Thursday, January 28, 2016

Am I Suggestible...Or Just Gullible?

Many years ago, someone told me that she would happily give someone the benefit of the doubt and to believe what another person was telling her to be true until that “fact” was called into question. Her implicit trust impressed me—especially since this statement was made around the time that The X-Files was at the height of its popularity. During the late 1990s, just about everyone I knew kept reciting the series’ famous tagline: “Trust no one.” Some mutual friends liked to tease her for this gullibility, but I respected her open-mindedness. It’s a lonely world to question, doubt and double-think everything that somebody tells you. When I started my hypnotherapy certification at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2004, I learned that gullibility is really just a disparaging description of suggestibility. Furthermore, we are all probably susceptible to being led down that too-good-to-be-true rosy path to some extent, at some point during our lives.

John Kappas, Ph.D., a psychologist and founder of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, described suggestibility in terms of how a person learns. It develops between when we are born through the first eight or so years of life, through interactions with the primary caretaker (usually, mother). If Mom’s communications were typically direct and literal—i.e., “I say what I mean and I mean what I say”—you’re more likely to take other people at their word because that is how you were taught/learned to communicate. This is type of communication and understanding is a hallmark of Physical Suggestibility. Conversely, someone whose caregiver who did not always follow through or support her words with congruent actions is more likely to always wonder if there is a hidden meaning behind what was said. For example: Mom tells you to finish your homework before you’re allowed to play with your friends but eventually she gives in to your begging and whining and allows you to play first (for just a little while). In this case, you also rely on the speaker’s tone of voice and context of the communication/action to infer the meaning behind her words: She “said” I can’t go play but she just pointed to the door and indicated I should leave the house. The comparative ambiguity of this communication creates Emotional Suggestibility.

Now, as very young children, most of us are taught at a very young age to listen to and respect adults and to always tell the truth (not lie). This is all well and good until the first time an older relative comes to visit at the holidays and teases or pranks you. Deep down, you know that Mom has only run out to the market to pick up some ingredients for the meal; but your grandparent or an older cousin tells you (smiling) that mom has actually gone away on a trip without you. You have been taught to trust and believe grown-ups—and you basically do—until Mom saunters back into the house with an armful of groceries and you realize that you have been “had.” Where does that trusting instinct go from here?

Our suggestibility will continue to be challenged throughout our lifetime. Often, this happens willingly (with our permission), such as when we suspend our disbelief about a plot-twist while watching a movie or reading a book, or even when we go shopping for groceries or clothes. Yes, I really do want to buy that chocolate cake/those Jimmy Choo stilettos; I just “need” someone to persuade me to give into that whim. When we are engrossed in a thrilling story or interacting with a highly motivated salesperson, it is even more difficult to be skeptical and overcome the power of the hypnotic modalities that increase our suggestibility in the first place.

Someone who is ready and willing to believe anything and everything probably possess a somnambulist suggestibility and go through most days in hypnosis. (The friend I described at the beginning of this essay probably fit this description.) As I explained in a previous blog, it is not uncommon for me to have to de-hypnotize a client before we can work on the issue the person wanted to address. This technique is also effective for increasing our critical thinking, logic and reasoning faculties in the conscious mind that enable us to resist and/or avoid the temptations to which our suggestibility can make us vulnerable.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit 

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