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Gaslighting: the abusive manipulation of others into questioning their own sanity

Gaslighting
by Beth Warwick, BA Hons

You may have heard the term ‘gaslighting’ before, but what does it mean? How would you know if you are a victim of gaslighting? To gaslight is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity; to subtly attempt to drive someone crazy. The term came about from the film ‘Gaslight’ in 1944 which followed the relationship between Paula and Gregory, as Gregory attempted to drive his wife crazy through manipulation ensuring she lost everything she held dear. The film focused on the use of persistent lying, Gregory being ‘worried’ for Paula’s sanity and making her friends see that there was something wrong with her. None of this was in fact true. This control tactic is one used by dictators, abusers and narcissists. But, what would gaslighting look or feel like?

The purpose of gaslighting is to gain power over someone else. A victim of Gaslighting may feel like there is no stability or common ground in the relationship, with the gaslighter doing anything they want without consequences. However, if the victim does the same thing or even something more minor, perhaps even a genuine mistake, the gaslighter accuses them of all sorts. They might be called names or accused of cheating when in reality the gaslighter is the one doing the damage and behaving in this way, deliberately and systematically with the intention of controlling the victim and undermining the victim’s sanity and sense of reality.

Common signs of gaslighting include persistent lying, denying things they have done or said, their actions not matching the things they say and accusing their victim of saying or doing things that they haven’t done. These are all techniques used to ensure their victims begin to question their own reality or cast doubt on their version of events. You may ask yourself ‘Did they actually say that…maybe I got it wrong.’ when in fact the gaslighter is blatantly lying. When someone is gaslighting they are generally very aware of the things that they say and do to cause doubt and confusion. They play on making their target feel as though they are ‘going insane’ perhaps through a feeling of constant paranoia while they continue to behave in the same way as always. They know that the feeling of confusion they instil weakens their victim psychologically and influences their reactions to future events. Having been worn down, and beginning to question their own judgement, in future they may begin to accept the gaslighter’s version of events and feel as though they themselves ‘got it wrong’. They may imply ‘you are imagining things’ which would again make their victim question their own sense of reality and fill them with self-doubt.

A gaslighter might accuse their victim of ‘changing the goal posts’, implying that their victim is constantly changing the boundaries of what has been acceptable and what hasn’t in the relationship in the past. This could be who it is acceptable to go out with, or perhaps the target has a good friend the gaslighter seemed ok with and now they have said they aren’t happy with the dynamic of the relationship. These subtle shifts and accusations are used in an attempt to control and obtain power over the victim. Putting their victim on the defensive will distract their focus away from the gaslighting behaviours, as there most likely won’t be anything different about the situation the victim has been in at all. However, if confronted about their hurtful or confusing behaviours, the gaslighter will often make the victim feel guilty for saying anything.

Gaslighting is a specific type of abuse used with the intention of controlling another person by causing them to doubt their own reality, and so becoming increasingly dependent on the abuser. The gaslighter will manipulate their victim to the point of no return. Then they will be able to act as they do and ensure their victim will be disarmed to say or do anything against it, this is exactly what they want. It is a very dangerous form of abuse and should be viewed as such. A healthy, loving relationship by definition doesn’t include deceit, manipulation or lies.
The effect of gaslighting is often very negative and insidious, and can be carried through life for a long time. Victims can mistrust others in the future and fear being treated in the same way. It is a horrible form of abuse that is done gradually so the victims don’t notice the extent of it. A good way to put it is thinking about a frog in cold water, as the water is heated up it doesn’t jump out as it doesn’t realise the water is getting hotter.

Seeking help, such as with Hypnotherapy can help victims of gaslighting to overcome its negative effects, for example managing and reducing associated anxiety, regaining confidence and rebuilding trust in self and others. Support can help victims to move on with their life after being targeted by a gaslighter and can provide space to reconnect with feelings where they have been invalidated in the past.

Everyone should be able to live a life free of such relationships and negative treatment. Gaslighting  can occur in any situation – at work, in your personal life, or at home. Recognising the existence of these behaviours in abusers can help you identify when you or someone you know might be a victim of gaslighting, and take positive steps to overcome this insidious type of abusive, controlling behaviour.
 
References
·         Abramson, K. (2014) ‘Turning up the lights on gaslighting’, Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 28, p.p 1-30.
·         Gass, G and Nichols, W. (1988) ‘Gaslighting: A Marital Syndrome’, Contemporary Family Therapy, Vol. 10, p.p 3-16.
·         Preston, N. (2017) 7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship [Accessed 29 September 2017].
Sarkis, S (2017) ‘11 Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-signs-gaslighting-in-relationship [Accessed 29 September 2017].

Shame and Emotional Wellbeing

Shame is a painful emotion which is experienced when we have a conscious sense, or instinctual awareness that we have done or been involved in something we perceive as improper or dishonourable, or that very common feeling surrounding a particular event or situation in our lives where we feel that we could have or should have done something differently, for example in order to prevent something from happening to us. 

In cases of abuse or assault, or something that impacted us greatly, we may experience painful feelings of shame that we didn’t do something to stop it, or that we could have done more. Where these experiences have occurred in childhood, during our formative years, we might interpret the feeling that we have done something wrong, or been involved in something wrong as ‘we are something wrong’. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness and we may also feel we should punish ourselves in some way for past events or circumstances. We might feel we are not good enough, or unworthy of forgiveness for something that we shouldn’t have done, or could have done more to prevent. These feelings can persist throughout our adult life, if we are not able to find the self-compassion and empathy to enable us to resolve and move on from them, with a positive belief and understanding that we are in fact worthy, and good enough.

Clearly these feelings of shame and unworthiness can have a negative impact on emotional wellbeing. They can hold you back from living your life to its full potential, with feelings of shame weighing you down and impacting on life choices throughout life. It is important to seek knowledge, support and understanding so that you can begin to accept that you have always done your best in every situation, with the resources available to you at that time, that what happened to you was not your fault and you are not, cannot be, to blame for somebody else’s wrongdoing. Shame is a natural response in these situations and it is possible to overcome it.
Feelings of shame are often associated with avoidance behaviours, from what has happened, or avoiding looking at others and focusing on what you feel you may have done wrong or might have done differently in the situation, regardless of the situation itself. This can be related to many different things including the body, the way you look, experiences of physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

Research suggest that if you have experienced shame in early life then you may be more likely to carry that shame into your adult life if it is left unresolved. In an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the events we perceive as shameful, we might avoid seeking the support and information necessary to allow us to resolve these painful feelings, which will impact on your emotional wellbeing negatively. Suppressing the emotion can also lead to feelings of low self-esteem, hostility or distress.

Seeking help for what you feel are shameful events is not easy, in fact it is very difficult to allow yourself to deal with the emotion when you seek to resolve these feelings. However, allowing yourself to positively address the event and consider your feelings towards it can lead to more positive outcomes than simply ignoring it or pretending it didn’t happen. Many therapies, such as Thought Field Therapy, now allow you to resolve the negative emotions, without having to even share the details of these events with your therapist, paving the way for a more accessible and positive therapeutic experience. Shame is very closely related to guilt, with a common belief that they are the same. However, where shame is linked to feelings that we are wrong, guilt is focused on the thing we feel we did wrong, and righting the wrong. There is no doubt that shame is a very painful emotion and is very difficult to deal with.
Acknowledging the feelings of shame you carry will often help you to move forward in your life to a more positive place, allowing you to overcome issues that you may not have realised are still having an impact on you, so that you can live your life free of negative emotions and connections to an outdated situation or person.

Shame is not the same as guilt and it can be overcome.
 
References
·         Sheikh, S and Janoff-Bulman, R. (2010) ‘The “Shoulds” and “Should Nots” of Moral Emotions: A Self-Regulatory Perspective on Shame and Guilt’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36:2, 213-244.

·         Velotti, P, Garofalo, C, Bottazzi, F and Caretti, V. (2016) ‘Faces of Shame: Implications for Self-Esteem, Emotion Regulation, Aggression, and Well-Being’, The Journal of Psychology, 151:2, 171-184.

Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships…you may have heard news reports and articles relating to the term or more generally in the media, but what is a toxic relationship and how would you know if you are in one? You may have read or heard that these occur in relationships with a partner however it is important to distinguish that a toxic relationship can take many forms, it does not have to be a partner. These relationships can occur with friends, family or co-workers to name a few. 

Toxic relationships are characterised by certain behaviours displayed by the other person that may not be typical of a ‘normal’ person. Their behaviour may make you feel like you are worthless, you are nobody and you can’t do anything right. A person displaying these behaviours is usually referred to as a ‘narcissist’ meaning a person with an elevated sense of self-worth. But how can you tell how this behaviour differs from that of a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship is built on mutual trust, love and care with that person supporting you and your decisions throughout life. While you may have disagreements and arguments, these will be resolved between both of you through communication and letting each other give your opinion on why something has upset or hurt you. It is normal to have disagreements within any relationship however when this happens within a toxic relationship the approach by the other person can be very different.

Do you ever feel as though your thoughts are not being heard, as though the person does not understand why you are hurt? This is just one way that a narcissistic person may act when confronted with something that reflects their behaviour. Do you feel like you can be yourself around that person or do you feel you need to change in some way for their approval? This could be not seeing certain friends or not doing something that has upset them, whether this is justified or not. This is another way that a narcissist may act to control you and your behaviour. They may also make you feel like everything is about them, as though your opinion doesn’t even count or is totally invalid. You may also feel you cannot enjoy happy moments with this person, for example if you have had a job promotion. This person may react negatively to this and make you wonder why you even thought you should put yourself forward, in their eyes you aren’t good enough anyway. This is all done in an attempt to control your behaviour, not giving you any support with your ambitions or goals. This is not normal in a loving relationship.

One of the most important things is to know is that it's not your fault, you cannot control another person’s behaviour and some people play on the element of control and power in a relationship, whatever form that may take. Toxic techniques used by the other party may lead you to feel like something that happened is your fault. This may include consistent lying or questioning the things that you are saying, especially if this is aimed at their behaviour. You may even find conversations redirected to things you may have done in the past, all to take away the blame from themselves. These are all common techniques used to control the situation and you as a person while ensuring that no blame or wrongdoing is put on them. Bringing up past events and using them against you is unfair and this can also be the case for things you have done before you even met that person. Using past events to hurt you and control you is not acceptable and this should not happen in a healthy, loving relationship.

Possibly one of the most hurtful things about these people is that they are usually seen as a 'good person’ and they may even have many close friends and relationships in which they do not behave in  the way they do with you. This is a technique used to ensure that they are seen as a normal person. You might find yourself asking questions like, "how could anybody see them as anything else? Right? Maybe it's just me that causes this, maybe I'm the bad one?" This is exactly their intention in order to portray themselves as a ‘model citizen’, somebody who people would look up to and believe to be lovely; in actual fact they are a narcissist.

The person will most likely not behave the way they do with you to these other people as this would blow their cover. One thing about narcissistic people is that they do not want to be discovered for what they are and may try anything to avoid this happening. This could also include making up things about you and calling you ‘crazy’ or saying ‘my friends think you are crazy’ in an attempt to make everything about them and them being the victim…again. Even though it is you that is experiencing the pain and hurt.

The impact of a toxic relationship can be not just mental, it can be emotional and physical too. This can tarnish future relationships with people in general, not just partners. But again, it is important to know that it is not your fault and that there are many loving, caring people in the world who would not treat you in such a negative way. If you feel ashamed or wrought with regret it is important to explore these feelings constructively so that you don't carry this negativity into future relationships. After all, you are worthy of loving and caring relationships, regardless of what you may have been told or how you may feel.

Hypnotherapy can help with overcoming feelings of shame, upset and regret which you may feel either within the relationship or after you have left. It can be difficult to talk about events that have happened around toxic relationships however in hypnotherapy many techniques do not require you to talk about an event which may be of some comfort. Instead they help you to explore your thoughts around the event, perhaps looking at anxiety you feel around the environment or situation, in an effort to overcome this. One example of this is ‘Thought Field Therapy’ which involves tapping certain points on the body associated with negative emotions, it is similar to acupuncture but does not use needles. This therapy then allows you to think of an environment or situation without feeling such intense negative emotions around it. This means that you can start to move on with your life without holding onto the negative effects of that relationship.

Just remember, nobody should be allowed to have such a negative impact on a person and you can let go of the pain and hurt.
 
References
·         Sherrie Carter. 2011. The Hidden Health Hazards of Toxic Relationships. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201108/the-hidden-health-hazards-toxic-relationships. [Accessed 14 September 2017].
·         Rosemary Sword and Philip Zimbardo. 2013. Toxic Relationships. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201308/toxic-relationships. [Accessed 14 September 2017].
 
 

Forgiveness


Forgiveness is something that we may or may not believe is the right thing to do regardless of what has been done to us. It is often seen as a time where we let someone off for what they have done, maybe because of family pressure; perhaps it is a parent you are struggling to forgive? This often causes a problem within the family, creating a sort of societal pressure to forgive as it is the ‘right thing to do’ or to reduce conflict.

But does forgiveness mean letting somebody off the hook for their actions? Or, can we get a sense of self-healing and closure from forgiving somebody?

Even the thought of attempting to forgive somebody who has done you wrong can be difficult. This is especially so, if the person isn’t sorry for their actions. Yet, forgiveness can be a healing process, allowing you to let go of feelings and thoughts around an event that may have been holding you back. You might not have thought of forgiveness as a way of self-healing, maybe you see it as the wrongdoer getting away with what they have done to you or someone close and that’s a very common feeling. If a wrongdoer has done something that has impacted you so greatly, then why should they be allowed to get away with it? Holding onto such feelings can have a negative impact on your mental health and everyday life.

Feelings of hurt relating to disloyalty, brutality and betrayal can take a long time to recover from and it is not a process that happens overnight. Your relationship to the person who has hurt you can also impact the length of time it takes you to heal. This is very much linked to your ability and willingness to forgive. Forgiveness is a process that will take time but will ultimately help you to move forward, reduce the negative impact on your mental health and keep your everyday life positive.

Forgiving the wrongdoer is not about condoning or excusing their behaviour. It’s not even about forgetting what they’ve done. Forgiveness is a process through which you can move on from what has been holding you back and continue enjoying your everyday life, without that negativity dragging you down. Forgiveness is also not something that should be considered as submissive and does not make you a weak person. It is about identifying how the wrongdoer has hurt you and getting to a point where you can forgive that person for those events.

Self-forgiveness is also important though. Often, people don’t or won’t forgive themselves for things that have happened to them, they may think they have, ‘let it happen’ or that they, ‘deserved it’. You might also find this if you feel you have done something that you cannot forgive yourself for. Sometimes, self-forgiveness has been linked with causing negative emotions or being narcissistic if you were to decide it as appropriate when those around you don’t show you the forgiveness you’re looking for.

However, research has also shown that self-forgiveness can have a positive impact on mental health. It helps to reduce any feelings of shame or self-punishment over what has happened, without ignoring or excusing it. Forgiveness is important for everyone’s mental wellbeing and allows us to move forward from negative emotions and associations to any wrongdoers.

Forgiving is not forgetting.
 
References

·         Peterson S, Van Tongeren, D, Womack, S, Hook, J, Davis, D and Griffin, B. (2017) ‘The benefits of self-forgiveness on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12:2, 159-168.
·         Freedman, S and Zarifkar, T. (2016) ‘The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness and Guidelines for Forgiveness Therapy: What Therapists Need to Know to Help Their Clients Forgive’, Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 3:1, 45-58. 

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The Most Effective Way to Change on the Inside to Make the Outside Better

It isn’t enough to tell people who are fearful to be courageous. It isn't enough to tell people who lack confidence that they should be more confident, relax, or just be themselves. It isn't enough to tell people who are sad, that if they change their thinking they will feel happy. It isn't enough to tell people who are pessimistic that they would get on better if they were more optimistic, or more positive. It isn't enough because actually, they know that already. The difficulty is in not feeling safe – not feeling safe to let go of their feelings, their situation and their circumstances enough to feel courageous, happy, confident or optimistic.

All unwanted feelings, behaviours and habits serve some positive purpose on the subconscious level, even if they don’t immediately seem logical to the conscious mind. They usually equate in some way to keeping us safe and comfortable. If we can develop a healthy respect for those unwanted feelings or behaviours, whether they are in ourselves or in others, then we have taken the first step in understanding their root cause.

The subconscious mind wants to protect us, to keep us safe, to shelter us from harm. If the person who contains that subconscious mind has learned, through real and consistent experience that they are in tangible and constant danger, such as from the abuse of another, ill health, financial hardship, deprivation, how can they just switch that protective response off? More importantly, why would they? Their subconscious mind will naturally resist. Not only does that feel unsafe, but it would actually put them more at risk, make them more vulnerable to danger, and less ready to respond to a threat.

In order to feel courageous, happy, confident and optimistic, and who doesn’t want to feel this way,  this new way of thinking needs to be safer than the old way. Feeling courageous in the face of danger has to BE safer than feeling fearful. Feeling happy has to BE safer than feeling sad. That is what creates empowering change. To do this we need to clearly outline on a subconscious level why feeling courageous, happy, confident and optimistic is safer. To show the protective subconscious mind that feeling fearful is not keeping us safe, it is actually damaging to our health and wellbeing, draining our resources, restricting our opportunities for empowerment, change and choice. Feeling courageous is safer, because it gives us back the main thing we lose when we are fearful – control, control of how we feel. 

Once we have shown the subconscious mind what it needs to do and why, then we need to provide the subconscious mind with examples of how to do this. We don’t need to spell out a solution, the subconscious mind has the skills, experience and resources to figure this out for itself, but it needs to left with a flavour of the changes that it needs to make, and what the solution will look like, what the potential outcome will be. Instead of the old way of focusing on what it wants to avoid, what it wants to move away from, the subconscious mind needs a new, clear and positive vision and goal of what it wants to move towards. That is enough to achieve the desired change.

Does Hypnotherapy Actually Work?

Does Hypnotherapy Actually Work?

A question I'm asked often as a hypnotherapist is whether hypnotherapy actually works. Hypnosis is a natural state, a level of altered awareness like those we can gently go in and out of ourselves through our day. When concentrating on a task, and very deeply involved in it, you’ll notice time seems to go by slightly differently. You might be surprised to discover that what feels like 20 minutes was in fact over an hour. Similarly, if you've ever driven a very familiar route, you might have arrived at your destination to discover you couldn’t remember the journey, because you were so deeply involved in thought about something else. 
 
In hypnotherapy we are able to utilise this natural tool, by applying it in a specific and concentrated way to address areas in our life we want to change.  Our subconscious mind is a bit like a database, holding our beliefs, habits, expectations and our memories - all of the things that are stored on a deeper level. Our conscious mind dips in and out of that subconscious information, and those things can influence our behaviour and choices in ways that we often don't consciously recognise.
 
In hypnosis we can reframe erroneous, outdated information which is not serving us positively anymore.  We can look at our behaviours, habits and thoughts in a different way, and suggest alternative ways of perceiving and behaving which can allow us to move forward more positively and effectively.

Adapted from an article in LoveLocalMag.com May/June 2016
by Vicky McLeod, Meridian Wellbeing Hypnotherapy


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Does Hypnotherapy Work?
by Vicky McLeod, Meridian Wellbeing Hypnotherapy

Taking back control

Sometimes when we have an issue or a problem we see it as being about someone or something else, "if only they were different...", "if only circumstances were different..." I wouldn't have this problem. On a deeper level it's important in empowering ourselves to remember that we can't change other people, and we can only influence the parts of our circumstances that we have some control over. 

I find it helpful to remember something I was once told, that when we point the finger of blame at someone else, or something else, there is always one finger (or thumb) pointing away - to chance, luck, nature, whatever, and there will also always be three fingers pointing back at you. This has stayed with me through the years. 

In every situation I have 3 times as much influence over how I let it affect me, how I respond, how I perceive it, how I react, what I do thereafter. No one can make us feel anything. This is our choice. Undoubtedly what others say and do, and the circumstances we find ourselves in can be negative, hurtful or uncomfortable at times. But we can decide what we do with that experience thereafter. We decide how long it will affect us, and how much time and energy and feeling we will invest in it. This is where we can take back control. 

Can I hypnotise myself?

Improve your sport performance using hypnotherapy.Hypnosis is actually a state of altered consciousness that we naturally go in and out of ourselves throughout the day. When you are concentrating so hard on something that you have become immersed in it, such as with a TV programme, movie, or activity, so that your attention becomes disassociated from your current surroundings, you are experiencing this natural state of hypnosis. You will notice that your perception of time and your awareness of your surroundings becomes altered. Using hypnosis in a clinical setting enables the use of this natural state in a very focussed and specific way, to help tackle any particular problem or situation that we want to positively change for ourselves. Self-hypnosis can be used to address any problems, by helping you to see yourself the way you want to be - with the problem fixed. Repeatedly seeing yourself in this way helps the subconscious to come to believe that is actually how you already are - it then facilitates your behaviour to match your new dominant self image, whether that is as a confident public speaker, a non-smoker or a healthy eater.

Dreaming, the deepest level of hypnotic trance

Dreams  - the deepest state of hypnosis
A client recently reported that they had dreamed that someone was trying to attack them. They were attending hypnotherapy regarding managing stress and conflict at work. I asked them if they could remember anything significant that had happened to them the day before the dream. They immediately recalled they had attended a heated and rather aggressive meeting in which several conflicting colleagues were trying to thrash out a resolution to a problem. My client's role in this meeting was to provide factual information and advice, however they remembered feeling very uncomfortable during the meeting, and recalled being glowered at by one of the more aggressive colleagues, when the factual information presented exposed holes in their argument. 

Expectation Fulfilment Theory shows that our dreams help us to process arousal which we were not able to process at the time. In a situation like the one above, where the client felt a series of emotions but had to temper and inhibit their reaction, our subconscious mind can help us to work through and find resolution to the situation in our dreams, by processing and resolving the situation for us while  we are asleep, deactivating the arousal at a more appropriate time.

Dreaming is the deepest trance state we go into and there are three essential principles to understand:
  • Dreams are metaphorical translations of waking expectations.
  • But only expectations that cause emotional arousals that are not acted upon during the day become dreams during sleep.
  • Dreaming deactivates that emotional arousal by completing the expectation pattern metaphorically, freeing the brain to respond afresh to each new day
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Gaslighting: the abusive manipulation of others into questioning their own sanity
Shame and Emotional Wellbeing
Toxic Relationships
Forgiveness
Renew You, Love Your Life

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Dreaming, the deepest level of hypnotic trance
Can I hypnotise myself?
Does Hypnotherapy Actually Work?
Hypnotherapy's Limitless Potential
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