The Symptom is a Solution: Just Not the One You’d Prefer
I love teaching people about the work that I do. Why is that? Because there is SUCH a positive message about who we are at it’s core.
You probably have questions about hypnotism, hypnotherapy and “how all this stuff works,” and I really hope that you do! Because that is the gateway to understanding yourself better and ultimately to accepting, appreciating and loving yourself better, and that brings all sorts of benefits to your life.
This is not the venue to dig into what is hypnosis, how to create trance, and all that. Although you can find articles that dig into those topics, the “mechanical” aspects of the work, elsewhere on this site and on my other site, www.HypnosisFirst.com.
This article is about one of the core foundational principles of hypnotherapy: the symptom is a solution.
In other words, whatever you’re experiencing as a negative behavior — a bad habit, or an idiopathic symptom — such as biting your nails, fear of public speaking, smoking, carrying excess weight, even things such as limps and tics — are all creative solutions that your subconscious mind came up with to fill a deeply felt need.
And there is nothing wrong with the need itself.
Using hypnosis and NLP, we can uncover the need and because the subconscious mind is ultimately creative, engage it in the process of finding a new way of meeting that need, a new solution. And this time, because we’re creating that solution with intention, we can create a solution that doesn’t accidentally cause more problems.
Let’s just take the example of fear of public speaking, since I see so much of it. It’s the number one fear in America. If you have this fear, you’re in good company! I know you hate the fear, but the fear is a solution — it’s your subconscious mind trying to help you. There is no “self sabotage,” no “enemy within.”
Your subconscious really is NOT trying to set you up so that you forget everything you want to say and look and feel like a fool.
Your subconscious doesn’t want that for you at all. It wants you to be safe and to maintain your social status. It’s trying to do that by creating such a fear state that you avoid giving talks and presentations altogether. It’s underlying intentions for you are purely positive. But it’s going about it in a crude way. It is functioning with the understanding and emotions of a child. It doesn’t do any good to tell your subconscious, “look here, this is simply the way it is. We have to give talks and run meetings as part of this job so you’d better just get over this fear.”
That doesn’t work, does it? And if you do have a fear of public speaking and you’re reading this, you know it doesn’t work because of course you’ve tried that. That’s like, step one in a long dance with that fear.
But what happens when you accept that the symptom (the fear) is actually a creative solution (to keep you away from a perceived threat) based on a positive underlying intention (to maintain your social status)? Then we can approach the subconscious mind differently, as an ally to help us to create a different solution that actually has better outcomes all around.
In order to do that we actually need to move INTO the negative feeling, to move past it to find the positive underlying intention and engage the creative subconscious in creating a new, more acceptable solution.
But moving into a negative feeling is very counterintuitive to our instincts, and so most people continue to use some form of resistance to the feeling — avoiding situations that cause it, wishing it would go away, mentally “pushing back” on the feeling, or trying to “get through it” or “overcome it.” All of which simply keeps the response going; it hooks the negative feelings back in. And because one of the basic functions of the mind is to generalize learning, we find that the fear which may have begun with one type of speaking situation, starts to creep into other situations as well. The fear grows and expands and pretty soon you find yourself painted into a corner where more and more situations trigger the fear, and then you find yourself triggered by the fear of the fear happening.
This generalizing process happens regardless of what your symptom is. Fear of public speaking, nail biting, eating in response to stress, fear of driving, etc., etc.
Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst of the last century, stated, “what you resist not only persists, but grows in size.” (Nowadays that often gets paraphrased as “that which we resist, persists.”) But the “grows in size” part is really important. This is the generalization of the learning process.
So in short, if you continue to try various ways of resisting the symptom (whether it’s fear of public speaking or nail biting or whatever) you will just keep getting more and more of the symptom, in more and more areas of your life. Maybe you’re already experiencing this and if you are, just know that that’s totally normal.
The counterintuitive solution is to stop resisting, recognize the positive underlying intention that created the symptom, and engage the subconscious mind as an ally to create a new solution that does not have the negative side effects (raggedy nails, inability to speak well in public, etc.).
While I can’t take you completely through a client journey through this process in this short article, here is a shortened explanation of how this approach works.
Again, looking at fear of public speaking as an example, the underlying intention is to stay safe. The subconscious is childlike in going for the first and easiest way to do that — avoid the situation. Unfortunately in this modern world that isn’t always possible. And even if it were, that solution doesn’t really lead you to a fuller appreciation of what you’re capable of. But there are other ways to stay safe and maintain (even enhance!) your social status (and self appreciation!) with regard to giving presentations.
For example, bringing other internal resources into the situation changes your response. Using hypnosis and NLP we can bring in resources that are either latent within you, or that you already experience in other areas of your life — confidence, calmness, thoughtfulness, etc. With these new/additional resources working for you, the outcome of the experience becomes very different and much better.
Modeling is another way to facilitate this change process. Clearly, other people, even people you know, give presentations and they are not only not socially damaged by it, their reputation is even enhanced, and they are appreciated and respected for it. We use modeling, another NLP process, to help your subconscious mind understand that it is not that the situation is inherently dangerous, but rather the past approach to the situation has created the problem. And in modeling the subconscious mind is able to take on the resources of that “ideal” person and use them as your own.
Circle Therapy is a technique I use to powerfully move into the old feeling and replace it, based on the positive underlying intention (to be safe and maintain respect in the case of public speaking).
And there are other techniques that may be incorporated in a series of client appointments, such as Parts Therapy, NLP’s Visual Squash, the “down and through the feeling” technique, and more, but the principle behind the technique is always the same:
- there is nothing wrong with you;
- there is a positive underlying intention/need that is being met;
- your subconscious mind created your response (nail biting, fear, whatever) as a solution to meet that need;
- your creative subconscious mind can, with guidance, create a new solution that is better all around.
The end result is that where in the past there was a fear, now there is a sense of calmness and confidence. And that new solution – being calm and confident – actually meets the underlying need BETTER than the fear because now you’re getting both internal and often times external validation that you are appreciated and respected for how you deliver a talk, or run a meeting.
Or where in the past there was nail biting (often a stress relief strategy) now there is a behavior in place that relieves stress WITHOUT creating more stress, and the internal validation that “my nails look good,” which often gets noticed by others, too, layering even more reinforcement for using the new solution (often times a deep, stress releasing breath that people don’t even notice they’re doing once the solution is in place).
Of course this principle is not just for fear of public speaking and nail biting. This is an underlying principle that guides ALL of the client work we do, regardless of the issue you’re working with.
In choosing a hypnotist to work with, it’s important, then, to choose one that understands and incorporates these underlying principles, because this gives that hypnotist / hypnotherapist so much more flexibility in working with each individual who comes through the door. That flexibility is one of the keys to creating success with every client. The hypnotist who has only been trained to use certain set of scripts and techniques without understanding why those work when they work, runs out of options when client responses don’t follow a pretty standard path. And because we’re all individuals, the “standard path” doesn’t actually show up all that often!
We LOVE taking people on this journey. There is so much self discovery as part of this process. Not only do clients achieve their goals of “getting rid” of their unwanted behaviors, they learn about and develop a deeper appreciation of their deeper selves, too!