The married man man had broken off the affair with my client, who was also married. She had been satisfying an emotional need for a kind of intellectual meeting of the minds with her lover that was unavailable from her husband, who she loved. She wanted me to use hypnosis to help her move on.
My client repeatedly referred to herself as “bad”. This seemed like a terrible bit of self hypnosis that would certainly get in the way of her letting of her inappropriate partner and changing her pattern of having affairs. “Bad” people do bad things, and thinking of herself as “bad” reinforced the very behaviors that caused her so much distress and shame.
Of course the positive intention of labeling herself as “bad” was for her to be motivated to be “good”. It is a common misconception that self punishment is an effective way for people to force themselves into acceptable behavior. Perhaps you have had the experience of criticizing yourself harshly many times only to do the same negative behaviors again. Unfortunately, the kind of self judgmental statements that my client was using actually made it harder for her to change.
It works this way. When someone repeatedly tells themselves that they are “bad”, “stupid”, etc, they start to believe it, and act on those beliefs. A “bad” person is going to act out in “bad” ways. Someone who thinks that he of she is “basically good” will admit to human weaknesses, but have faith that he or she can get back on course with effort and good intentions. No amount of polishing will turn a brick into a mirror. But, with enough work and effort, it is possible to turn a rough chunk of glass into a perfectly functional mirror.
So, the solution for my client’s poor self talk was simple. First I offered her a metaphor. Dr. Kinsey’s research showed that there are such a wide variety of ways that people express their sexuality that there is no way to define any one set of sexual expressions as normal.
I went on to explain a little about the impact of words on our beliefs and feelings. Then I asked her to substitute the word “unconventional” for the word “bad” when she described herself.
Her response was dramatic and delightful. She sat up straighter, smiled and looked much more relaxed. When I saw her the following week she said that she had realized that she could get her intellectual needs satisfied by a simple friendship with a man without needing to get physically intimate. It was “unconventional” of her.
And, that is the story of how a little good hypnosis happened one day in an unconventional conversation in the office of an Atlanta hypnotherapist.