Fraud or Fantasy?

A reader emails about her friend who is divorced from a man who was not a nice person. She enjoys being with her new boyfriend because he is kind to her. However, the reader’s friend confides in her that her boyfriend has been teaching her hypnosis. Apparently he ‘puts her under’ (she fakes it) and then touches her inappropriately, thinking she is in some sort of trance. They do not have any physical relationship otherwise, so she pretends so they can. The reader asks what’s worse: Her lying and pretending to be under hypnosis, or his taking advantage (or thinking he is) when he thinks she’s under?

You can paint whatever sordid scenario you want to, but it all comes down to this: Lies beget lies, and fraud begets fraud. Dear reader, they’re both wrong!

Almost a quarter-century of clinical experience has convinced me that hypnosis — as it’s usually understood — is a fraud. I’ve explored the topic in research and coursework, and what I learned is that there’s no such thing as being “put in a trance” as is commonly understood. Honest hypnotherapists will tell you that the process is, in fact, an attempt to induce a relaxed state of consciousness in which you can better introspect, self-reflect and possibly change behaviors like smoking or drinking. This is certainly worthwhile, although I’m not convinced it leads to very much. The only positive feedback I’ve heard is about temporary attempts to stop smoking after a few sessions.

The notion that somebody can force you to do bizarre things, or things against your will, is a myth. The power of suggestion may be real, but any suggestion is ultimately self-suggestion. Some of us surrender to others, but only if we consent to it. Nobody can literally get into our minds and control what we think. (There’s certainly no shortage of people who’d like to try, but that’s a separate discussion.)

You might go to a hypnotherapist, or even a psychotherapist, and talk about your desire to quit smoking, for example. Discussing it objectively and giving it greater visibility may well help you achieve the behavioral change you seek, but it’s only because you were already convinced that change was desirable and possible.

Professional hypnotherapy is completely different from stage hypnosis for entertainment. The fraud on stage lies not in its entertainment value, but in the pretense that it’s something real. That’s why I’m suggesting your friend’s boyfriend is a fraud. He’s using something which is appropriate in an entertainment context in a context of romantic intimacy. Your ‘hypnotized’ friend feeds the fraud and makes it worse by going along with it, and pretending she’s under his ‘spell.’

Of course, everything here rests on the assumption that both of them are serious about what they’re doing. Is that really the case? It might not be. Some couples make fantasy a part of their sexual lives as innocent entertainment in the privacy of their sex lives. Maybe that’s what these two are doing. It might even heighten her fantasy to tell you about it and have you take it seriously. I don’t know her, so I can’t speculate. I’ll leave that to you.

You implied in your question that your friend has issues. Less relevant than the fact that her former husband was a narcissistic type is the fact that she may have enjoyed the way he treated her. Look at the situation: She clearly enjoys the illusion of being controlled by her current romantic partner. Of course, outside of the bedroom, he treats her kindly, which I assume means not in a controlling way. Perhaps she has moved from her dysfunctional former marriage (which was real) to one that exists only in fantasy. I guess we could call that progress. But we should both leave that speculation up to her.