When I was younger and teenage boys used to use hair mousse to keep their big 1980s ginger affro hair-dos in order (maybe that was just me) there used to be a sign on the side of the dispenser that read “do not squirt into lid, condense into liquid and inhale.”

Hahaha. They basically gave instructions on how to get a cheap, dangerous, chemical high!

Then there are those lovely looking doors or fields with the signs saying “no access to the public” and you want to know what is there or what goes on behind this place you are not supposed to go… That said, you would not want to go in here, would you?

Yes indeed, today I am writing about negative hypnotic suggestions and their sometimes clumsy use.

In the field of hypnotherapy and other forms of personal development, self-improvement and therapeutic modalities, people are encouraged to communicate in a positive, progressive manner. I myself have talked and written at length at the virtues of doing so.

So we use progressive language and positive suggestions when we use hypnosis and self-hypnosis for the most part.

What of negative hypnotic suggestions then?

At school, I recall one of my friends in the playground stating that he doubted another friend was capable of kicking his ball over a fence; “I bet you can’t kick your ball over that fence!?”Which he then proceeded to do to prove he could… We all laughed on at the (albeit cruel) loss of his ball.

Is there ever a time throughout the hypno-therapeutic process when it is ok to use negative suggestions then?

I reckon so.

As I illustrated with the playground example, negative suggestions often offer up a kind of “reverse psychology” and this can be utilised for great effect when used intelligently in a hypnotherapy session.

Sometimes, a negative suggestion might be used to overcome resistance to someone if they are insisting on arguing or resisting what is being suggested too; if you suggested they cannot do something, they may well go right ahead and do that very thing in opposition.

The typical negative suggestion is structured in that way; “You can’t do ABC.” Those favouring being positive may well avoid words like can’t at all costs. Though when you suggest to a person that they are not to do something or that they cannot do something (for example) that person still has to process what it is you said they cannot do. They have to interpret and understand what you just said they cannot do. Now they are going to automatically make sense of that sentence and understand the associations they have with that sentence, which if used deliberately and in a skilled manner, can create much benefit for the therapeutic process.

Here are a couple of examples of negative suggestions, delivered fairly directly:

Do not think of a film you recently saw.

Do not allow yourself to wonder whether you are hungry or not right now.

I would like to suggest that you do not notice the sensation you have in your left arm.

You shouldn’t be thinking about what you did on your last birthday right now.

I once even read an article by a well-known seduction guru telling wannabe pick-up-artists that he often said to married women “don’t go thinking about me when sleeping with your husband tonight.”

When you read through those negative suggestions, did you find yourself leaning towards what it was you were being asked not do? What are the reasons for that, do you think?

As you’ll already know I am sure, if you are capable of not doing what you were asked to do in those sentences, how did you accomplish that process of not doing it? it is different with you – as my reader, you’ll know much about this already and the nature of reading the article (as I know you are doing so avidly) you’ll progress on to the next sentence and not get too distracted with your thoughts.

Do you think hypnotherapy clients would be as vigilant with their thoughts? Do you think they know about negative suggestions in that much depth?

All this is well and good, though I would add that many hypnosis professionals use negative suggestions by mistake or unaware that they are doing so, potentially creating an unwanted response.

For example, I think one of the more problematic things to suggest to a client is something along the lines of “don’t go worrying about that,” even if it is said with the greatest intentions, the client may well have just been encouraged to think about that thing. Unless you show them how to go thinking about something else, of course!

In the recent series of Torchwood that has returned to our screens via the BBC on UK TV here, a man who started out being a very bad guy who survived the electric chair, is then attempting to be an upstanding citizen (although he is not really) and was introduced to speak at an event with the words “don’t think about the crimes this man committed. Instead think of him as reborn and no longer confused,” – well I got reminded at that point that he was previously a convicted paedophile and murderer and continued to dislike him!

I have to admit that I am not convinced by many professionals in this field who say that the (so-called) ‘unconscious mind’ cannot tell the difference between negative and positive and just takes it all literally and symbolically. I don’t think that gives the intelligence of the human race much credit.

Though if I asked you not to imagine the downright deliciousness of my homemade damson jam made from fruit picked in my garden recently, with all its fruity sweet and slight sharpness, I am guessing you would imagine some of that anyway.

The key here is how we then use negative suggestions  for the betterment of our clients in hypnotherapy without them being too obvious and blatant – because heck, my previous sentence was incredibly obvious and may well result in loss of rapport.

We use negative suggestions by simply suggesting that the client does not do the things you actually do want the client to do. Though you do not want to present that suggestion in a way that they feel they are doing anything wrong by following the suggestion, instead make them benefit from any eventuality.

For example, if I say to a hypnotherapy client, “don’t allow your breathing to slow down too much as you listen to me talking to you, otherwise your pulse rate might also start to relax and slow,” my client can now respond to that suggestion either by letting the breathing to slow along with the pulse rate which many would consider are progressive signs as far as hypnosis goes, or the client can continue as they were, which is basically doing as they are told, following the suggestion you made – which is the client co-operating. In real terms, either outcome is beneficial, despite it being a negative suggestion.

Even though negative suggestions are often delivered directly, they tend to be used a great deal by indirect schools of hypnotic language. Many of whom believe that when negative suggestions are used, they overcome resistance, by occupying the client with negativity while indirectly requesting a positive response. Typically, the client tends to ignore the negative suggestion and rather than respond literally to the negative suggestion, they respond to the positive suggestion that underlies it.

There is no evidence to suggest that this is a better or more efficacious way to deliver suggestion, but it is a lovely thing to have in your skill set. Don’t enjoy using it too much.