The unconscious is hard to observe, measure, or test, therefore is an inconvenient concept for modern medicine. “Just take the antidepressant,” they say, or “just think positive”. But when the pills make people sick, or when people slip back into negative thinking or self-destructive behaviour, they show up at my practice, saying they’ve tried everything and nothing works. What hypnotherapists do that nobody else does is acknowledge that there’s a force that gets in the way of recovery, a mysterious power that wrecks our attempts to escape self-destructive behaviour just when we start to see improvements.
The thought of spending the rest of our lives without our self-destructive habits, without conflict, can become scary. We become self-conscious about what was beginning to feel natural and start to slip up. Sadly, the research shows that most of our efforts at self-reform -dieting, escaping depression, stopping drinking – fail within two years. And when you slip up, you often go back to yourself at the worst: You put the weight right back on; you drink even more; you feel more depressed than ever. If you’re caught by the power of the subconscious mind, the normal ways we solve problems and make decisions will get you nowhere; you’ll just be fighting yourself.
The subconscious is most powerful when you’ve gained control of the symptom but haven’t fixed the underlying problem. You can abstain from your addiction yet remain very vulnerable to relapse if you haven’t figured out and taken care of the loneliness or anger or hopelessness that led you to abuse drugs in the first place. You can find relief from stress using many different techniques, but if you haven’t changed your values and done some rewiring in the brain, you’re still just as vulnerable to new stressors. You can control your procrastinating, but if you haven’t addressed the part of yourself that is afraid of success, you won’t control it for long. You can lose forty pounds on a diet but if you haven’t fixed the hole in your heart that you were trying to fill with food, you’ll gain it all back again. The power of the subconscious is the result of that inner conflict. The subconscious self isn’t wired to listen to the voice of reason, the conscious self.
What we haven’t said is that the only real solution is to face the thoughts that hold us back and that are buried in our subconscious. It may be a sad truth: I’m getting old; I’ve done things I’m ashamed of; my life lacks meaning. Or it may be a product of our distorted assumptions: I can’t do anything right; I’m not beautiful enough; I’m better than everyone else. If it’s true, we need to do something about it. If it’s false, we need to drag it out into the light of day; chances are, like a vampire, it will melt away.
The subconscious gets much of its power from the paths etched in our brains by bad habits. One slip and we are back on the old road that was abandoned. The mind builds physical connections between cells that become stronger as we practice our habits.
Solution Focused Brief Therapy can help us learn new habits to replace our old self-destructive patterns, and as we learn them, new channels in our brain become stronger and deeper.
But the problem is that the old channels are still there, and we can easily slip back into them. We therefore must us hypnosis to make old self-destructive patterns just as scary and aversive as possible. To some, this might seem like a desperate measure, but the power of the subconscious requires such desperate measures or it won’t leave you alone. Our old bad habits become the brain’s default circuits when we are faced with temptation, fatigue, or stress. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help people rewiring the brain to develop and reinforce healthier circuitry.
In most life situations it’s not all that hard to see the right choice; we just are very good at finding ways to reject it. So, you have to train your nervous system to make the right choice without thinking too much. Every time you do something, your brain makes a path between nerve cells. Every time you repeat that thing, you widen the path and make it a little easier next time.
The subconscious gets its power from all the guilt, self-hate, and hopelessness that accompany the self-destructive behaviour; so, when we slip we must get back on the horse, even if difficult our work is never wasted. After a lifetime of taking the easy way out or shooting ourselves in the foot, our confidence and self-esteem are wounded. We may be able to stop our self-destructive patterns and present ourselves to the world as a confident and content person, but that doesn’t necessarily change our self-image. We may still secretly believe we’re only faking it. A good case of self-hate doesn’t get cured only by doing the right thing for a while. So instead of becoming more comfortable with our new behaviour as time goes on, we may feel more likely to fail. Failing, then – smoking or drinking again, starting binge eating or gambling again – can be a tremendous relief of tension.
We must therefore be sure our identity, our paradigm about ourselves, changes along with our changes in behaviour.
When you’ve conquered your own self-destructive scenarios, it might seem there is no further obstacle between you and happiness. But if you haven’t come to terms with the feelings that led to your self-destructive behaviour in the first place, you’re still vulnerable to relapse. So you may have to face some unacceptable feelings that you’ve kept under wraps for a long time—anger at your partner; feelings of being let down by your parents; resentment about discrimination. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to act on these feelings; instead, you allow yourself to experience them, without denying them and feeling guilty about it. This is painful but cathartic; it starts to change your assumptive world. Besides, that kind of guilt can lead you to sabotage yourself just when your goals are insight—because you secretly believe you don’t deserve a better life.
Start by facing the problem. Admitting that you’re powerless over your self-destructive behaviour. Accept that you have to make big changes in how your mind works in order to stop your self-destructive behaviour. Set your goals carefully. Before you begin a recovery campaign, be very realistic about what you can do. For most active self-destructive habits (drinking, smoking, gambling), you’ll probably have to stop altogether. For most passive habits (procrastination, disorganization, unassertiveness), you’ll have to go on an improvement campaign. Set very clear and measurable goals, yet goals that you are almost certain to achieve. Ask for help. Let people know you’re trying to do something difficult and tell them how they can help you. Think carefully about the hidden meanings of your pattern.
Think about that conflict. If you’re after something you want that is ultimately bad for you, focus on giving up that wish. If you’re after something that you legitimately need or want, but you sabotage yourself on the way to getting it, focus on the guilt, shame, or fear that’s motivating the sabotage. Spend a few days studying your bad habit. Take notes on it so you can see any hidden triggers, such as the time of day, your mood, your state of hunger, caffeine level, something someone says to you, certain distractions. After days of focusing on your bad self like this, you should be more than ready to start making a change. Pick a start date within the next two weeks. Make a commitment for three months. Keep that goal in mind. Even if you slip up on the second day, start again on the third. Remember that every day of doing well builds new brain circuits. When you’ve gained better control over whatever self-destructive habit this is, take the time to savour the experience. Permit yourself to feel proud because you’ve done something extremely difficult…controlling your subconscious.