Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting unstuck: Part 2

Changing unconscious learnings

Threads:                        Context, Learning
Relevant recent posts:     2/14/2011     Unconscious Learning
                                     5/13/2011     Getting unstuck: Part 1

“I could try and figure something out all day long but then if I just allow myself this kind of time and space (in a hypnotic trance), I get this deeper understanding that changes things.”

     — client, exploring her own thinking
           and emotional responses

Changing a golf stroke is one thing, but changing unconscious learnings—those aspects of our behavior that seem unchangeable, that just seem to be a part of who we are—is quite another. How do we change something that 1) we learned out of conscious awareness, 2) we still don’t have much awareness of, 3)  now constrains our behavior in ways we don’t like, 4) we haven’t been able to change so far, and 5) seems like just part of who we are?

What’s it like to be constrained by an old unconscious learning?
First, nobody says to themselves, “I have an old unconscious learning I’d like to change.” Instead, we simply have some behavior or some repeated experience that’s a problem, and we can’t change it.

Here are some examples:

Anxiety and fear triggered by something specific
You might have anxiety triggered by one of the following: spiders, speaking in front of groups, the texture of certain fruits and vegetables, driving across suspension bridges, flying in an airplane, the (even remote) possibility of throwing up, worms, ants, mice, certain sounds, or some other circumstance or thing. Trying to avoid encounters with what triggers your anxiety is increasingly limiting.

General anxiety or crummy feelings
You are anxious most of the time: can’t really find a cause, it just seems to be who you are. Or, no matter what your accomplishments, you always find a way to feel incompetent, or less than. Some folks refer to this as a “self-esteem issue.” Whatever you call it, you don’t like how it feels, and you haven’t been able to change it.

Expressing anger in a way that creates distance, not intimacy
When certain circumstances trigger your anger, you end up yelling and being threatening to the other. This isn’t playing well with your spouse, kids, or work relationships. Nothing you’ve tried (e.g., counting to 10) has changed anything.

Relationship problems
You get into multi-year relationships, each with a person that turns out to be an alcoholic (or some other behavior you find impossible to live with), it goes sour, and breaks up badly. After three cycles of this, you wonder, is it just the luck of the draw, or are you somehow involved in co-creating these dead-end relationships? Or the other way around: all three people have called off the relationship with you, citing some deal-breaking behavior of yours. You really don’t know what they’re talking about, but you’re wondering if you’ve got something going on out of your awareness.

Eating issues
You’re overweight, it’s adversely affecting your health, and you haven’t liked the way you look for a long time. You’ve tried diets, joined Weight Watchers™, you’ve resolved to walk every morning, you’ve actually lost weight more times than you can count—and gained it back (and then some) each time. Nothing has worked, you steadily gain weight.
The process of refining and building on old unconscious learnings
In all these instances, updating old learnings of which we have little or no conscious awareness proceeds in a way similar to what I described for improving at golf or as a guitarist (see Getting unstuck: Part 1):

1)  Establish a learning context (ie., what change do we want?),
2*)  Deconstruct (what we already do and how we might have learned it)
3*)  Separate (what’s useful from what’s not)
4*)  Disorientation (i.e., the old doesn’t work, and there’s no replacements, yet)
5*)  Integration (of the new with the old)
6)  Ratification (consciously noticing we have changed)
*But there are significant differences
In working effectively with unconscious learnings, hypnosis or other forms of hypnotic engagement are often used to facilitate steps 2, 3, 4, and 5, above. We’ll go into this in more detail; for now consider that hypnosis is a way of engaging our natural unconscious abilities to learn something new on behalf our interests, health, comfort, and well-being.

Hypnosis is not magic
Hypnotherapists didn’t invent hypnosis. It came about by studying how people naturally learn things outside of their conscious awareness, and learning how to engage and support that natural learning process as part of a therapeutic interaction. In this context (as opposed to the manipulative interactions involved in what is called stage hypnosis), the hypnotist doesn’t “put you under.” They support and invite you to enter a state in which your natural unconscious abilities have time and space to function.

To a curious 6 year old: "My job is to help people learn to use who they are in ways they like better."
          — JT
 Hypnosis is just support for a learning process
And it’s not just a question of throwing hypnosis at a problem and waiting for something miraculous and new to emerge. The structure of the old learning needs to be gone into (deconstructed) at some depth. Just like if you want to improve your golf game… you first go into what you’re already doing… and in the process, begin to discern what’s working and what’s not. You work at it.

Recognize that change belongs to the person changing.
The successful therapeutic interaction engages
your natural abilities, conscious and unconscious,
in ways that support and allow enlivening change.
In a future entry we’ll go into this more deeply using an example of working with a (fictitious) client who is unhealthily overweight and feels hopeless doing anything about it.