Undoing Hypnotic Suggestions (Which Have Been Used to Conceal Abuse by the Perpetrator)
Isa Gucciardi MA, CHTHypnosis is a very helpful tool for understanding the nature of one's experience at a very deep level. My experience in helping survivors come to terms with the effects of abuse has shown me that hypnosis can help break down defenses to abuse memories. These defenses may have been useful when they were developed but many survivors find that these same defenses become an obstacle to the integration of the information contained in the abuse memories when the survivor begins the process of self-exploration.
Because most defenses are formulated unconsciously, they can most easily be contacted through the unconscious. Often, the survivor will not even know the existence of the defenses, much less what thoughts or decisions they are constructed from. By exploring the nature of these defenses, usually through contact with the issues they were constructed to cope with, the defenses can be slowly and carefully transformed in a trance state once the survivor begins to feel it is safe to do so.
The establishment of safety is essential to this process. The survivor needs to know that the transformation of defenses will not leave him or her helpless and out of control. By bringing the survivor into contact with the essential self through guided imagery and meditation, we establish both a base to work from and goal to work toward. In effect, we create a container, which can hold all of the emotions safely and keep the survivor protected while the exploration of the nature of the defenses and the issues they relate to begins.
When I work with abuse survivors, I am less interested in laying down historical fact than in understanding the nature of the person's subjective experience. This idea of staying close to the person's subjective experience regardless of actual external events becomes particularly important when hypnosis has been used in any way as part of the abuse.
I have found that there is always some level of cognitive dissonance to the hypnotic suggestions laid down during or after abuse. That is to say, there is some feeling on the part of the survivor that 'something is not quite right' around the issues that have been the subject of hypnotic suggestion. The sensation that something is not quite right can manifest as uneasiness, strongly defended irrational ideas, or a complete unwillingness to look at the idea that 'something is not quite right' about a particular sensation or feeling.
I believe this dissonance arises from the fact that the hypnotic suggestions given during or after abuse do not jive with the person's authentic experience and sense of self. The mind during the abuse is so open to manipulation that the suggestions do take seat in the person's psyche, but because they are paired with the abuse and generally are contrary to authentic experience, the seat they take is uncomfortable.
My experience, with a survivor we will call Jim, has many themes consistent with other survivors I have worked with who have been hypnotized as part of the abuse process. When Jim first came to me, he was unaware that he was a survivor of severe parental abuse. In fact, he vehemently stated again and again that his mother loved him very much. The vehemence in these statements was a red flag for me, and I filed this information away, not realizing where it would take us as we began the process of hypnosis to help him with a physician-diagnosed attention deficit disorder, which was not responding to medication.
There is much to tell about the long process in Jim's evolution in understanding himself and his inability to focus and his coming to terms with the idea that he was an abuse survivor, but I will focus here on how it became evident that hypnotic suggestion had been used to screen from him what had actually happened to him.
As the abuse memories began to surface in exploring the roots of the attention deficit disorder, Jim was often aware of a very bright light in the middle of the images that were surfacing. When I asked him to focus on the light, he began to repeat the same phrases again and again. One such session revealed the following set of phrases,
"Your mommy loves you. No matter what anyone else says. You just fell down today. See, your knee is just a little scraped. Those bruises happened when you fell. Poor Jim, mommy helped you fix your knee and made it better. No matter what anyone else says, you know this is true, you know that your mommy loves you every day, more and more and when you look at your knee you will remember that your mommy loves you, your mommy loves you more and more each day."
It took me a moment to put it together that he had been told to look at a bright light while classically-formulated hypnotic suggestions were told to him after having been abused. As the truth dawned on me, I realized that we would have to focus on uncovering all of the hypnotic patter that had been given to him during or after abuse.
We discovered that there were many, many different situations in where hypnotic suggestion had been used to distort memory. In subsequent sessions, whenever the light would appear, I would ask him to look into the light and just allow his lips to move; each session revealed a new patter to screen a new memory of abuse. After each session where this patter would emerge, I would present the recorded patter to Jim and ask him how he wanted to erase the patter, which was still stored in his memory.
I never provided him with hypnotic suggestions that he did not write out himself. In each one of the "re-writes" I would include the suggestion that this new hypnotic suggestion would take permanent and total precedence over any hypnotic suggestions he may have been exposed to in his childhood. This worked as a kind of seal to keep the other hypnotic patter from intruding on his sense of self and perception of reality in the way that it had for forty years.
A big part of this work went beyond simply providing a new hypnotic "tape." The new tape would never had been able to take hold had he not been able to deal with the rage and sadness he felt about having been betrayed in this way. It took a great deal of courage for him to be able to see the physical abuse and the way it distorted his ability to concentrate, but the emotional betrayal of the use of hypnosis to cripple his memory, and thus his sense of self, was in many ways a more brutal process to work through for Jim.
Because the damage had been created at a subconscious level, it needed to be undone on a subconscious level, by way of a method, which was able to contact the way Jim had been conditioned through hypnosis. I am not aware of any process which can provide this repair other than hypnosis. By using hypnosis to explore the nature of his defenses in seeing his mother as anything but a perfect, loving creature, he was able to see how his defenses were keeping him from contacting his ability to concentrate and focus.
Jim is still coming to terms with many of the aspects of being identified as an abuse survivor, but his attention problems are greatly reduced. He is able to focus his attention and tap into his will to act in ways, which were impossible for him before he began the rewriting of these tapes. He is regaining the ability to trust his own experience and make decisions based on it. I am sure if we had not discovered the way in which hypnosis had been used to rob him of these abilities most of us take for granted, he would not have made the progress he has in reclaiming himself.
Isa Gucciardi MA, CHT