Make your own free website on Tripod.com

THE HYPNOTIC POWER OF LANGUAGE(1)



CLAUDE BRODEUR, PH.D.



The idea of the hypnotic power of language has emerged from my studies involving three different disciplines. My religious studies formed the basis of my interest in esoteric psychology. In my philosophical studies I concentrated on philosophical or rational psychology, epistemology and logic. Finally, my scientific studies involved the experimental study of psychology and its clinical applications.

In the esoteric tradition, I have been impressed by the works of Thomas Troward, Charles Fillmore and Maurice Nicoll. In philosophy, foremost in my formation have been the works of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, along with the British Empiricists. Among contemporary psychologists, I would have to mention Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, B.F. Skinner, Pavlov and Milton Erickson.

Nicoll is a profound student of the esoteric. He states, for instance, that a man is his understanding. If you wish to see what a man is, and not what he is like, look at his level of understanding.(2) He then explains that the Gospels tell us we are capable of a definite inner evolution in understanding. Furthermore, they tell us what we must think, feel and do in order to reach a new level of understanding. The authors of the Gospels exhort us continually to repent, meaning to change our thinking; to change the way we look at ourselves, at others, at the universe, and at our relationships to each other and to the universe. They exhort us to change our concept of Deity. In other words, the Gospels keep exhorting us to a change in attitude. The promised result, if we do, is an improvement in our circumstances and conditions of life. The improvement is essentially a freedom from bondage, the bondage of illness due to emotional imbalance and limited thinking.

Nicoll goes so far as to claim that the object of all sacred writings is to convey higher meaning and higher knowledge in terms of ordinary knowledge as a starting point.(3) Elsewhere, he notes:

Though we are continually being hurt owing to the narrowness of the reality in which we dwell, we blame life, and do not see the necessity of finding absolutely new standpoints. All ideas that have a transforming power change our sense of reality. They act like ferments. But they necessarily lead us in the direction of affirmation. To see more wholly, more comprehensively, requires affirmation, an assent to the existence of new truth.(4)

The Gospels themselves, as well as their commentators, go beyond merely noting the value of changing one's thinking, but note a definite connection between this thinking and a change in one's words and deeds. We don't only think differently, but we become different. We speak differently, we act differently, we feel different. We leave aside our old ways (put aside the old Adam) and take on new ways (put on the new Adam).

One of these allegedly new thoughts is the hypnotic power of language and its relationship to thought and salvation. According to the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary,

every word of man has back of it an idea, and the power of the word is primarily in that idea. Added Power is given by the speaker according to his realization of oneness with the idea and the force of his thought.(5)

Furthermore,

the character of the idea that a word conveys determines whether it is constructive or destructive (and that) man makes his world by his word, either silently or audibly expressed.(6)

Even more relevant to the theme of this paper about the hypnotic power of language, the Dictionary, adds that:

thoughts are things, which can be controlled and regulated. The thoughts of men know ultimate in their bodies and environments. When men know this they will proceed to cultivate their thoughts more carefully than they do their fields. By casting out by denial all undesirable thoughts and planting by affirmation all good thoughts, man will soon find himself surrounded by a universe of beauty and harmony only.(7)

This thinking is hardly "new". We can track this thinking back to the early Greek philosophers. The Greek word logos has been translated word, and literally means reasonable speech, or as we might say, the reasonable thing to think or say. The assumption is that God, Mind or Logos made all things in the beginning and all things created are the perfect results of the power of Mind at work through thought, along lines of accurate reason based on the perfect ideal conception inherent in infinite, eternal Mind.

This thinking is carried forward in the Gospels: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Here we have a strong expression of the relationship between language (the word) and the creative power (God). In the word is the image, the likeness of that which is its manifest counterpart. Of course, the Nazarene is referred to as The Word, the creative power itself made flesh, the very embodiment of all that is powerful, good, creative, fulfilling, and human. The Christ is the example of what life is all about.

This life (the Word or this new teaching or truth which the Christ was bringing into the world) was destined to change the world into which it was implanted. The same is supposed to hold true on the plane of the individual as well as on the plane of the universal or cosmic. What is implanted in our consciousness has the same power to transform us individually. The individual thus transformed, becomes the Word in the world he or she occupies, thus transforming his or her neighbours, depending upon the receptivity of others. This same truth is expressed in the Old Testament as well. "Life and Death are in the power of the tongue," as the Book of Proverbs reminds us (18:21).

Thoughts operate within us at the unconscious as well as the conscious level. Just as I am claiming that thought is a metaphysical principle of all psychology, both in its exoteric and empirical branches, I am also claiming the idea of an unconscious or subconscious as a metaphysical principle as well. At the moment, I do not want to distinguish the unconscious from the subconscious.

We owe much to our understanding of the dynamic interaction of these two modes of thought, the conscious and the unconscious, to the work of Freud and other psychoanalysts who have followed and expanded his insights. One such psychotherapist was

Milton Erickson. In describing Erickson's work, Jay Haley noted:

At the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of the 'unconscious' appears to have branched into two different streams. Sigmund Freud emphasized that the unconscious was composed of unsavory forces attempting to break through into consciousness. His method of therapy was built upon a distrust of those ideas outside conscious, rational awareness. The other stream was composed largely of hypnotists, who emphasized that the unconscious was a positive force. The unconscious would arrange that the person do what was best for himself. Hypnotists therefore tended to recommend letting the unconscious express itself in a person's life. Erickson inclines toward this latter view, and in both his hypnotic and his family work tends to emphasize what is positive in the behavior of the person. This is based partly upon his assumption that there is a natural desire for growth within a person and partly upon the view that there is greater cooperation from the patient if one emphasizes the positive. Unlike psychodynamically oriented and hostile behavior, Erickson relabels what people do in a positive way, to encourage change. He does not minimize difficulties, but he will find in the difficulties some aspect of them that can be used to improve the functioning of a person or his family. Rather than assuming there is something hostile in the unconscious that must be brought out, he assumes there are positive forces there that need to be freed for the person's further development. When working with couples or families, he does not focus upon their unfortunate ways of dealing with one another but finds an aspect of their relationship that is worthwhile and that can be enlarged. This emphasis upon the positive appears to come directly out his experience with hypnosis.(8)

The better to understand the phenomenon of the hypnotic power of language let me expand on the notion of the unconscious or subconscious. Troward, in his book on The Creative Process In The Individual, refers to the 'sub-conscious' as the builder.(9) He further maintains that:

Sub-conscious mind acts in accordance with the aggregate of suggestion impressed upon it by the conscious mind, and if this suggestion is that of perfect harmony with the physical laws of the planet then a corresponding building by the sub-conscious mind will take place, a process which, so far from implying any effort, consists rather in a restful sense of unity with Nature.(10)

Each one acts according to certain generic laws which underlie all our individual diversities of thought and feeling. This is so, apparently, because we are made that way and cannot help it.(11)

On the other hand, within each individual is a personal factor which does not require of us automatic conformity. Conformity to a personal standard is self-contradictory. It is personal and conforms only to itself and to nothing outside itself. Such a concept of human personality would do away with the very thing that constitutes personality, namely, freedom of volition, which means the use of the powers of initiative and selection. This would be Troward's meaning of 'freedom of volition'. We could call this freedom the individual's ability to make decisions.

Such a concept of the human mind puts an onerous burden of responsibility on us, for as Troward has cautioned: it rests with each individual to form his own conception of a standard of Personality.(12) If this is so, then our liberty, our freedom to make choices "carries with it the inevitable result that we shall bring into manifestation the conditions corresponding to the sort of personality we accept as our normal standard."(13) Not normal in any absolute sense, but what we regard as normal. 'Normal' means in this sense that which is inherent in our mental constitution as a consequence of the fact that we ourselves and our thinking are products of the Creative Process.

Is it possible for us individually or collectively to transcend the standard of humanity as we see it around us? History is replete with examples of such attempts. Such an attempt is the purpose of psychotherapy. All kinds of attempts have been made to transcend the standard of humanity as we see it around us. Some have resorted to methods for strengthening their personal force of will; others have resorted to magical rites, or to austerities practised to subdue the body, or to attempts by abnormal feats of concentration to absorb the individual in the universal. Yet others have resorted to the invocation of spirits. More recently some have devised psychological techniques, using mesmerism, later hypnosis, then on to mental suggestion and finally to mental explanation. Even more recently, the encounter movement has evolved to meet this challenge, the challenge of transcending our limited concept of the standard of humanity as we have experienced it thus far.

Most efforts in this direction fail, seemingly because they involve a fundamental or radical fallacy, an error in reasoning. The error is to suppose " that any individuality can develop a power greater than that of the source from which itself proceeds."(14) The lesser can not be more than the greater. Notice what is not being claimed. No one is claiming that we cannot transcend the normal law of humanity. But we can transcend the present conditions of humanity. We can always better our lot, but we cannot make our lot something it was never meant to be. This latter condition would be insanity, of course. We are simply being asked to consider the possibility that we have erred in fixing the Standard of Personality too low. How have we done this? Most likely by taking our past experiences as measuring the ultimate possibilities of the race.(15)

What about this normal law of humanity? The objective form to which we give our attention is created from the very attention which we give to it. To look at a wrong condition and to fear it is to perpetuate it. To contemplate limitation is to create it.(16) If we were to put into practice this law of humanity, then, no matter what else we did each day, we would be sure to take ten or fifteen minutes twice a day to centre our thoughts serenely and peacefully on the invisible, and to believe that the form of experience which we wish in our life is being created for us. We would mentally picture to ourselves its objective manifestation, accepting it completely and trying never to deny it.

This mental act of creative imagination would be a recognition, in concrete form, of the principle or belief that our own creative thought-power externalizes conditions representative of our conceptions, and we become involved in a network of circumstances from which we can find no way of escape. The key to the whole situation lies in the realization that our circumstances are self-imposed rather than imposed on us through some external force, power or intelligence.

The subconscious is that which quietly, and usually unobserved by us, carries out in our everyday lives the thoughts which we have imposed upon it. It is creative, but not selective and most certainly non-discriminating. It has no power of judgement. Our word, therefore is law, not because we want it to be, or by some force of will making it be so. It is law because that is its nature. There is no coercion in the process.

Realization is quite different from coercion, and conviction is more than an act of the will.(17) In fact, Holmes notes in his Science of Mind that to teach this creative power of thought is the whole purpose of the bible."(18) For example, consider the advice of the Nazarene. "As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee." So far as we are concerned this could be interpreted as Holmes suggests. Wherever we set up a center for thought-action, there we are automatically reflecting mental images into the Law. The Law always tends to give form to our thought. From the effects of this creative power of thought we shall never escape. Hence, Holmes concludes, and I agree with him, that since we cannot escape the creative power of our thought, we must temporarily be limited to such thought patterns as we have already created. Freedom and expansion, he suggests, lie not in a changed attitude toward us on the part of God, but in a changed mental attitude in our own consciousness, a new outlook upon life, a new vision of reality.(19)

The ritual of some occult and secret societies makes reference to the Lost Word. Freemasonry is one such society. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions the existence of such a word: "I concur this most mighty word...and 'I am' brings to my remembrance in Him what I had forgotten." This a definite reference to the word of power which is a symbol of the higher qualities and of wisdom. The Lost Word, or Word of Power, is also the Sacred Name. Consider the passage from Deuteronomy: "But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart." According to Homes the Lost Word is lost only because of our ignorance.(20)

Another frequent symbol found in the occult tradition is the Temple of Solomon, in particular the Pillars which were situated at the entrance to King Solomon's Temple. Holmes interprets the symbolic meaning of these Pillars as follows:

Law as specialized by personality is represented by the two pillars that stood in front of the Temple of Solomon--Jachin and Boaz, one meaning the Law, the impersonal creative medium, and the Word, or personal element. Here we have personality and law combined, and it is through these two pillars that we must enter the Temple, which symbolizes the nature of Reality and our innermost life.(21)

The law is blind, non-directive. It is the personality that give the law direction. Self-expression require both Law and Personality. Consequently, our relationship to the Law leads us either to bondage or to freedom. The Law knows us as the sum total of what we believe ourselves to be. When we add to this the fact that what we know ourselves to be, or think ourselves to be, is largely subjective or subconscious, we realize that the Law knows each individual from the viewpoint of what the race-thought proclaims to be true about all individuals of the race. Not only does the Law know each individual from the viewpoint of what the race-thought proclaims to be true about each individual as one of a class, but in addition what the individual has learned to believe about himself.(22)

Again, as Holmes so aptly notes: we find that judging from appearances only inevitably limits our use of the Law to those things which we have previously experienced. It is certain that we must reverse the order of our thought if we expect to reverse some particular effect of its creativeness. The Law has no intention for us other than the intention we give it. On this point both Holmes and Troward agree. This is deeply significant since it means that there is nothing in the Universe against us but ourselves, or as Scripture says: "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19), and "they...limited the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:41).

Referring to the Pillars of King Solomon's Temple, Troward has this to say:

...the forces of nature around us do not think....They follow certain fixed laws which we have no power to alter. Therefore we are confronted at the outset by a broad distinction between two modes of Motion--the Movement of Thought and the Movement of Cosmic Energy--the one based upon the exercise of Consciousness and Will, and the other based upon Mathematical Sequence. This is why that system of instruction known as Freemasonry starts by erecting the two symbolic pillars of Jachin and Boaz--Jachin, so called from the root 'Yak' meaning 'One', indicating the Mathematical element of Law; and Boaz, from he root 'Awaz' meaning 'Voice', indicating the Personal element of Free Will. These names are taken from the description in I Kings, vii, 21 and II Chronicles iii, 17 of the building of Solomon's Temple, where these two pillars stood before the entrance, the meaning being that the Temple of Truth can only be entered by passing between them, that is, by giving each of these factors their due relation to the other, and by realizing that they are the two Pillars of the Universe, and that no real progress can be made except by finding the true balance between them. Law and Personality--these are the two great principles with which we have to deal, and the problem is to square the one with the other.(23)

Perhaps the most instructive instance of the hypnotic power of langauge is Milton Erickson's account of an incident involving one of his own children. I quote at length:

Three-year old Robert fell down the back stairs, split his lip, and knocked an upper tooth back into the maxilla. He was bleeding profusely and screaming loudly with pain and fright. His mother and I went to his aid. A single glance at him lying on the ground screaming, his mouth bleeding profusely and blood spattered on the pavement, revealed that this was an emergency requiring prompt and adequate measures.

No effort was made to pick him up. Instead, as he paused for breath for fresh screaming, I told him quickly, simply, sympathetically and emphatically, "That hurts awful, Robert. That hurts terrible."

Right then, without any doubt, my son know that I knew what I was talking about. He could agree with me and he knew that I was agreeing completely with him. Therefore he could listen respectfully to me, because I had demonstrated that I understood the situation fully. In pediatric hypnotherapy, there is no more important problem than so speaking to the patient that he can agree with you and respect your intelligent grasp of the situation as he judges it in terms of his own understandings.

Then I told Robert, "And it will keep right on hurting." In this simple statement, I named his own fear, confirmed his own judgment of the situation, demonstrated my good intelligent grasp of the entire matter and my entire agreement with him, since right then he could foresee only a lifetime of anguish and pain for himself.

The next step for him and for me was to declare, as he took another breath, "And you really wish it would stop hurting." Again, we were in full agreement and he was ratified and even encouraged in this wish. And it was his wish, deriving entirely from within him and constituting his own urgent need. With the situation so defined, I could then offer a suggestion with some certainty of its acceptance. This suggestion was, "Maybe it will stop hurting in a little while, in just a minute or two." This was a suggestion in full accord with his own needs and wishes, and, because it was qualified by a "maybe it will," it was not in contradiction to his own understandings of the situation. Thus he could accept the idea and initiate his responses to it.

As he did this, a shift was made to another important matter, important to him as a suffering person, and important in the total psychological significance of the entire occurrence--a shift that in itself was important as a primary measure in changing and altering the situation.

Too often in hypnotherapy, or any utilization of hypnosis, there is a tendency to overemphasize the obvious and to reaffirm unnecessarily already accepted suggestions, instead of creating an expectancy situation permitting the development of desired responses. Every pugilist knows the disadvantage of overtraining; every salesman knows the folly of overselling. The same human hazards exist in the application of hypnotic techniques.

The next procedure with Robert was a recognition of the meaning of the injury to Robert himself--pain, loss of blood, body damage, a loss of the wholeness of his normal narcissistic self-esteem, of his sense of physical goodness so vital in human living.

Robert knew that he hurt, that he was a damaged person; he could see his blood upon the pavement, taste it in his mouth, and see it on his hands. And yet, like all other human beings, he too could desire narcissistic distinction in his misfortune, along with the desire even more for narcissistic comfort. Nobody wants a picayune headache; if a headache must be endured, let it be so colossal that only the sufferer could endure it. Human pride is so curiously good and comforting! Therefore Robert's attention was doubly directed to two vital issues of comprehensible importance to him by the simple statements, "That's an awful to of blood on the pavement. Is it good, red, strong blood? Look carefully, Mother, and see. I think it is, but I want you to be sure."

Thus there was an open and unafraid recognition in another way of values important to Robert. He needed to know that his misfortune was catastrophic in the eyes of others as well as his own, and he needed tangible proof that he himself could appreciate. By my declaring it to be "an awful lot of blood," Robert could again recognize the intelligent and competent appraisal of the situation in accord with his own actually unformulated, but nevertheless real, needs. The question about the goodness, redness, and strongness of the blood came into play psychologically in meeting the personal meaningfulness of the accident to Robert. In a situation where one feels seriously damaged, there is an overwhelming need for a compensatory feeling of satisfying goodness. Accordingly, his mother and I examined the blood upon the pavement, and we both expressed the opinion that it was good, red, strong blood. In this way we reassured him, but not on an emotionally comforting basis only; we did so upon the basis of an instructional, to him, examination of reality.

However, we qualified that favorable opinion by stating that it would be better if we were to examine the blood by looking at it against the white background of the bathroom sink. By this time Robert had ceased crying, and his pain and fright were no longer dominant factors. Instead, he was interested and absorbed in the important problem of the quality of his blood.

His mother picked him up and carried him to the bathroom, where water was poured over his face to see if the blood "mixed properly with water" and gave it a "proper pink color." Then the redness was carefully checked and reconfirmed, following which the "pinkness" was reconfirmed by washing him adequately, to Robert's intense satisfaction, since his blood was good, red, and strong and made water rightly pink.

"Then came the question of whether or not his mouth was "bleeding right" and"swelling right." Close inspection, to Robert's complete satisfaction and relief, again disclosed that all developments were good and right and indicative of his essential and pleasing soundness in every way.

Next came the question of suturing his lip. Since this could easily evoke a negative response, it was broached in a negative fashion to him, thereby precluding an initial negation by him, and at the same time raising a new and important issue. This was done by stating regretfully that, while he would have to have stitches taken in his lip, it was most doubtful if he could have as many stitches as he could count. In fact, it looked as if he could not even have ten stitches, and he could count to twenty. Regret was expressed that he could not have seventeen stitches, like is sister, Betty Alice, or twelve, like his brother Allan; but comfort was offered in the statement that he would have more stitches than his siblings Bert, Lance, or Carol. Thus the entire situation became transformed into one in which he could share with his older siblings a common experience with a comforting sense of equality and even superiority. In this way he was enabled to face the question of surgery without fear or anxiety, but with hope of high accomplishment in cooperation with the surgeon and imbued with the desire to do well the task assigned him, namely, to "be sure to count the stitches." In this manner, no reassurances were needed, nor was there any need to offer further suggestions regarding freedom from pain.

Only seven stitches were required, to Robert's disappointment, but the surgeon pointed out that the suture material was of a newer and better kind than any that his siblings had ever had, and that the scar would be an unusual "w" shape, like the letter of his Daddy's college. Thus the fewness of the stitches was well compensated.

The question may well be asked at what point hypnosis was employed. Actually, hypnosis began with the first statement to him and became apparent when he gave his full and undivided, interested and pleased attention to each of the succeeding events that constituted the medical handling of his problem.

At no time was he given a false statement, nor was he forcibly reassured in a manner contradictory to his understandings. A community of understanding was first established with him and then, one by one, items of vital interest to him in his situation were thoughtfully considered and decided, either to his satisfaction or sufficiently agreeable to merit his acceptance. His role in the entire situation was that of an interested participant, and adequate response was made to each idea suggested.(24)

This is the positive use of the hypnotic power of language for therapeutic purposes. There are also negative uses of this hypnotic power of language for purposes of exploiting individuals. To avoid the negative use of the hypnotic power of language, a few suggestions may be instructive:



1. Use words like "should, must, have to, and ought to" only when appropriate; otherwise use expressions like "choose to, want, or prefer".



2. Use "can't" when appropriate; otherwise use "won't or don't want to".



3. Avoid cliches (cliche becomes archetype) like "pain in the neck", "itching to get on with it," etc.



4. Apply the powers of inductive and deductive thinking to generalizations.



5. Make explicit the assumptions behind your beliefs and actions.



6. Sharpen your powers of observation and expand your consciousness.



7. Meditate.



8. Remember you don't have to have any particular belief, unless you choose to.



9. Remember there is no religion higher than truth.



10. Strive for clarity, directness and straightforwardness.



Finally, we are free of the negative effects of the hypnotic power of language to the extent that we know the truth and this means to know self in relation to the Universe and God. Ultimately, all rests upon our particular concept of Deity, Self, and Universe and our particular concept of their relationships to each other. All therapy is in the final analysis concept therapy. Such therapy involves the integration of consciousness with the unconscious leading to harmony and union with the plan of creation. This, indeed, is the process of de-hypnotisation through the re-education of the unconscious.



1. 1A paper delivered at the annual Spring Convocation of the Ontario College, Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, Hart House, University of Toronto, April 20, 1977.

2. 2Nicoll, The New Man, p.4.

3. 3Nicoll, The New Man, p. 3.

4. 4Nicoll, Living Time, p. vii.

5. 5p. 680

6. 6ibid.

7. 7ibid.

8. 8Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapy, pp. 33-34.

9. 9Thomas Troward, The Creative Process In The Individual, p.58.

10. 10ibid.

11. 11Troward, op.cit., p. 62.

12. 12ibid.

13. 13ibid.

14. 14Troward, The Creative Process in the Individual.

15. 15Troward, The Creative Process in the Individual.

16. 16c. Ernest Holmes, Science of Mind, Lesson 5, p.4

17. 17Holmes, op.cit., Lesson 2, p.5.

18. 18Holmes, op.cit., Lesson 2, p.6.

19. 19Holmes, Science of Mind, Lesson 1, pages 15 and 17.

20. 20Science of Mind, Lesson 7, p. 15.

21. 21Holmes, Science of Mind, Lesson 9, p. 21.

22. 22Holmes, Science of Mind, Lesson 9, p.23.

23. 23Thomas Troward, The Law and the Word, pp. 4-5.

24. 24Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapy, pp. 189-192.