It is an interesting contradiction.
People who have a reflexive “Don’t tell me what to do!” response will try sometimes hypnosis to eliminate a bad habit. Let’s take someone who wants to quit smoking, for example. They hope to be hypnotized into doing something that they both want to do (stop smoking), and do not want to do (stop smoking). It is safe to assume that at least on some unconscious level they want to continue smoking, or they would already be nonsmokers.
They think that since they have not been able to consciously command themselves into being nonsmokers that if they hire someone to hypnotize them deeply enough, who can give them suggestions that “strong” enough, they will be forced into quitting. Basically, they want a hypnotherapist to use the very same strategy from the outside that has failed so completely when they used it from the inside.
And, of course, they respond to direct suggestions like, “You are now a nonsmoker. The thought of smoking is mildly unpleasant, etc.” with an unconscious “Don’t tell me what to do” which defeats those suggestions completely.
So what is a hypnotherapist to do?
Milton Erickson, one of the most creative hypnotherapists of the 20th century, used a different approach with clients who automatically rejected direct suggestions. He offered clients suggestions that he wanted them to actively disagree with.
For example, the hypnotherapist might say to a smoker, “Most people find it very effective to strongly associate all the negative consequences and unpleasant feelings about smoking to the thought of lighting a cigarette, to the thought of lifting a cigarette to the mouth, to the thought of inhaling smoke, to the thought of exhaling the smoke, to the smell of tobacco burning. They make those unpleasant feelings so strong that they just completely stop wanting to smoke. But, I don’t think that would work for you. I’m not sure that you are able make the feelings strong enough. I’m not convinced that you can associate those feelings thoroughly enough or strongly enough.”
So what is the automatic response of someone who isn’t going to let the hypnotherapist, or anyone else, “tell them what to do”?
“I can too make the unpleasant feeling strong enough that I will stop even wanting to smoke. I’ll show you that it will work for me. Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” The client will stop smoking just to spite the hypnotherapist.
You may notice that the client’s defiant response above will also short circuit any feelings of inadequacy or doubts that they are somehow incapable of quitting smoking.
So the client’s defiance actually builds an intense emotional energy into accepting and acting on the suggestions that supposedly would work for others, but not for them. This illustrates Erickson’s principle of utilization, using the client’s unique personality needs to help him or her shift his or her thinking, habits, limiting feelings or behaviors in healthy ways.