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Del Morrill, M.S. C.C.H


A Center for Counseling & Hypnosis
Tacoma, Washington, USA
(253) 752-1506

Does the Unconscious Mind Hear Negatives?

Irene Colville

Hypnotherapists are told not to use negatives in their hypnotic suggestions, because, we are told, "the subconscious mind doesn't "hear" negatives". The theory is (and remember it is only a theory) that we are not to say "don't" or "will not" or "no longer" or any other negative form of suggestion when we are talking to clients with the intent of helping them make positive changes in their lives. This, we are told, is because the subconscious mind does not hear the negative and therefore any negative suggestion will be heard in the positive; it will be heard, by the client's subconscious mind, as the therapist giving the client permission to carry on doing whatever they said they wanted to change! Students are taught this, they take it as "a given" (factual). And, so, it is perpetuated without question.
I find this whole concept rather strange (to say the least). In fact, I believe that only hypnotherapists believe the subconscious mind cannot hear negatives! Who said that that this is so? How do they know this? I find it quite extraordinary - how many people are so sure of what goes on in the subconscious mind. I am amazed by such people, because - whatever is in MY subconscious is usually out of my conscious awareness! Isn't that the definition of the sub/unconscious mind - whatever is in it is out of our conscious awareness? So how can anyone be so sure what the unconscious mind hears - or doesn't hear?

It is my understanding that the conscious mind is the analytical, critical, judgmental, thinking mind, and the subconscious mind accepts what is put into it WITHOUT QUESTION because it is the non-analytical, non-critical, non-judgmental, non-thinking mind. This is what I was taught in various modes of study, and this is what is repeatedly said in many books, and this is what is taught in hypnotherapy schools. Surely, therefore, this points out the contradiction in believing the subconscious mind does not hear or accept negative language? For the subconscious mind to negate negative language, it must first of all hear the negativity, and then it must have some process of understanding it to be negative, and of negating it. This would imply that the subconscious mind hears the negative, then thinks about, judges or analyzes it, and decides to ignore it, and strengthen the material it was aimed at changing! Unless, of course, the idea is that the subconscious mind is aware of the subject matter being dealt with and simply "absorbs" the energy of anything remotely connected to that subject thereby increasing the strength of the material the person is trying to change? If this is so, how does that relate to the concept that my un/subconscious mind is wise, and smart, and its role is to protect me? If this latter concept is true, why would it ignore something I want, something I know is for my "highest good", something that will have positive consequences on my life - just because the suggestions were given in the so called "negative"? We simply cannot say both concepts are true. The unconscious mind either is non-thinking and accepts whatever is put into it - no matter how it is presented, or it is there for my benefit, and it's role is to do what it needs to do for my "highest good" - which means it has the capacity to "think, judge, analyze, decide".

Whilst I personally prefer to put my suggestions to clients into the positive form, there are times when I cannot think of how to say something (the reverse of the negative) when I need it. I have therefore been known to give so-called "negative" suggestions to clients - and guess what? They worked - they had a positive effect! The client changed the behaviour, despite hearing me (at some level) saying "don't" or "no longer" or "will not". I also know other hypnotherapists who report the same phenomena. So, how can this be accounted for in the light of what we are taught is not possible?

Unlike trained hypnotherapists, most of my clients have never heard of the concept (and that's all it is) that the subconscious mind cannot hear a negative. The clients (and their subconscious minds) therefore accept my suggestions - even when they are occasionally presented in a negative format. I personally believe that people make changes to the level of their own "Intent". They come to me because they have decided they need help to achieve a specific goal, and if they are fully committed to the Intent to Change, then they will accept that help - however it is verbalized to them. The subconscious mind may need to be reminded of the need to change, and the positive reasons for the desired change, but once that is achieved, the suggestions - whether presented in the so called "positive" or "negative" format - will be accepted - because they are perceived (and received) as being aimed at helping the person to achieve that positive change.

I think we do the unconscious mind a gross disservice by limiting its manner of understanding and knowing to the words it hears. I believe that building rapport with the client is a priority, and that when that is achieved the energy of the client's unconscious mind joins with the energy of the therapist in relation to the changes being discussed or worked on. When rapport is established the client knows, and trusts, both consciously and unconsciously, that the therapist's "Intent" is to assist in achieving the positive change required. That's what rapport is! It's at this higher energetic level that the unconscious mind accepts suggestions given, whether they are expressed in "positive" or in "negative" ways - because it accepts they are aimed at positive change. In this sense, to speak of "negative" or "positive" words is nonsense - the unconscious mind takes - I believe - the INTENT of the therapist. It absorbs not only the words, but the overall MEANING of the sentences TOGETHER WITH the energetic INTENT within the verbalized suggestions.

This article is not written to encourage people to go ahead and use whatever words come to mind. One the contrary - words are extremely powerful, but it has to be remembered they represent only 7% of communication. What I am arguing is that it is overly simplistic to teach that the unconscious mind does not accept negatives, especially when there are obviously many cases where this is seen to be untrue. The unconscious mind is far greater than we can imagine, and in hypnosis it is open to suggestion and that suggestion is accepted if there is a "joining" of energies (a rapport) between the client and the therapist. Use powerful words, draw verbal pictures, energetically "urge" your client towards achieving the positive goals, and the unconscious mind will "hear" what is being INTENDED - even if it is sometimes expressed with less elegant, and sometimes so called "negative" words.

Irene Colville
Irene Colville of Sydney, Australia.
(02)99054993, irenecolville@bigpond.com, www.hypnotherapy.net.au





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