasions but this technique did not suit her well. She desired a skill that felt more active and goal directed. She clearly wanted to work on changing specific behaviors.
Self-Hypnosis as a Solution
Many of us make negative suggestions to ourselves consciously and unconsciously throughout the day. Self-hypnosis involves programming the mind with positive thoughts and suggestions that, when practiced regularly, train us to perceive ourselves in a more favorable way. This can reduce feelings of inadequacy and anxiety as well as promote feelings of relaxation, self-esteem, and self-control.
Self-hypnosis typically uses affirmations or simple positive statements. For example “I am a competent woman and I can handle this.” This statement repeated throughout the day is a powerful affirmation. When used as part of the self-hypnosis technique described below, the mind is even more receptive to such suggestions as it is in more of a trance-like state. Affirmations and self-hypnosis both build a positive outlook.
While a self-induced hypnotic state may not be quite as deep as being hypnotized by someone else, it does allow you to remain in control so that you continue making relevant suggestions to yourself and shaping your behavior.
The Technique of Self-Hypnosis
- Hypnotizing yourself requires only that you have a private environment, at least in the earliest learning stages. Once you become familiar with this method, it can be practiced just about anywhere and anytime.
- Think about a behavior that you would like to change. Create a simple and positive statement about this change. It helps to write it down.
- Eliminate distractions.
- Sit in a comfortable chair and relax.
- Close your eyes and allow your entire body to sink into the chair.
- Count down slowly from 5-4-3-2-1. When you count down, relax your mind and body more deeply. Relax yourself from the top of your head to your feet.
- Feel the full weight of your body being supported by the chair.
- Now repeat the simple, positive statement you created at the beginning of this exercise and slowly repeat it to yourself.
- Involve all of your senses as you imagine yourself in this positive way.
- Spend a few minutes in this deepened state.
- When you are ready, count up from 1-2-3-4-5 feeling more relaxed, refreshed and revitalized than before you began the technique. You might want to repeat those or similar words to help you to ease out of this state of mind.
- Notice how you are feeling. With practice you will become more proficient at eliciting a relaxation response and internalizing these positive suggestions.
While it might be difficult to eradicate negative thoughts completely, we do have the power to create a greater repertoire of positive messages which will become internalized with practice over time.
I recommended self-hypnosis to Lisa as a way of dealing with her negative self-talk. Lisa resonated with this exercise and now practices it regularly. Self-hypnosis continues to help the relationship with her son, in social situations, and most importantly, with her own private thoughts.
Think of a simple, positive statement regarding something you want to change about yourself. Please share your experiences with self-hypnosis.