Category Archives: Life

thoughts of a hypnotherapist about life in general

Talking and Listening

For this week’s post I was inspired by recent news events to write something about “relationship problems”, which often means problems in communication- talking and listening. Communication problems always come up when I’m providing counselling therapy to help people with their relationships. Many of these problems result because most people are much better at talking than at listening. Even when the other person is talking, they are not listening at all, but instead thinking of what they intend saying next.

 

Indeed, very often we don’t really hear what someone says at all, but only what we think they mean based on our assumptions about them. For example, some time ago a politician was criticised after he stated that some sexual offences are more serious than others. All of his critics responded as if he had said something completely different, namely, that some offences aren’t serious at all. Of course he had said nothing of the kind, but his critics responded as if he had. As often happens in politics, the whole purpose of these discussions was merely to “score points”, rather than to find a way of reducing crime. The same thing often happens in relationships, when people use words as weapons rather than as a means of communicating.
We can begin to solve this problem by making the necessary effort to understand what someone is saying BEFORE we respond to them. This hardly ever happens in political discussion, but there’s no reason why it can’t happen in relationships. Some years ago I saw an interview with a religious leader. When asked a question, he paused for about 15 seconds before answering. That’s actually a very short period of time, but on TV it felt like ages! We are so used to questions and answers being thrown back and forth like a tennis ball, that it feels quite strange when someone actually stops and thinks before they speak!

Improving Communication

Some years ago I wrote a letter to a quarterly magazine that deals with some of my other interests outside of hypnotherapy. The next edition of the magazine had a whole page of letters attacking me in quite “personal” terms. Now I’ve been verbally attacked countless times. In my old job as a mental health nurse I was also physically attacked on numerous occasions. So it’s no big deal. But what did annoy me was that none of those writing the attacking letters appeared to have actually read my letter that they were responding to. They were all complaining about things I hadn’t said!
This got me thinking about the rows that develop, especially between partners. These letter writers totally misunderstood something I’d said, even when they have the original letter there in black and white in front of them. So how much easier must it be to misunderstand the spoken word! Another thing I noticed was that these people all seemed to take the original letter as a personal attack. In other words, they felt threatened by it. When people feel threatened, psychologically or physically, they automatically go into “self-defence mode”. This may involve counter-attacking, escape, or just curling up into a ball. But either way it’s a problem if they’re not actually being attacked.
So how can communications be improved? One way is to be aware of our own sensitivities, our raw nerves that when accidentally touched can feel like an attack. Another way is to train ourselves not to respond immediately to what we think we’ve heard. Instead, ask the other person to repeat themselves, to make clear what they are trying to say. It’s a big mistake to think that two people automatically understand each other, just because they are both speaking English!

Saboteurs

When people try to improve themselves, such as by losing weight, stopping smoking, on improving their education and career prospects, they often experience opposition from their family and friends. This can be quite blatant and upfront, or it can be devious and subtle. For instance, a woman decides to lose weight, and initially succeeds in losing half a stone. Her husband congratulates her, and buys her a box of chocolates as a reward! This is actually very common.
It’s obvious why someone would resist change if the change was for the worse, but why would they resist a change that’s clearly for the better? In my experience, this generally happens when the other person feels threatened by the changes that are being attempted.
For instance, some men fear that if their wife loses weight, she will be more attractive to other men, who will entice her away from her husband. They feel safer if the wife is unattractive, especially as less attractive women will also generally lack confidence.
Obviously to think like this, the man has to be very lacking in confidence himself. Suppose he’s no longer the handsome young chap whom the woman originally married, he may assume that she now only stays with him because she can’t find anybody else. Hopefully he actually has other qualities that the wife considers more important, even if she hasn’t spelled this out to him. A surprising number of married persons really don’t know what their “other half” sees in them, and are pleasantly surprised when they find out.
The same applies to other forms of self-improvement, such as education. An insecure partner may fear that their “other half” will look down on them, if they are better educated. Again, hopefully this isn’t true. People generally get together because their personalities are compatible, and this will not be affected by improved education.
Another common reason to feel threatened is that people fear that if their friend or partner makes a change, then they too will be pressurised to make that change. For instance, if the wife quits smoking, she will want the husband to quit also.
In the case of seriously harmful behaviour, such as very excessive drinking, people often feel shamed by anyone who doesn’t drink excessively. They are “shown up” by that person’s ability to be happy without getting drunk, and will often make strenuous efforts to drag them back into their former habits. Where peoples’ lives revolve around excessive drinking, it is really very difficult to stay friends with them if you no longer drink so much. That is why religious-based programmes are often very successful with this problem, because the church or mosque provides a ready-made set of new friends, to replace the old drinking friends whose company is no longer so attractive.

How Arguements Happen

Some years ago I had an interesting experience, quite similar to the experiences of many clients in my Plymouth Hypnotherapy practice. I’d written a letter to a quarterly magazine that deals with some of my other interests outside of hypnotherapy. The next issue of the magazine had a whole page of letters attacking me in quite “personal” terms. Now I’ve been verbally attacked countless times. In my old job as a mental health nurse I was also physically attacked on numerous occasions. So it’s no big deal. But what did annoy me was that none of those writing the attacking letters appeared to have actually read my letter that they were responding to. They were all complaining about things I hadn’t said!
This got me thinking about the rows that develop, especially between partners. These letter writers totally misunderstood something I’d said, even when they have the original letter there in black and white in front of them. So how much easier must it be to misunderstand the spoken word! Another thing I noticed was that these people all seemed to take the original letter as a personal attack. In other words, they felt threatened by it. When people feel threatened, psychologically or physically, they automatically go into “self-defence mode”. This may involve counter-attacking, escape, or just curling up into a ball. But either way it’s a problem if they’re not actually being attacked.
So how can communications be improved? One way is to be aware of our own sensitivities, our raw nerves that when accidentally touched can feel like an attack. Another way is to train ourselves not to respond immediately to what we think we’ve heard. Instead, ask the other person to repeat themselves, to make clear what they are trying to say. It’s a big mistake to think that two people automatically understand each other, just because they are both speaking English!

Feelings and Fantasies

In another post I discussed the different labels we can put on the same emotional sensations, and how these labels affect our reactions, making the difference between excitement and anxiety. In this post I’ll be discussing another factor in anxiety, namely imagination.
Imagination is a precious gift, without which we would be more animal than human. Every great achievement, every work of art, every technical invention, began in somebody’s imagination. Realistically, we cannot achieve everything we can imagine. However, it is certainly true that if we can’t imagine something, we’re unlikely to achieve it.
The disadvantage of imagination, however, is that we can imagine all kinds of disastrous events, and waste time and energy worrying about them even though they are unlikely to occur. Whereas an animal thinks only of the here and now, we humans can dwell upon our memories of the past, and worry about things that haven’t happened yet, scenes that we create and play out in our imagination.
When we experience the physical sensations such as racing pulse, tremor, and muscle tension, we may apply different labels to these feelings, such as “excitement” or “anxiety”, and react accordingly. These sensations also trigger trains of thought in our imagination. These trains of thought are like stories we tell ourselves, often extending on into the future. For example, when you feel anxious on speaking to someone whom you haven’t met before, this may trigger an imaginary “story” in which the other person reacts badly, maybe laughing at you, or deciding that you’re stupid and mocking you to other people. These “stories” have a life of their own, leaping onwards from one imaginary event to another, without reference to reality.
Even when a “story” is totally imaginary, it has great power if we behave as if it’s real. For instance, if we avoid new people because we imagine they will scorn us or dislike us, those people will probably form a bad impression of us, thinking we’re unfriendly, snobbish, or uninteresting.
The good news is that imagination can be controlled and trained. We can learn to use our imagination in positive ways, enlarging our possibilities. It takes a bit of practice, which is why it’s no good just ordering people to “think positive!” However, the positive use of imagination can be learned by anyone of normal intelligence.