Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dealing with Bullies (of the mind)

"The Bully of the Neighborhood" John George Brown (1866)
In the movies, there's always one sure way to deal with a bully. After he's tormented the (usually reluctant) hero for most of the movie, our hero finally calls him out in the playground, and by dint of willpower, and the might of the moral upper hand, he trounces that bully, and the bully slinks off to be heard from no more.
The end.
Roll credits,
fade to black.
Real life never fades to black so conveniently. In real life, after he's been overpowered, the bully is often even more motivated than ever. He may come back more prepared, more well armed, he may catch the hero when he least expects it, or find a sneakier way to strike at our hero. Maybe he comes back with his big brother, or a gang, but one way or another, the bully will be back.

Everybody wants to be able to put the bully in his place with one solid punch to the jaw, like John Wayne would. It just seems right, feels's just so appealing on a gut level. Can't we solve everything like that? A problem pops up, so we hammer it down. Sometimes it is just that simple, but just as often that solution is temporary and the bully comes back, maybe in another way, stronger and more intimidating, or disguised.

It's also true with the bullies of the mind. Sometimes a simple, direct post-hypnotic suggestion, the hypno-equivalent of a punch to the jaw, commanding the client's psyche to "knock it off" is all that it takes for permanent change. I'm a pretty firm believer in the idea that you should always start with the simplest solution first, so I would never discount the direct suggestion. This is especially the case if the client has outgrown whatever is bullying him, and may just need an affirmation that it's time to change.

But it's important to have a clear appraisal of the client's problem. Very often, both hypnotist and client make too much of the healing powers of the hypnosis itself, and assume that a direct command issued to someone while in a trance is all it takes to do the trick. A simple, direct command can work, but it can be hit-or-miss. Think about it. How many people have "tried" hypnosis but didn't get the results they expected?

Since a direct command is an authoritarian approach, it's important to understand how most people's minds deal with authority. Some people like to think that authority can simply compel people to change their behavior, either in waking life or under trance. It often appears that it can, but the mechanics behind what's happening are a little more complex than it would appear. People also tend to categorize adherence to authority as "good" and simply dismiss non-adherent behaviors as "bad", without taking time to examine these alternatives.When faced with authority, people and bullies alike generally respond in one of 3 ways: They comply, rebel or surrender. You've probably observed some or all of them in school when you and the other kids in your class were faced with the authority of the teacher (remember the "teacher's pets", the "rebels", "trouble makers", and the "quiet ones" from school?)

Here how they break down:

-- When faced with an authoritarian command, many will comply. A lot of people consider this to be the "right" way things go. A teacher, a boss, or other figure says, "do it!" and (many) people do it. Here's the catch most people don't know: people, and people's minds, will obey authority as long as there's an advantage in it for them as well.
Rebel-- Not everyone obeys an authority. If the command runs counter to a person's own interests, or sense of identity, or offers no advantage, they may refuse to comply. If the authority presses more force, the mind might resist it with more force, or run away.
Surrender-- What if he won't comply but can't rebel or escape authority? Maybe there's no escape, or the force of authority is too strong. A lot of people like to think that a person will eventually "learn" to conform, and sometimes it appears to be the case. The individual might decide not to invest effort in resisting even though there's no advantage in complying, but focus on other, more positive things in his life, and just "go with the flow." But if the person really doesn't want to comply, but feels helpless to resist, he may only give the appearance of compliance by surrendering. Surrender is usually a weak compliance, and the frustration of not having any control may cause the individual to rebel in other ways and places, which is to say, the problem will manifest in other ways.

  • So, if we apply the above to the construction of an hypnotic command, and to beating the bullies of the mind, we can see that a direct command will get the client's subconscious to comply IF it can be perceived to have some advantage to the client (albeit probably perceived by his subconscious mind). In other words, we have beaten the bully. 
  • The mind will likely rebel against the suggestion if it seems like an imposition that has no advantage to the client, or if it runs against the client's grain. In this case, we took the wrong approach, and the bully won. 
  • Finally, the client's mind may surrender to the given suggestion, and will, for a time, present signs of acceptance and compliance, but, feeling helpless, allow the problem to express itself in other ways. In this final scenario, the bully comes back for another fight at another time.  

Of course this is a highly simplified examination, but hopefully one that is immediately practical. What do you think?


  1. Nice entry. Interesting suggestion for a hypnotherapy session.
    looking forward for the next update about this if you try it on one of your clients.

  2. Hi Kai! I do use this approach often. Clients always comply and get good results when the session is aligned with their sincere interests, but you can't always know what those are. For example, a weight loss client was really aching to change and had got good results from one of my workshops previously. She just needed a little help getting over some new issues, which was easily accomplished in a trance in a single session.

    On the other hand, in a demo I had a someone talk about a food they hated with the intention of making them like it. First I had them describe the food they hated ("problem state", and then a food they loved (the "resource state."). By focusing on their descriptive strategy, which was the same for both foods (texture, taste, smell) I was able to depotentiate the negative associations to the hated food and get her to reexamine the hated food without bias, and then I associated some of the good response experiences with the positive food to the negative one. (This is pretty much a standard NLP Reframe technique). When I was done, she was anxious to try lima beans (the hated food). The subject is someone I know, and is still eating lima beans for the past several years.

    The point of that is that the client had no particular interest in changing her aversion to lima beans, and no direct command, hypnotic or otherwise, would have changed that. But by presenting it in a way that opened up the possibility that lima beans might offer the same positive experience as her favorite food, she was willing to try the beans. Since the beans did not give her a negative experience when she ate them after our work, it reaffirmed that our work was valid, and there was no reason she should continue to dislike them.

    Hope that makes sense.

  3. Addendum: Sorry, I should have specified PERMANENT change. Stage hypnotists can often (not always, though) get people to do distasteful things, but these changes will not be permanent. Ie: it was a popular 19th century stage hypno trick to make people drink vinegar and enjoy it. I hardly think that suggestion would last very long..

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