The hidden genre – hypnotic induction.
by Perth Clinical Hypnotherapist and NLP Trainer Jennipher McDonald

What is ‘Hypnotic Induction’?

Does Sigmund Freud use hypnotic induction in his article ‘The Uncanny’?
Could ‘Hypnotic Induction’ be a hidden genre?

And did Sigmund Freud influence us to stop using hypnosis and stop using our imagination?

‘The Uncanny’ is a thirty-eight-page paper written by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and published in 1925 about the feeling of ‘the uncanny’. I will firstly discuss hypnosis and hypnotic language and Freud’s history within it and propose that Freud has consciously or unconsciously directed the moods of the reader throughout this paper to experience the ‘uncanny’ with the power of his suggestion. I define what hypnotic induction is and suggest that it might be a hidden genre because Freud studied and practiced hypnosis for more than sixteen years before he developed psycho analysis and each of us use language to influence each other everyday in our communication. Finally, I show specific instances in ‘the uncanny’ were Freud has embedded suggestion inside this paper, thereby affecting his readers so that they may more fully understand his teachings.

Freud describes the subject of the ‘uncanny’ as relating to what is frightening: “… to what arouses dread and horror” (Freud 1925:221) and adds that an uncanny experience occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are revived by new experience, or when old belief patterns have been surmounted and seem once more to be confirmed.

The American Board of Hypnosis describes hypnosis as “an awake state of relaxation where the imagination is used to exercise the mind and gain rapport with the unconscious mind.” Or as Milton Erickson says, “Hypnosis is a state of intensified attention and receptiveness to an idea or to a set of ideas” (Krasner 1991:1).

Hypnosis can be thought of as altering someone’s state of consciousness. A simple hypnotic pattern is the ‘negative command” (Grinder 1981:2). If I say, “Don’t think of pink.” You have to think of pink in order to understand my sentence. If a hypnotist says: “I don’t want you to relax and enjoy this session”, the listener often finds himself beginning to relax and enjoy himself as a way of understanding what the words mean. Beginning with a negation simply takes any pressure to respond off the listener. Hypnosis is currently taught under the umbrella of Neuro Linguistic Programming – the modern manual for the human brain, in trainings all around the world. (Bandler 1981:1)  Hypnotic patterns of communication are used by successful hypnotists and by successful poets, parents, salesmen, religious leaders and politicians.

From its beginnings hypnosis has been used to influence the subconscious mind, a fact that Freud was aware of. The use of hypnosis has been de-regulated in Australia so that now counselors and lay people may legally use it. Current awareness has grown to the point where hypnotic cd’s for life improvements like weight loss, quit smoking and stress management are for sale over the counter alongside books and stationary at many bookshops, and have created multi-million dollar businesses world wide. Companies invest in training their marketing teams to learn suggestive techniques to increase their sales quota. Many advertisers use the power of suggestion – have you ever purchased something that you didn’t really need? I believe that hypnotic induction is a hidden genre that is affecting people in many ways through the media, advertising, print and conversation whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

Hypnosis is actually as old as civilization itself. It has been practiced under numerous labels since time immemorial: the ‘sleep temples,’ of the ancient Egyptians are depicted in stone dated as early as 1000BC. These ‘temples’ were places where priests put worshippers to ‘sleep’ and suggested that they be cured. The modern history of hypnosis began with Frederick Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) whose reputation and success aroused the hostility and jealousy of the medical profession. Following an investigation he was forbidden by the medical society to practice in Vienna. Moving to Paris in 1778 he immediately achieved great fame and popularity. However in 1784, a Commission was set up to investigate his practices: it denied the remarkable recoveries from illness and did not take into account the therapeutic results obtained by means of magnetism and branded Mesmer a quack. The impact of Mesmer’s work was not felt in his own lifetime, but later was revived by Jean-Martin Charcot.

Sigmund Freud has an important connection and contribution to hypnosis and its history. In 1880 Freud worked with Dr Josef Breuer (1842-1925) a general practitioner, a scientist of considerable standing in Vienna and one of the best medical hypnotists of that time. Freud described him as ‘a man of rich and universal gifts’. Breuer’s hypnotic work with a patient called Anna O. fascinated Freud and from this experience he continued to use hypnosis to explore the unconscious mind of the mentally ill and to better understand the nature of their personalities. Later in 1885 Freud then a qualified psychiatrist and neurologist in his early thirties, left Vienna to study for four months with Jean-Martin Charcot, (1825-1893) at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris. Charcot (who revived Mesmer’s Mesmerism), dominated the world of neurology at the time and was having great success using hypnosis to cure cases of hysteria. Charcot saw hypnosis as being linked to the treatment of hysteria. Freud found Charcot to be a great personality:

“As a teacher Charcot was perfectly fascinating: each of his lectures was a little masterpiece in construction and composition, perfect in style, and so impressive that the words spoken echoed in one’s ears, and the subject demonstrated remained before one’s eyes for the rest of the day” (Jones 1953:191).

After Freud finished his studies in Paris he wrote to Charcot asking if he could continue working with him by translating Charcot’s work and Charcot agreed. Thus, for the next five years, as well as his own professional work, Freud translated Charcot’s books. In 1887 Freud published Hypnotism, Suggestion and Psychotherapy furnishing this book with an extensive preface. With the idea of perfecting his hypnotic technique Freud made a journey to the Nancy School of Hypnotism, headed by Hippolyte Bernheim (1840-1919) Bernheim saw hypnosis as a  ‘phenomena of suggestion’ and thought that suggestability could be mobilized in any person. Freud spent several weeks studying at the Nancy school where he found Bernheim’s  experiments astonishing. In 1888 Freud wrote the preface of the first Bernheim book where he discussed the controversy that had arisen between the Nancy School of Hypnotism (Bernheim) and the Salpetriere School in Paris (Charcot) in which Freud defended the latter (Jones 1953:211). Freud named his first son after Charcot and in 1892 wrote a paper reporting a successful cure by means of hypnotism (Jones:213).

The word ‘hypnotic’ in the OED is derived from the word hypnos – the name of the Greek God of sleep. Freud and Breuer (1893) applied the word hypnosis to a state of consciousness characterized by heightened suggestibility or dissociation such as occurs in hysterical conditions. They discovered the ‘coexistence of two or more fully independent functioning constellation of moments of consciousness’ (OED). Apparently, Freud eventually came to believe that consciously uncovering the psychological causes of mental disorders (catharsis and psycho analysis) was more helpful than unconsciously (catharsis and hypnosis). In 1896 Freud began to speak of psychoanalysis more highly than hypnotism as a therapeutic measure. This means that he studied and used hypnotism for sixteen years.  It was a further twenty-seven years before Freud’s committee (Ferenczi, Abraham, Jones, Rank, Sachs and Eitingon) late in 1923 published ‘The Development of psychoanalysis’ (Jones 1953:521). Earlier, in that same year (1923) Freud developed cancer of the mouth at the age of 67. The first sign of trouble appeared in February and Freud did not tell anyone about it until the operation procedure in April when he had a growth removed from the right side of his jaw and palate. This was to be the first of more than thirty operations and sixteen years of discomfort, distress and pain.  A prosthesis, a magnified denture was designed to shut off the mouth from the nasal cavity making speaking and eating difficult but possible     (Jones 1953:555).

Hypnosis requires that the therapist’ has eloquence and ease of speech along with versatility in pronunciation. The hypnotist should be able to enlist the confidence and faith of the subject and must look to the occurrence of hypnosis as inevitable. Freud would have had difficulty speaking during the many hours that he worked with clients each day. The development of psychoanalysis allowed him to continue working in a manner that suited his medical condition right up to his eightieth year. It is interesting to note that Freud’s cancer developed before he published ‘The development of Psychoanalysis,’ and that the ritualistic element in his particular psychoanalysis was the couch with a raised back and the psychoanalyst seated in a chair behind the high end of the couch, so that the patient could not see him and the patient did all the talking about their problem over, and over again.

Freud held a number of erroneous ideas in regard to the nature of hypnosis including the misconception that hypnosis was produced by the hypnotist and not by the patient. Modern hypnotists now know that ‘all hypnosis is self hypnosis’ (Ansari 1991:12). Because of his tremendous prestige, Freud’s rejection of hypnosis was a great blow to its use and it was not until 1958 when hypnosis was officially recognized by the American Medical Association and hypnotherapy began to come into its own.

The word induction is according to the OED: ’the action of inducing by persuasion – the action of introducing to or initiation in…’ Milton Erickson says that the overall strategy of induction appears to have two dimensions, the first being pacing and distraction of the dominant (language) hemisphere the second is utilization of the dominant hemispheres language processing which occurs below the level of awareness to access the non-dominant hemisphere ( Grinder 1977:13).

In a hypnotic induction the hypnotist prepares the subject by introducing himself/herself as the authority and explaining what he/she is going to do. He tells the subject what is expected of them and discusses what feelings the subject wants to experience under hypnosis (Ansari 1991:73).

Freud engages in these practices of hypnosis and induction, the definitions of which have been given above, from the very first sentence of the first paragraph of ‘The Uncanny’ by saying: ‘”It is only rarely that a psychoanalyst feels impelled to…”, he speaks of himself in the third person and sets himself up as the psychoanalyst. In the second paragraph he suggests that: “we may expect that a special core feeling is present…” This is pre-supposing what the reader may expect, and further, “One is curious to know what this common core is…”, is suggesting that the reader is curious and has a common core of something that is ‘uncanny’.

In the third paragraph Freud tells the reader: “people vary so very greatly in their sensitivity to this quality of feeling…” Again, Freud refers to himself in the third person as ‘the writer’ who has a “special obtuseness towards the feeling of uncanniness”, and “needs to be more delicate in his perception of experiencing it” and “ he must start by translating himself into that state of feeling, by awakening in himself the possibility of experiencing it… we need not on that account despair of finding instances”. It is apparent that Freud is gaining rapport with the reader by saying that he needs to be more delicate in his perceptions of experiencing [it]…” but then include the reader “we need not on that account despair in finding instances”.

In the fourth paragraph Freud states that: ”there are two courses open to the reader (only two?). “… I will say at once that both courses lead to the same result: the uncanny is that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”. With this Freud is pretending to offer the reader a choice. Five paragraphs of suggestions precede the six pages of definitions of the words ‘heimlich’ and ‘unheimlich’. The definitions are confusing because the German word ‘unheimlich’ starts out being opposite to ‘heimlich’ on page two hundred and twenty and over the next six pages ‘unheimlich’ becomes in some way or other a sub species of ‘heimlich’. (Freud 1925:226). Hypnotic induction uses techniques or devices to distract the conscious mind like confusion and repetition to lead someone into the trance state that best suits suggestion and Freud uses both of these techniques in his paper, ‘The Uncanny’.

Freud was a master at illustrating his theory with literary examples and this paper is no exception: “When we proceed to review the things… which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny” ( Freud 1925:228). Freud continues to lead the reader further into the hypnosis, he quotes Jentsch: “In telling a story, one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effect”. This does two things, firstly it brings in another authority on the subject and embeds another layer of storytelling which is a hypnotic device that confuses the conscious mind and allows the subconscious to be engaged in a language that it loves. The unconscious mind loves the language of story and now Freud takes the reader through a variety of stories that will engage the unconscious mind of his readers on many levels.

“Freud suggests that we use symbolism with unconscious meaning all of the time but conspire to ignore what we’re doing… we learn from very different sources –from fairytales and myths, from buffoonery and jokes, and from folklore (that is, from the knowledge about popular manners and customs, sayings and songs) and from poetic and colloquial linguistic usage” (Easthope 1999:3)

He first tells Hoffman’s story of the Sandman, he includes the Oedipus complex and suggests that fear of castration is connected to losing eyes. He deconstructs the Sandman giving details of how Hoffman’s own childhood circumstance, have some uncanny connections in Hoffman’s adult storytelling. Freud goes on to talk about how doubling, interchanging of self and the constant recurrence of the same thing are ways of showing the uncanny. Recurrence of the same thing is reinforced when Freud places himself in the story with his own experience of the uncanny – he finds himself in an undesirable quarter of a town ( the red light district). He hurries away by detour only to arrive back in the same street.

I first read ‘The Uncanny’ as part of ‘Theories in Humanities’ course or my ‘Honours’ degree in 2006, having never read any of Freud’s works previously but having recently trained as a hypnotist with the American Institute of Hypnotherapy. I was affected by Freud’s paper I had my own ‘uncanny’ experience. As I read the five introductory paragraphs and then the six pages of definitions I relaxed into a light trance. The fairy tales and mythological stories fascinated me and when I read of Sigmund Freud’s own experience of the uncanny I laughed, put the paper down and went out into my living room to speak to my son who was watching a show called “Jackass II” on our television. Two male presenters were wrestling with large boa constrictor snakes in a boxing ring filled with hundreds of small plastic coloured balls and the snakes were biting their arms – I screamed- “Turn that off! That’s horrible!”- frightening myself and then I laughed out loud remembering the paper I had just put down in my office. “Freud would have a field day with that”, I thought to myself. Memories filtered through my mind and I remembered how, whilst on a holiday when I was five years old on my Uncle’s farm in Forbes, country New South Wales during a bad drought snakes had been found in the house and I had been terrified. Thus I had my own personal experience of the uncanny while reading Freud’s paper, ‘The Uncanny’.

Freud’s definition of “The Uncanny” experience and his many years of clinical application and investigation into these experiences and into hypnosis show that he was a great fan of hypnosis.  Freud’s writing of “the uncanny” in this way show that Freud continued to use Hypnosis and hypnotic induction. The fellows that Freud worked with created some remarkable outcomes.  I have highlighted specific instances where Freud embeds suggestion and hypnotic devices into this paper to affect the reader. I have found that, even though hypnosis is a natural healing mode that has been used to influence the unconscious mind, effect body function and human behavior in a beneficial way, it still remains cloaked in a veil of mysticism. Knowing now that Freud did such extensive work with hypnosis, over sixteen years I am suggesting that it would be difficult for him to take the hypnotist out of himself when writing this paper. A big part of Freud’s work was about influencing the unconscious mind to grasp new concepts. “The Uncanny” begins with Freud opening the article with the first paragraph introducing himself as the psychoanalyst, then the writer, and always the storyteller, by telling the reader a myriad of stories until the final paragraphs he writes:

But the storyteller has a peculiarly directive power over us: by means of the moods he can put us into, he is able to guide the current of our emotions, to dam it up here in one direction and make it flow in another, and he often obtains a great variety of effects from the same material” (Freud 1925:251).

In the end, Freud was the psychoanalyst, he was the writer,  he was the storyteller and a gifted, experienced hypnotist and I propose that he has directed the moods of the reader throughout this paper to experience “The Uncanny” with the power of his purposeful suggestion and the hidden power of hypnotic induction.

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