Monday, October 15, 2012

The hypnotic gaze

Part of the hypnosis mythology is that the power is in the "hypnotic gaze". I've even had people refuse to look me in the eye after learning that I was a hypnotist.

To think that there's some ontologically basic and unavoidable power in a "hypnotic gaze" is pretty laughable, but there's something to it - a lot to it, actually. Much more than I initially thought, coming from a text hypnosis origin and all that.

The "hypnotic gaze" infamy comes from noticing the power of nonverbal communication when holding strong eye contact and focusing all of your attention on the person.  By using eye contact, you can create a strong frame and draw the person in to that frame – as long as you know what you are doing, that is.

When you use nonverbal communication, you have to be careful what you're saying

One of the neat things about nonverbal communication is that it's harder to bullshit. I got good results with text hypnosis while I was still insecure in my abilities as a hypnotist, but with nonverbal communication, you have to be coming from the right place.  It forces you to work on yourself a bit.  You need to look at what you're feeling to see what's going to be communicated.

For example, if all you're thinking about is how nervous you are because eye contact is creepy and you're trying this thing that you learned about on the internet - then that's what they'll see, and that's what they'll mirror. They’ll just think "This guy is creepy. What is he nervous about? Should I be worried? What's he hiding?"

But it’s also no good if you try to cover that with aggression. If your thoughts are best described as "I DEMAND you to do as I say! I'm not nervous, I'm in CONTROL!", then it's no surprise that you’ll come off as threatening and no one will want to deal with you.  If they don't just get out of it, then they're likely to give you the impression of doing as you say without actually accepting your frame - they're looking to appease you, not to actually take your suggestions on board. Why would they take your suggestions on board if it doesn't look like you have their interests in mind?

You want to project such a strong sense of comfort that they can't help but feel comfortable about the interaction. They might get anxious if they don't know how to respond, but it's the "it's fine, it's not your fault. I just don't know how to respond" kind - not the "You are making me uncomfortable. Please stop" kind. You want to project so much openness that it just feels incongruent and weird to bullshit you. When used correctly, it's an invitation. It's just an invitation that they can't ignore.

Joe Fobes uses this method of frame control with his difficult clients. When his clients question if it's "working",  or try to seduce him with intellectual meta talk, or do anything other than give clinically useful responses - he'll just sit there and wait. Sometimes it'll go on for minutes while they dick with their cell phone - but then they'll break and give him what he needs to help them.

Joe describes his mindset as such: "Imagine that you're sitting across from someone and they're just about to say something that is really important for the therapy session. You're just sitting there very, very tuned in. And you're just waiting and they just haven't said it yet... and still not yet... and still not yet, and nope, still not yet. You're very, very focused on them because they're about to say it. You know they're about to say it. You're just kinda like waiting."

As the client, you might feel uncomfortable, but you aren't going to leave because you know what he's asking you to do is the right thing. You can't. You came to him and asked for his help, and he's just waiting for you. It'd be different if he got all pissy, but he's not. He's just... you know... waiting...

You only really have one choice. You know what you have to do, and he's just there waiting for you to decide to do it. Which brings us to the next point.

Nonverbal communication can draw people into your frame.

If the person is not in your frame, then the eye contact and devoted attention will make them uncomfortable. People don't like being out of rapport and this is a constant reminder of that discomfort. The fun part is that you don't have to be uncomfortable. The fact that you're so freaking comfortable in this uncomfortable situation is a strong signal. It shows you aren't worried about the situation, because you know how to handle whatever comes up. They might try to break your frame at first, but held long enough, they'll either end the interaction or join your frame.

If you project strong frames like this, then you don't have to worry about a lot of common failure modes. You don't have to worry that they aren't taking it seriously or that their intact and limiting worldview doesn't allow for suggestions to work - since you've smashed it more completely non-verbally than you ever could with clever arguments. And you also don't have to worry about them being unmotivated since apathy is completely incongruent with this state. People don't get anxious, give someone their full attention, and then lack motivation to follow suggestions - it just doesn't happen.

When I first saw this video of stage hypnotist Jonathan Chase hypnotizing an "unwilling" subject, I wrote it off as unimpressive and thought that it only had to do with the subject's previous mindset. After all, Jon didn't really do anything.  I assumed that any clever suggestion structure was hidden in the pretalk - or worse yet, the subject's preconceptions. "Show me the pretalk that got that guy expecting to go under even if he was unwilling, and I'll be interested" - I would have said.

But now I see it clear as day. Frame. Fucking. Control. That is what he means by "be the hypnotist". It's not that you are overconfident in your predictions. You just want to have the solid attitude that it's the right play for the subject to follow your instructions.  And that they're capable of seeing this, regardless of what they say.

But it's not just for compliance frames. You can also use it to pull people into your frame that "life is good", for example - like I accidentally did to a cashier recently.

I walked into a store with a smile on my face and made eye contact with the girl working at the counter. Instead of immediately breaking eye contact and going about my business, I got to thinking "Do I recognize her?". By the time I realized that I was holding eye contact for abnormally long, she had asked me how I was doing to break the tension.

My girlfriend missed the whole eye contact thing, but she was cracking up at the girl's reaction to me. It was a freaking pattern interrupt. A no contact silent pattern interrupt! "You could tell she was taken aback - like she didn't expect you to be smiling back or something? She looked pleasantly surprised."

I'm not sure if it was just the prolonged eye contact and genuine smile, or if the "Do I recognize you?" bit came through and caused her to mirror the feeling of familiarity and/or confusion.  Either way, it's a good example of a strong frame and strong eye contact shaking people out of their routine and brightening their day a bit.

As important as it is for pulling people into your frames, it has another equally important benefit.

Nonverbal communication can create profound and intense frames.

By "going first", you're demonstrating that your frame involves being present and 100% focused and comfortable - so when they join your frame, they join the focus and comfort. This gets us their attention to direct where we want, which allows us to focus their attention on one thing to the exclusion of others, and with the comfort, we also get inhibition of common objections - which is already starting to look a lot like trance.

Once they've stepped into your frame, it's no longer uncomfortable - actually quite the opposite. This is when you get those feelings of deep profound connection and trust. It's not often that people get comfortable enough to allow themselves to be mutually vulnerable and connected in such a gaze - so when it happens it really leaves an impression.

My freshmen year of college - well before I had any idea what I was doing - some girl was doing her door to door salesmanship thing to get votes for some student government bullshit. I did the whole calm and sustained eye contact thing - focusing more on her than what she was saying. She finished her spiel, I told her I wasn't going to vote, and that was the end of it. The next year we ate lunch together with a mutual friend. She asked where she recognized me from, and I told her. She remembered and was shocked - "but I went to every dorm!". Out of the thousands of rooms she stopped by, I had made a lasting impression - and I had no idea why at the time.

And while that state in and of itself is moving, think of the power of a well placed suggestion. Just look at any romantic line from a movie. It's always delivered with prolonged eye contact.


  1. Saying: Just hold the frame is pretty easy. Improving personal frame control is the hard part.

    It's not primarily about eye contact. It's about going into a deeper trance than the person you want to hypnotise. Sometimes that's even easier with closed eyes.

    I would recommend that you experiment with focusing your attention on your own feelings. Your own feeling of trance.

    "Show me the pretalk that got that guy expecting to go under even if he was unwilling, and I'll be interested" - I would have said.

    But now I see it clear as day. Frame. Fucking. Control."
    I don't think that everything. The guy was uncomfotable sitting in the chair, getting watched by the audience and not going into hypnosis. Jon waited till that feeling built up strong enough that the guy started laughing.

    The didn't wanted to be consciously aware of the uncomfortable situation anymore. He gladly took the opportunity to shut down his conscious mind.

  2. Dude, you can totally project "Do I know you?". I couldn't for the life of me describe what it looks like, but it's pretty clear when you think you've possibly recognized someone.

    non-verbals.. so important and so powerful and so profound and so many people try to pretend they don't exist. All the better though, they can pretend all they want but people respond to non-verbals very automatically with little or no choice in the matter.