Extract From Dan Jones book ‘Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis & Me’
The event that transformed my life happened in 1993. The ITV television channel aired a programme called The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna. The show was essentially a televised version of stage hypnosis. I had never seen hypnosis before and watching the show I didn’t really understand what it was. Paul would say that he couldn’t show the actual hypnotic induction on TV, but all these people on stage were hypnotised. It appeared that all the people on the show did exactly as he asked them to do. When people did some of the things they were asked to do, like being asked to become astronauts, they seemed to take on what they were asked to do as if it was real to them. I remember wondering whether this hypnosis thing would be able to make people learn different skills by becoming people with those skills? Having Asperger’s, something that interested me was that these people seemed to do whatever Paul asked them to do. I thought hypnosis might be the ultimate way of controlling the world around me so that people left me alone when I wanted to be left alone, and I didn’t have to do things I didn’t want to do.
It was a hypnosis documentary Paul McKenna did called Paul McKenna’s Secrets of Hypnosis that suddenly opened my eyes to hypnosis and to understanding hypnosis in a more realistic way. The documentary started with Paul talking about his stage show, and talking about what was coming up on the show, including someone being cured of a fear of flying who was standing on the open back of a flying aeroplane, speed reading, overcoming pain, and much more. Paul explained a bit about what hypnosis was and how it worked in a way that made me realise it wasn’t necessarily all about the exact words, he explained that he couldn’t reveal how someone was being hypnotised on TV but he could reveal some of what the hypnotist is looking for when they are hypnotising someone.
Paul then went on to explain various signs that the person is changing state and entering a hypnotic trance. The camera panned in close on the person being hypnotised and showed various signs like eye movement under the eye lids, reddening of the face, muscles relaxing, breathing slowing down and becoming deeper. This may sound like a small point, but by being told that the hypnotist is watching for certain signs meant to me that it wasn’t so much that there were specific scripts or words to use to do hypnosis, but the words used need to be able to somehow achieve the changes you are looking for. Paul explained that when people get absorbed in something, “like watching this programme” they shut out everything else, they forget about the wallpaper, they forget about the TV stand, and pictures on the walls, and all furniture, the only thing they are aware of is the TV programme, and if that TV programme is engaging enough you suspend belief as you also get drawn into the reality created by the programme, and if something scary happens on the programme you can jump and be scared, even though what you are experiencing isn’t real. Paul described how this is like doing hypnosis and being hypnotised.
To me what Paul had done was revealed how hypnotic inductions are supposed to work. It wasn’t about the words specifically, it was about creating this state in people. I still didn’t really know, and didn’t have the skills or confidence to do this, but I now knew and understood what I needed to learn. I also realised that it was largely about observing people closely. I had never noticed people’s breathing before, or changes to facial colour, unless they went very red from embarrassment or from doing something energetic. I realised I was going to have to learn a lot more about people and behaviour and body language, and was going to have to watch people with intent to see what I could learn about them.
As I learnt more about hypnosis I began to also learn more about rapport. I had never heard about rapport before, but it was mentioned a lot in hypnosis books. Prolonged eye contact, like a ‘hypnotic gaze’ was mentioned. This initially confused me. I had assumed that people spent all their time when talking with each other staring at each other. “Look at me when I’m talking to you” is a common phrase to hear, and suddenly I was reading of hypnotists saying “Look into my eyes”. Why would they need to tell people to look into their eyes if people are already looking into their eyes? The implication was that people aren’t actually always looking into each other’s eyes. I decided to watch people, and what I noticed was that there was a pattern to eye contact, it wasn’t all or nothing, people don’t stare at each other like I assumed they must do, they make eye contact for about five seconds, then they look away, for a few seconds, then back again for about five seconds. When someone is trying to state something that is important to them they make eye contact longer, when someone likes another person they make eye contact with that person for longer during conversations, but often seem to make less eye contact when they like someone and that person is looking at them. People seemed to look away when they were thinking about things before responding to what somebody has been saying, and they start looking away from just before the other person has finished talking.
All of this intrigued me. There were patterns to eye contact that perhaps I could learn. It made sense that a hypnotist would want to make prolonged eye contact, because prolonged eye contact got attention and was hard to ignore, but the meaning of the eye contact seemed to depend on the situation. As a teenager I didn’t have the skills for mentally keeping track of this level of detail, especially not during conversations, so I stuck to what seemed to be about right which was to make eye contact with people (well, nearly make eye contact, I actually found it more comfortable to look through people, which is still what I usually do) for about five seconds, which I would count in my head, and then break eye contact for about five seconds, and just follow this pattern.
It is surprising that you don’t see what you don’t know to look for, and then when you do see it you wonder how you managed to never spot it before. As I continued to learn about hypnosis I was finding that hypnosis is actually just about having advanced rapport building skills, which is interesting for someone who needs to develop their, most definitely not advanced, rapport building skills. I always say hypnosis is the thing that helped me learn to communicate. As a teenager I still said and did things wrong, and would take things too literally, but I now had a path. I believe many children with Asperger’s are no different to me in that they are intelligent and able to learn, they just don’t know what they need to be learning or where or how to find that out, and I don’t think parents of those children know where their children can go to learn the skills they need. I have said to many people with Asperger’s that hypnosis helped me with my Asperger’s, and some people I know have tried hypnotherapy for their Asperger’s and they responded that hypnosis never helped them. When I have explained it wasn’t using hypnosis that has helped, although as an adult I have used hypnosis to help in some areas like using mental rehearsal, it was learning about hypnosis that has helped. To become good at hypnosis you have to learn to observe people, to be able to copy people’s behaviours, to be able to use your behaviour to influence the behaviours of others, you have to learn to excel at communication skills and to recognise patterns of behaviour and what different behaviour might mean, and how to test your theories.
Whilst in school I never became able to manipulate teachers and other students into doing much of what I wanted, but I did realise that behaviours, like how I had been influencing other children since primary school by suggesting ideas and then waiting for the idea to come from someone seemingly more influential was actually doing hypnosis, I started to get on a little better in school because I could make ’normal’ looking eye contact which helped me to fit in more. I still didn’t care about most of what others said, it didn’t interest me at all, and I still struggled to remember and recall what people had spoken to me about unless it was something I was interested in, but in the moment I could now fake looking interested.
Discovering hypnosis was definitely the defining moment of my teens for me. That was the thing that gave me the skills I needed to handle life. It took many years to get things right, but because I became obsessed with hypnosis straightaway and wanted to know how to do it I developed enough basic skills to successfully navigate through my last couple of years of secondary school and into young adulthood. My view would be that all children should be taught hypnosis from a young age, especially children with Asperger’s, because what is needed is to study how to communicate with people, and how to ‘read’ the feedback you get, and know what to say or do based on that feedback. It doesn’t mean everything always works, or that it is always easy, but it can give you a good starting place.
Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones is available in Paperback & Kindle Here is a link to your local Amazon store: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196