We are all affected by the power of suggestion, it reaches out to us through advertising, through TV, social media and the comments we absorb from those around us at work, home and at school. It affects how we feel about ourselves. It will worm its way into our unconscious without permission, which is why we need to be vigilant about what suggestions we expose ourselves to, the things that we will accept unquestioningly.
Some people are toxic for us, if you are told “you are useless” enough times you will believe it, as repetition is how we learn things, that is how you learnt that two and two made four. Exposure to news stories such as those during the pandemic, showing people dying in hospitals and being given a daily total of the dead, works away at our fear response, leading to high anxiety and for some people difficulty returning to normal life when we are told there is no need to be afraid anymore. Suggestions can be negative like those we have just outlined; this is known as the nocebo. Then we have the positive, we have all heard of, and mostly accept the concept of the placebo.
The importance of suggestion as placebo, has been a part of healing for many centuries but was acknowledged for its importance through the work of a French pharmacist called Emile Coue in the late 19th Century. Like many advances in medicine his discovery came about by accident. One day a patient who was always complaining about something, one of those people who always had a problem came into Coué’s pharmacy, his heart sank as he had given him everything he could think of to help him and was running out of ideas, he was also very busy on this particular day, so to get rid of him quickly he gave him a plain solution of water and a small amount of sugar, but told him it was a new treatment that had just arrived from Paris and was affecting wonderful cures. The patient returned a couple of days later hailing the cure as a miracle, he was completely better, the wonder medicine from Paris had completely cured him. Coué thought about this for some time and realised that it was simply the belief that the medicine was going to work, that had cured him, so he thought it must be possible to harness this belief to create all sorts of change and he launched a form of healing that became known as Couéism, which utilised the power of suggestion to affect change through belief in the self. He moved beyond the kind of physical placebo he had accidentally created, to create positive mantras that people could use to help themselves such as the phrase “every day in every way I am getting better and better.”
We can see other ways in which we can be suggestible, when someone yawns in a room several people will pick up that yawn or find themselves battling not to yawn. Laughter can be so infectious. I wonder if you have seen the video of laughter spreading down a train, just one person laughs and gradually it spreads, you may have experienced this yourself how hard it can be to keep you face straight when someone is laughing, or stifling a giggle in that business meeting and trying not to catch another’s eye, no words need to be spoken the suggestion is there.
The power of suggestion is taken further when harnessed within hypnotherapy or self-hypnosis, as we go deep into the unconscious mind, to reprogramme the mind away from its negative. We can use direct and indirect suggestion, metaphor, and skilful use of language to create that change, creating the antidote we need to the high exposure we have to negative suggestion in the modern world, far beyond anything that could have been imagined in the time of Coué. None of us like to think we are suggestible, but most of us are and it is not a bad thing if we start using it for our highest benefit and an awareness of it, keeps us vigilant to the kind of information we expose ourselves to. It can also lead us to consider the words we use with those around us, do we want to harm with our words or nurture and encourage? A kind word, a smile, can be so positive to someone who is struggling, and if we use our language carefully, we will encourage others to do the same too.