As with any subject cloaked in mystery, there are numerous myths and misconceptions that people have about hypnosis. By and large, these come about because people don’t know what hypnosis is, and they fear the consequences. In reality, hypnosis is equivalent to an efficient learning process and is a natural consequence of the capacity limits of our brain.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the main myths and misconceptions about hypnosis, along with why they’re just not true.
Myth 1. Not everyone can be hypnotized
This one is so prevalent that even researchers at prestigious universities have been misled into thinking it’s true. Here’s the thing though: Hypnosis is a natural state that everyone goes into multiple times a day.
With hypnosis, all we’re doing is exploiting the natural limits of the human brain to allow our subject to temporarily forget some stuff so that they can consider some new stuff. This is an integral part of learning, and we quite literally can’t learn new things without hypnosis.
When we put all of that together, the question of whether everyone can be hypnotized is logically equivalent to the question of whether everyone can learn. And the fact is that other than a tiny handful of people with a specific kind of brain damage, everyone can learn.
Therefore, everyone can be hypnotized.
Where the researchers seem to fall down is in assuming that because a specific person doesn’t yet know how to access a hypnotic trance on demand, they can’t be hypnotized.
I’ve worked with hypnosis subjects who go into hypnosis instantly, and I’ve worked with subjects who required months of training to get there. Out of multiple thousands of subjects, every single one could be hypnotized, given enough effort. Almost all of them required only a few minutes.
Read more: Can Everyone Be Hypnotized?
Myth 2. The effects of hypnosis aren’t permanent
This one is just bizarre.
In a very real sense, hypnosis is equivalent to a way of learning. When we make changes with hypnosis, we’re essentially learning new stuff in an efficient way. And using hypnosis, we can make the new things we’re learning stick far more quickly than they might otherwise.
Like all learning, we can also forget. And we get to choose what we keep.
Here’s the thing though: There are countless people out in the world who have used hypnosis to permanently quit smoking. There are probably even more who have used it to permanently lose weight.
As you might expect with a process that is a form of enhanced learning, hypnosis can help with so many things that this would be a very long article if I listed all of them.
Not only is it possible to make the effects of hypnosis permanent, it’s generally desirable to do so.
Think about it for a few moments: If the effects of hypnosis weren’t permanent, wouldn’t there be hypnotists offering lifelong quit smoking programs where you can pay $50 a month and stay off cigarettes for life?
Now that I think about it… that’s an awesome idea!
Myth 3. You can’t be hypnotized against your will
Have you ever watched an ad and then gone out and bought the thing in the ad?
We’re doing something, and an ad pops up that grabs our attention so much that we just have to do the thing. At the time, it seems like a good idea.
If you haven’t done this, you almost certainly know many people who have.
And ads are just one form of covert hypnosis. In our modern world, it’s all around us all the time.
The fact is that if we can’t detect the hypnosis, we don’t have any way to resist it.
Not only that, but as the case of the ad demonstrates, it’s usually very easy to shape someone’s will. So even when we don’t want something, if it’s presented in the right way we can be made to crave it.
Not only can we be hypnotized against our will, but it happens all the time.
Read more: Can You Be Hypnotized Against Your Will?
Myth 4. You can’t be hypnotized online
Every so often I’ll come across hypnotists who claim that it’s not possible to hypnotize people online.
Generally they have formed this belief because they don’t know how to do it.
This usually happens because either they fear technology, or they only know how to induce hypnosis using a physical induction, such as the handshake induction.
Most hypnosis inductions do not involve physical contact at all.
Hypnosis happens inside the mind of the subject. So long as we can communicate with that mind, it’s possible to hypnotize him or her. And guess what online communications tools do?
In a lot of ways, it’s easier to hypnotize someone online through a video call than it is in person.
Read more: Can You Be Hypnotized Online?
Myth 5. You can get stuck in hypnosis
Hypnosis is a state, much like happiness, sadness, and focus are states. And the thing about states inside a human mind is that they can only last for about 90 seconds.
The only way a state can last for longer than 90 seconds is if we do something to keep it going. When we’re happy or sad, we tell ourselves stories that tend to perpetuate that state.
With hypnosis, if you’re not a hypnotist, you won’t know what stories to tell to keep it going. And if you are a hypnotist, you know exactly what to do to stop the hypnosis on demand.
Either way, it’s impossible to get stuck in hypnosis.
Read more: Can You Get Stuck in Hypnosis?
Myth 6. Hypnosis is fake
For a lot of people, their knowledge of hypnosis comes from popular culture. We watch stage shows and think that’s what hypnosis is. In reality, a stage show is just that: It’s a show in which the hypnotist’s primary concern is entertaining the audience.
When we watch a movie, we know that the things in it aren’t really real. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be representations of real events.
In a hypnosis stage show, the hypnotist picks and chooses people who want to show off to the audience, and are good hypnosis subjects. This is what makes for a good show. And it also leads some people to conclude that hypnosis is fake.
At the same time, people have weird beliefs about hypnosis, such as it being the same thing as mind control. When we have beliefs like this, we tend to insist that hypnosis is fake because we don’t like the consequences if it isn’t.
And then there’s people who think that hypnosis is fake because they once listened to an audio recording and it didn’t work. Or a specific hypnotist was unable to hypnotize them.
Hypnosis relies heavily on the hypnotist having feedback from the subject. With a recording this never happens, so recordings are notoriously inefficient at inducing hypnosis.
Not only that, but hypnosis requires a complex interplay between the hypnotist and the subject. Even the very best hypnotist in the world may find some subjects that they just don’t get on with in the right way for hypnosis to work. Another hypnotist may have no trouble at all with those same subjects.
Here’s the thing though: Hypnosis itself is a logical consequence of the capacity limits of the human brain. Hypnosis is not only real, but necessary for our brains to function.
Read more: Is Hypnosis Real?
Myth 7. Hypnosis is dangerous
With a topic as mysterious as hypnosis, it’s only natural to ask whether it’s safe. And the truth is that there are a few risks with hypnosis. But they’re probably not what you think.
As a rule, none of the things that people tend to think might be dangerous about hypnosis are actually true.
Now hypnosis can be done both with and without the hypnosis subject’s awareness.
When the subject knows the hypnosis is happening, we call that overt hypnosis. This is the kind of hypnosis you find when you go to see a hypnotherapist or a hypnosis stage show. The risks here are just the same as you might find with any process where we delve deep inside someone’s psyche: There can be stuff that’s already broken inside that mind and we accidentally trip over it. And there can be minor side-effects.
Here’s the thing though: Hypnotists are trained in exactly what to do in those cases. Part of our job is to manage it for you. The end result is that hypnosis with a competent professional hypnotist is usually completely safe.
The other kind of hypnosis is hypnosis that the subject is unaware of. This includes things like dark hypnosis and covert hypnosis in the media. This kind of hypnosis can be dangerous, but it’s all around us all the time and there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. The way to get around this is to use something like self-hypnosis to control your own hypnotic states so that you can minimize its impact.
So what it comes down to is that when you intentionally expose yourself to hypnosis with a competent professional hypnotist, it’s generally completely safe.
Read more: Is Hypnosis Dangerous? Or is Hypnosis Safe?
Myth 8. Hypnosis is sleep
To the casual observer, it might appear that someone who is hypnotized is asleep.
On top of that, when people get their knowledge from pop-culture rather than reality, they can come to believe that people don’t remember what happens in hypnosis sessions.
Since a lot of people don’t recall their dreams, this leads them to erroneously conclude that hypnosis is the same thing as sleep.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Far from being a sleep state, hypnosis is more akin to a state of hyper-focus. When we’re hypnotized, we are typically fully aware and alert. Our attention is simply directed inwards.
Now, it is true that some forms of hypnosis can lead to sleep. Hypnosis can be used to quiet thoughts, and it can be used to cause relaxation. Both of these are conducive to sleep. But that’s not the same thing as hypnosis being sleep, which it isn’t.
Myth 9. You won’t remember what happened under hypnosis
With hypnosis it’s possible to induce a state of amnesia. That is, we can block out memories of a session, or part of that session.
There’s a few things around that.
First, blocking out memories usually requires extra work on the part of the hypnotist. We generally won’t do it unless it’s to help you to take onboard a change that you’ve asked for.
Second, even when we do block out your memories, they’re still there. All you have to do to access them is think back to the start of your hypnosis session, and replay it in your mind.
In almost all hypnosis sessions, there’s no reason to block out someone’s memory.
What does sometimes happen is that the subject will do it all by themselves. This happens because the hypnotic state is significantly different to the regular waking state. As with lucid dreaming, it’s very easy to build a bridge between these two states.
It can also happen when we use storytelling and other equivalent processes as a part of your session. The human mind has a system that enables us to complete tasks. Part of this system makes it so that we tend to forget tasks after we’ve completed them. So if we create what’s known as a closed loop in the middle of your session, it can be difficult to access.
This is nothing to do with the hypnosis itself. It’s just that your mind has realized the task is complete, so it closes it off for you so that you can focus on other things.
At the end of the day, almost everyone who is hypnotized tends to remember their hypnosis session more vividly than they recall other details of their life.
Myth 10. Intelligent people can’t be hypnotized
Something that comes up time and time again is people who think they’re too smart to be hypnotized. This one is wonderfully amusing, because smart people are easier to hypnotize.
Think about it for a moment.
The ability to be hypnotized depends on things like your ability to learn and your ability to focus. Intelligent people tend to have these traits in abundance.
Alongside this there are other traits that intelligent people tend to have. And all of them are traits that help people to become exceptional hypnosis subjects.
Now you might be thinking that if smart people can be hypnotized, maybe people of low intelligence can’t be.
It might take longer if they haven’t been hypnotized before, but they can still learn how.
The only people who can’t be hypnotized are those who cannot learn new things. And those ones are easy to spot, because they also can’t form new memories.
If you’ve managed to make it this far through this article, you are neither too smart nor too slow to be hypnotized.
Myth 11. Strong-willed people can’t be hypnotized
This one is just funny.
When we have the belief that the hypnotist is somehow forcing people into hypnosis, it can be easy to conclude that if we have enough willpower we can somehow resist them.
Here’s the thing: Far from forcing people into hypnosis, a skilled hypnotist is more like a guide. The relationship between hypnotist and subject is more like the relationship between teacher and student than anything else.
Not only that, but one of the important traits that helps people to be easily hypnotized is their ability to focus. And guess what… strong-willed people tend to have an excellent ability to focus.
If you try to use willpower to resist hypnosis, the most likely outcome is that you’ll go deeper into hypnosis, far more quickly than you would otherwise have done so.
So that’s what happens with overt hypnosis where the subject knows what’s going on. But what about with covert hypnosis?
In the case of covert hypnosis, even if you somehow imagined willpower might stop you from going into hypnosis, you’re not going to be able to use it to resist something that you can’t detect.
And the result is the same: You go into hypnosis.
The truth about hypnosis
We’ve been over a lot of misconceptions that people have about hypnosis that just aren’t true.
Hypnosis is a natural state that everyone goes into on a daily basis. It’s the core of how we learn. And it’s a logical consequence of the limitations of the human brain.
The fact is, we only have around a quadrillion neural connections to store everything we ever experience.
While a quadrillion might seem like a huge number, consider this: The storage in your computer is probably a small number of terabytes. On first glance, it might appear that our brains can store less than 100x that much.
If you’ve ever tried to store video files, you’ll quickly realize that without some kind of optimization process, we literally don’t have the capacity to store an entire lifetime of video, let alone all the other senses and thoughts that we constantly experience.
As it turns out, those connections aren’t just single byte data stores. Each connection is much more vast all by itself. Nevertheless, those limits still exist.
If you’d like to know more about how hypnosis works, I’ve written an article in which I go over exactly how hypnosis is a direct result of the limitations of our brains along with a few other details. Then we finish up with the actual structure of hypnosis.
You can read all about it here: How Does Hypnosis Work?