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THE CONDITIONS OF ABNORMAL SUGGESTIBILITY
THE great type of abnormal suggestibility is the hypnotic state; so much so that the Nancy school defines hypnosis as a state of heightened suggestibility. The conditions of abnormal suggestibility are, in fact, those of hypnosis. What are they?
1. The first and foremost is that of fixation of the attention. Thus Braid used to hypnotize his subjects by fixing their attention on some brilliant object or point. He considered a steady attention indispensable if hypnosis were to be attained; the subject must look steadily at the object, he must only think of the thing he was fixing, and must not allow his attention to be diverted from it. Of such permanent importance is fixation of attention that, according to Braid, if only this condition is observed one can hypnotize even in the dark. The ability to direct one's thoughts in any particular direction is very favourable to hypnosis. Those who can by no possibility fix their attention, who suffer from continual absence of mind, or those who are helplessly stupid and lacking the power of concentration, are not hypnotizable. I find in my notes the case of an extremely stupid young boy of sixteen who, on account of lack of concentration of mind, is unable to solve the most elementary arithmetical problem. I foretold that he would be unhypnotizable (of course I did not tell that to him). Although I hypnotized in his presence three good subjects, he remained refractory. I tried all kinds of methods I could think of; the last one was that of Braid. For more than twenty minutes he fixed an object, his eyes being converged in the most orthodox fashion, inward and upward; tears were trickling down his cheeks, but he remained unaffected, and for the simple reason that his attention was not kept steady―it was roving and wandering all the while. All methods of hypnotization require fixation of attention as their indispensable condition. The adherents of the Salpêtrière school frequently hypnotize by fixing the subject's attention on the expectation of some sudden brilliant ray of light meant to induce the hypnotic state. The followers of the Nancy school fix the attention of the subject on the two fingers held before his eyes and on the sounds of suggestion given by the operator. "I hold two fingers," says Bernheim,1 "before the patient's eyes and ask him to concentrate his attention on the idea of sleep." The efficacy of mesmeric passes is also due to the fixation of attention, for by those means the whole attention of the subject is directed to the particular place where the passes are made. "Let anyone," says Dr. Moll,2 "allow his arm or his leg to be mesmerized by passes, and he will find that his whole attention is directed to this part of his body, and much more strongly than if his attention was concentrated on the limb in another manner." "Die Hauptsache ist," Lehmann3 tells us, "dass in der Hypnose die Aufmerksamkeit in einer bestimmten Richtung gebunden ist." This is not exactly true of the hypnotic state itself, but it holds true with regard to the induction of hypnosis. "Children under three and four and insane persons, especially idiots, are unusually hard to hypnotize," says Prof. James.4 "This seems due to the impossibility of getting them to fix their attention continually on the idea of the coming trance." Prof. James seems to me to have hit the mark when he tells us that the concentration of attention on the coming trance induces hypnosis. In short, fixation of attention is an indispensable condition of hypnosis.
2. Monotony of impressions is another condition of the hypnotic state. If you want to hypnotize a subject, especially if it is for the first time, you must put him into a monotonous environment. You must prevent fresh, new impressions from reaching the sensorium of the subject. Whatever your mode of hypnotization may be, it must always be of the same kind. This might be effected by a strong stimulus acting for a moment or two, or, what is far more often the case, by a prolonged monotonous series of slight stimuli. Thus Binet5 tells us that "slight and prolonged stimuli of the same nature" constitute one of the modes of producing the hypnotic state. Bernheim6 expresses himself on this point more clearly: "Let us add," he says, "that in the majority of the cases the monotonous, wearying, and continuous impression of one of the senses produce a certain intellectual drowsiness, the prelude of sleep. The mind, entirely absorbed by a quiet, uniform, and incessant perception, becomes foreign to all other impressions; it is too feebly stimulated, and allows itself to become dull." This condition of monotony is very clearly seen in the case of the Nancy method of hypnotization. The operator suggests in so many words the same idea of going to sleep: "Your eyelids are heavy; your eyes are tired; they begin to wink; you feel a sort of drowsiness; your arms and legs are motionless; sleep is coming; sleep——." My mode of hypnotization consists in forming a monotonous environment; the light is lowered, and a profound silence reigns in the room; then gently and monotonously stroking the skin of the subject's forehead, and in a low, muffled, monotonous voice, as if rocking a baby to sleep, I go on repeating, "Sleep, sleep, sleep," etc., until the subject falls into the hypnotic state.
3. Limitation of voluntary movements is also one of the conditions of inducing hypnosis. The subject sits down on a chair in a comfortable position, and is asked to relax his muscles and make as few movements as possible―to keep as quiet as a mouse, This condition is, in fact, supplementary to that of fixation of attention, for many different movements strongly interfere with the steadiness of the attention. The attention changes, oscillates in different directions, and the induction of hypnosis is rendered impossible. Dr. Moll7 says that "fascination is induced by limitation of voluntary movements." This is no doubt perfectly true, only Dr. Moll ought not to limit it to "fascination" alone, for limitation of voluntary movements is one of the principal conditions of inducing hypnosis in general.
4. Limitation of the field of consciousness must certainly be included among the conditions of inducing hypnosis. The consciousness of the subject must be narrowed to one idea of sleep. "I endeavour," says Braid in his Neurypnology, "to rid the mind at once of all ideas but one." Wundt defines the very nature of hypnosis as limitation of the field of consciousness, and to a certain extent he is justified in his assertion, seeing that all the methods of hypnotization turn on it as on a pivot. Thus the method of Braid narrows the field of consciousness to a brilliant point, that of mesmerism to the passes, that of the Nancy school to the tips of the fingers held out before the subject, or to the one idea of expectation of sleep. To induce hypnosis we must in some way or other effect such a limitation.
We know that a strange emotion narrows down the field of consciousness. We often find that people under the emotion of intense excitement lose, so to say, their senses; their mind seems to be paralyzed, or rather, so to say, the one idea that produces the excitement banishes all other ideas, and a state of monoideism, or concentration of the consciousness, is thus effected. People are frequently run over by carriages, cars, or trains on account of the sudden great fright caused. The one idea of danger reverberates in the mind like a sudden powerful clap of thunder, confusing and stunning all other ideas; the mind is brought into a contracted cataleptic condition, and the field of consciousness is narrowed down to that one idea, to a single point. Now, we find that the hypnotic trance can also be induced by a strong and sudden stimulus acting on the sense organ. "Hypnotization," says Binet,8 "can be produced by strong and sudden excitement of the senses." This mode of hypnotization may be successful with people of an intensely emotional nature or with hysterical subjects. A strong, sudden stimulus acts on them like a thunderclap, contracts their field of consciousness, and throws them into a hypnotic state. On the whole, we may say that limitation of the field of consciousness is one of the most important conditions of hypnotic trance.
5. The hypnotic trance, again, can not be induced without the condition of inhibition. The subject must inhibit all ideas, all images that come up before his mind. He must only think of the brilliant point, of the tips of the hypnotizer's fingers, of the passes, of the idea of going to sleep. "Look at me and think of nothing but sleep," tells Bernheim to his patients. "Make your mind a blank," is one of the conditions required by the hypnotizer of his subjects. Concentration of attention and limitation of the field of consciousness are, in fact, impossible without the presence of this condition of inhibition. The case of the boy mentioned above, who could not be hypnotized because his attention was roaming, because he was unable to concentrate his mind, was in reality due to the fact of lacking the power of inhibition. Inhibition, voluntary or involuntary, is an indispensable condition of hypnosis.
To make a synopsis of the conditions of hypnosis, or, what is the same, of abnormal suggestibility:
1. Fixation of attention.
3. Limitation of voluntary movements.
4. Limitation of the field of consciousness.