Hypnosis and the Inelasticity of the Human Ego
by Tim Brunson, PhD
The enemy to learning, health, and other human transformation is an inelastic and fixed sense of ego. Hypnosis is a primary tool designed to promote change through the seeking to dissolve the prison in which many subjects have incased their egos. The sense of self that is indoctrinated into most of humanity is also related to the maintenance of disharmonious states, which can also be termed as pathologies and illnesses.
Any cursory review of human history will disclose a ubiquitous effort to establish a firm, unchanging sense of self. Writers and thinkers such as Joseph Campbell have even implied that mythology and even the "invention" of religion may serve to satisfy this need. While this article will not question the validity of spirituality or cosmological beliefs, I will recognize that there has always been an urge for individuals to "find themselves." Likewise, communities and organizations also display a tendency to rapidly develop a culture and identity – to which they jealously cling.
The development of a strong ego is related to a firm belief system. This could be found in one's identification with a specific religious creed, a professional culture, political philosophy, or even something as mundane as an affiliation with a particular sports franchise. These beliefs are universally related to cultural indoctrination, to include programming by the media, parents, friends, teachers, and ministers. The illusion of choice is prevalent, as many such indoctrinated individuals will quickly argue that their beliefs are rational and based upon some type of cognitive-level logic. Yet when challenged, their blood pressure changes, their speaking gets louder and more animated, and they resort to programmed responses and gestures. I am positive that, should a SPECT scan occur during their defense of their beliefs, their neurological activity would be seen to have shifted to the more emotional, limbic centers of their brain. Please note that this observation does not imply that their beliefs are incorrect. Merely, I am stating that their defensiveness most likely involves indoctrination rather than a cognitive understanding and acceptance of their beliefs.
The problem with such ego/belief systems occurs when a dysfunctionality is detected and there is resistance to finding an acceptable resolution. For instance, should a person's desire for immediate satiation conflict with the law or the welfare of others – or conflict with competing concerns such as their short-term or long-term health – then a such a situation exists. This may result in a mental or physical pathology, an adverse consequence for a relationship, or even a legal conviction. Therefore, the need for a person to reframe their belief system may be in order. However, should they display cognitive rigidity in the form of an inability to consider anything other than their indoctrinated beliefs, then I would also classify this as an inelasticity (to use a term from the time when I taught economics).
In my various courses I teach clinical students several techniques that are helpful for them or their patients and clients when it comes to having a less rigid approach to their self-identification. Some of these come from my experience as a Neuro Linguistic Programming trainer. However, hypnosis and hypnotherapy are inherently powerful in this area as well. As such, I agree with the definition of hypnosis offered by Alfred A. Barrious, PhD, He says that hypnosis involves the suspension of a belief system. My definition phrases this somewhat differently. I say that it helps bypass pattern resistance (i.e. inertia to change) and facilities more efficient selective thinking. Both of us agree that hypnosis is an excellent tool that can be easily used to help a person break out of the prison of their inelastic concept of a rigidly defined ego.
The first obstacle that the hypnotherapist has is getting the person to realize the rigidity of their belief-system. (Please note that they will most likely have the misconception that their ego is a "thought-system." This illusion reinforces their pathology.) The presumption here is that the client or patient has come in because they perceive a symptom or condition is causing unhappiness, ill health, or prevents them reaching their potential. When their discomfort gets to a certain point, they will seek professional help. (This does not deny that many people function quite comfortably within a rigidly defined and indoctrinated system. In fact, this may even lead to having what would seem to be a well-adjusted personality – although it often is contrary to a learning and evolving mind.)
When a person seeks change for whatever reason, the clinician should assess the flexibility of their thinking ability. A firm conviction that a certain set of values and beliefs are correct does not necessarily signify pathological rigidity. Essentially, I would not be concerned with any belief system unless it represents a causal factor in a pathology or prevents a desired movement toward increased self-actualization. If they are happy and fully functional with their current ego, there is no need to "enlighten" them to your ideas. However, if that is not the case and you agree with the need to help them, it would be very appropriate to share your extensive array of skills and techniques.
Please understand that the existence of an elastic or inelastic ego is not a binary, yes-no situation. Rather a person may be very rigid regarding certain values and yet display considerable flexibility in others. For example, I tend to demonstrate considerable rigidity where cruelty and compassion are involved and then show more understanding and acceptance when someone questions my religious, professional, or philosophical beliefs. Over the years I have come to recognize and embrace my faults and inabilities – a reason that I surround myself with a competent staff – while others have considerable time admitting even the smallest flaw. This attitude is something that has taken me – and continues to take – considerable effort.
When I use Neuro Linguistic Programming, hypnosis, and other clinical interventions, I always consider the impact that I am having bypassing the subject's tendency to myopically hold on to rigid self-identity concepts. Richard Yates, LPC, a friend and talented hypnotherapist locally, has an excellent reframing concept that he uses to challenges limiting concepts of self. He simply asks a client how many roles, possessions, or body parts they could lose before they stopped being themselves. He has shared with me some amazing results – even with the most narrowly-minded individuals. So essentially using our plethora of skills to bypass rigid egos and encourage flexible thinking may be the most potent tool we have in our efforts to transform others.
The emergence of a more flexible and elastic sense of self – one that may require a re-evaluation of behavior, identity, and belief – may be the answer for most people who desire changing their heath and reaching self-actualization. Once this situation is determined, the clinician should be well trained to employ appropriate interventions designed to help their subject dissolve the walls that imprison their ego and lead them to an existence where they can selectively choose to pursue their potential.
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.
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