“RD Laing the brilliant British psychiatrist said, ‘the clinical hypnotist often knows what he is doing. The family hypnotist rarely does’.”
Gil Boyne, modern hypnotherapy pioneer
How do we come to believe who we are?
Big question. I know. You’re probably still pondering the quote above and trying to work out who was the Paul McKenna in your family that nobody mentioned. Hold that thought and read on… all will be revealed.
Let’s start with a simple exercise you may find enlightening.
If I were to ask you to describe yourself, not in terms of your professional skill or your role within a family, but who you see yourself as being, what would you say? Difficult, isn’t it, because we’re very used to describing ourselves within our context to others. But let’s just focus on you.
Who are you? Close your eyes and think about who you are. How would you describe yourself?
I’m willing to bet that as you form these sentences, on at least one occasion an emotion will flit through your body. You may feel it in your stomach or your chest, maybe in your throat.
And if you’re experiencing an uncomfortable feeling it’s likely this attribute you’ve just described has been with you for a while. Perhaps you recall an incident when you were criticised, scolded or shamed over a particular behaviour, perhaps you can’t recall the occasion when the seed was sown. When you accepted this label. But whether or not some of the roots of your belief are known to you, it’s likely this episode and then several like it have created a negative fixed belief that has carried on into adulthood.
The celebrated hypnotherapists’ trainer and pioneer in modern hypnotherapy, Gil Boyne, described the forming of fixed ideas very succinctly. It’s almost an equation.
Incident of behaviour + authority figure + emotional response x repetition of linked incident + authority figure + emotional response = forming of fixed idea
The initial incident of behaviour can be anything that leads to you being vulnerable to criticism – anything from failing a maths test, to not fitting in your summer dress to missing a goal in an important sports game.
Authority figures are parents, certainly, but they can be friends or teachers or anyone we, as children, listen to and respect.
So how does this play out in practice?
Say mum asks her daughter to try on her summer dress and discovers it’s too tight. Mum tuts and comments on her daughter getting ‘bigger’. The daughter senses her mother’s disapproval and that she’s somehow let her down. For a child disapproval represents a loss of love. There is no critical reasoning available to children, at least not until they’re about 11. Instead of concluding ‘I’m a year older, of course I’m bigger’ the child feels a loss of her mother’s love and concludes that she’s ‘too big’.
Add more instances of weight or body size-related comments and the fixed idea starts to take root in the mind. ‘I’m too big. I need to be thinner. I’m fat. I need to eat less.’
More often than not the parent is only trying to help; parents very rarely set out to harm a child’s development. But here’s one sentence that’s extraordinary powerful and will compound the fixed idea until it becomes a limiting belief: ‘You’re just like me…’
The parent is only trying to show empathy but the child being literal-thinking assumes they have literally inherited a character trait. And they’re now invested in the fixed idea because it makes them more like the parent whose love they crave. So if mum says ‘You’re just like me, you’ll always be on a diet’, the child may now believe she’s inherited an inability to eat for health and she’s condemned to be overweight or forever watching calories. If she takes on this label, she’ll be just like the parent she needs, that’s a strong emotionally-driven incentive to do so.
Yes, logic tells us she is not an exact facsimile of her mother but the emotional responses that fix these ideas into her subconscious are very powerful. Much more powerful than logic.
So who is the Paul McKenna of the family? Yes, it’s the authority figure, and in this example, mum.
Of course the million dollar question is, do we want to change?
Fixed beliefs can become part of our armour, ones we use to protect us from the vulnerability of being truly seen. What if we were truly seen for who we are? Without the armour we use as a barrier between us and others. Complete authenticity could lead to full intimacy… that’s scary stuff!
Some people use emotions like anger as a barrier to hide their vulnerability. For others extra pounds will serve that purpose.
Accepting that change is possible and the negative fixed ideas formed in childhood can be righted is accepting a challenge; a hero’s challenge.
It can be a difficult journey, yes. But isn’t that reason to celebrate? All the more reason to go on.
The journey is one of self discovery. Of self connection, of developing the ability to forgive yourself, love yourself and find peace in yourself, while having the adventure of discovering who you truly are. This is a hero’s journey and you’ll be the hero.
And one who’s hopefully already considering that they have much more power to evolve their life than they once imagined.
Transforming Therapy by Gil Boyne
Self-Hypnosis by Gil Boyne
Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
And my current top three literary heroes, embodying women who hold strong:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman