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Close your eyes and visualize…
I recently wrote about meditation with aphantasia. Specifically, how guided meditation can exacerbate the (sometimes subliminal) states of confusion, frustration, shame, and inadequacy aphantasics feel when asked to visualize, which is how most guided meditations begin. My experience with hypnosis was annoyingly similar. Now… if you will… imagine a wave of relaxation washing over your body, loosening every nerve and muscle, and read on as I lead you through my journey of hypnosis with aphantasia. 😏
Guided mediation vs hypnosis
Guided meditation and hypnosis are very similar in that you are attempting to achieve a very deep state of relaxation using voice instruction. Here is an excerpt from a recent article I found on guidedmind.com, explaining the difference between guided meditation, and hypnosis:
Guided meditation is when a narrator guides you through a scene in your mind to specifically act upon a desired outcome in your life.
The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as a cooperative interaction in which the participant responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist.
Unlike meditation, the deeply calm state attained during hypnosis is punctuated by questions from the hypnotherapist, to which the patient/client responds, with a potential for therapeutic suggestion by the hypnotherapist, in order to achieve a goal.
I’ve done practitioner-led (versus self-) hypnosis three times in my life. Once as a therapy to curtail a compulsive habit, and two other times for early-life regression to see if we could learn the cause of my panic attacks.
Learning to be hypnotized
As with guided meditation, each of my experiences with hypnosis began with the practitioner instructing me to – close your eyes and visualize… Ugh. Right away, a non-starter. The sessions geared towards my compulsive habit, which I attended in early 2000, were not successful. I was frustrated by the process and only attended a few sessions. I still wrestle with this habit today. For the sessions exploring early-life regression, I had one in the mid-80’s – which is difficult to recall given it was thirty years ago, though I do remember leaving the session before it concluded and not wanting to go back – and another (virtually) this past March 2021, which was more successful.
With my eyes closed and in a deeply calm state, the practitioner started by asking me to visualize myself sitting in my chair from the opposite side of the room. I told her I couldn’t do this because, while I could remember how the room and the chair looked, I had never seen myself in the chair and so, could not even use memory as an aid. She asked me if I could imagine myself floating. Just floating. I said yes. (I recently learned that the ability to do this may be associated with motor imagery, something not everybody can do).
Okay. So now I’m floating.
She asked if I could float very high in the sky and try to imagine a small timeline track on the ground below. This timeline track would represent my life upon which I would travel back and forth in search of pertinent memories. I was meant to float downwards to essentially zoom in on a chunk of time on the timeline track to explore a memory, with the immediate ability to zoom out and away from any memories that might cause me grief.
No, I couldn’t see the timeline track, which she already knew because right away, she asked if I could “pretend” to see the timeline track based on memories I have of an ordinary train track as seen from the air, from a helicopter or a plane. This surprised me. Previous hypnotherapists hadn’t used this “pretend” approach.
Yes, I could pretend to see a train track.
Using my ability to imagine myself floating, my memory of how a train track looked from the air, along with a memory of how it felt to actually ride a train, I was able to perceive myself moving along the timeline track, floating up and down as the situation required. With this perception approach, versus the traditional visualization approach, she was able to take me backwards in time where I recalled a series of events in my childhood – events that I thought were separate when, in fact, had all happened on the same disturbing night (later corroborated by my siblings and father) – that provided a very plausible explanation for the onset of my panic attacks. This pretend-and-perceive approach, as I call it, was more work but in the end, we achieved my goal.
Hypnosis with aphantasia
I decided to try a guided, past-life regression self-hypnosis session on YouTube, which, you guessed it, began with a visualization. Again, suspending whether you believe in hypnosis or not, and, suspending whether or not you believe in past lives, I first became deeply relaxed then, using the pretend-and-perceive method, I was able to achieve my hypnosis goal.
As someone with aphantasia, I have learned to adapt, bending my capabilities in imaginative ways to service the situation at hand – meditation or hypnosis – which I realize I have been doing my entire life. I am a writer, and though I have aphantasia, I can still perceive a wondrous world of possibilities, write them down, and tell fanciful, imaginative tales. People with aphantasia aren’t limited. We’re limitless.