Annie's professionally successful Mom is a TV-worthy hoarder. A few months into our sessions, Annie mustered up the courage to show me a few photos of her childhood home — filled with newspapers, kitchen supplies, hangers, clothes, doorknobs and other objects. Sharing these photos was so shaming for Annie because it mirrored her own painful hoarding problem.
Over the months Annie and I have been meeting, she began to understand how her compulsion to acquire has served as a stand-in for the love her family didn't offer. Each new item she hoards provides her with self-esteem on some level: "I have things, therefore, I have value."
Her strategy is self-preserving. She had to feel love from somewhere and material objects were available to imbue with all the feeling she longed for, much like clinging to a beloved teddy bear who in a child's mind loves you back in equal measure.
As an adult, objects still give her relief from anxiety but now only for about a minute while at the same time, obstructing her life. Annie recognizes this, yet has been compelled to repeat the act of acquiring defying logic.
Talking work together did make a dent. But, the dramatic shift that occurred was the result of hypnosis. Much to my surprise, after only a handful of sessions, Annie began organizing her home, speaking with determination and hope.
Contrary to hypnosis stereotypes, I do not use pendulums and say, "You are getting sleepy." No one leaves my office quacking like a duck. If you can watch fantasy movies, you can invite your unconscious mind to be available to suspend disbelief.
Too often, we use the mind's ability to transport us, down destructive roads. The Buddhists say, "an untrained mind causes suffering." We all know people who practice the bad habit of focusing on frightening distorted beliefs which harm them.
Engaging in patterns that works against us have at their roots a positive intention. We hold on to fear as a way to survive. If you are in a lovely garden enjoying the sight of beautiful flowers and then hear a rabid dog growling behind you, you have to protect yourself and get to safety. Not every dog growl is a signal to run but fear can become hard wired in the brain. It's no one's fault that they get stuck, it's how our brains process experience and form habits; we generalize one experience into another.
So if something offers us relief and feels good, we want to do it even if the long term consequences are awful. Dopamine is crazy glue, bonding thought to feeling and action. We need dopamine to be stuck and we need dopamine to make a change.
Plain and simple, hypnosis can interrupt our habits and give us the space to make change. Here are the four stages of making (big) change through hypnosis …
1. You recognize your trigger and associate with it.
Annie located the following as her trigger: the feeling "I am alone and unloved." She then found a specific moment when she heard herself thinking, "I need to buy something to feel better." The moment she was able to imagine the old solution to acquire, she got a rush of dopamine, the feel good reward. This process of recognizing your trigger and really feeling what it is to listen to it, is deliberate, and perhaps counterintuitive. But by connecting — or "associating" with the trigger — we can make the eventual change.
2) You dissociate from the triggered feeling.
In order to create a separation from the trigger, imagine the triggered thought and feel it totally outside yourself. I can often direct this shift by offering those I work with colloquial phrases like, "Let's put that over by the garbage."
Then, I will lead breathing exercises to move the focus away from the trigger/habit and ultimately interrupt the old wiring.
3) You find your inner resources.
In Annie's case, I asked her to locate a memory from any time in her life where she felt loved and safe, to guide her into a positive state. She was able to, to her surprise.
But if someone can't locate anything positive, I have them imagine how good a change will feel and future map it, which connects them to pleasure. When they can think of their "alternative" they often smile (dopamine), nodding or raising a finger, I then have them sit with that, filling themselves with all the good feeling that they connected to on their own.
4) You feel the trigger collapse.
Now, Annie has connected dopamine to a new way to feel good, rewiring her brain and allowing her to make positive choices. She feels more love and trust for herself, reflected in her beautifully decorated home.
I am in the process of evaluating the interplay of talk therapy and hypnosis. Repeating the same story can be like digging ditches, reinforcing wiring in our neural pathways so that our habits stick around. At the same time, we are mammals: we want to share. Telling our stories can reduce their power and offer comfort.
But for deep, gut level change, Annie just needed a new visceral experience to shake up her self-perception. Hypnosis offers a safe set of highly effective techniques to access and rewire faulty core perceptions, releasing feelings from those sticky corners of her mind.
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