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Is This Hypnotic Language Pattern Sabotaging Your Communication?

When you think of hypnosis, your mind might generate an image of a specialist dangling a pocket clock in front of a person’s eyes. You might also think of it as a strategy for accessing the unconscious via relaxation.

While hypnosis may involve both, these assumptions also distract from the inseparability of hypnosis and persuasive communication.

The language patterns that make hypnosis mesmerizing haunt everyday conversation. They infiltrate your conversations with others and the stories you tell yourself.

Hypnotic language patterns make unconscious imprints onto the psyche without a subject’s conscious awareness. This is what makes them powerful. Likewise, good writing or good music is effective to the degree that it is hypnotic. However, for this reason, it’s also easy to adopt the habit of using these patterns against yourself or against the people you love.

The language pattern most often at the root of conflict? The complex equivalent.

Why Are Complex Equivalents Hypnotic?

Psychologist Milton H. Erickson is the father of indirect suggestions, also known as Ericksonian language patterns or hypnotic language patterns.

Milton used language with the intent of penetrating beyond his clients’ conscious thinking machinery and into their subconscious minds.

A description of all the hypnotic patterns is a subject for another article. However, the underlying thread throughout these patterns is this: to even process the meaning of a hypnotic pattern, you have to first accept it as true. In other words, the cognitive process you undergo to interpret the statement requires an acceptance of it.

A complex equivalent occurs when you imply that one statement means another. The complex equivalent, like all hypnotic patterns, is especially potent when it begins with an action or state of being that is verifiable through the senses.

Some examples:

You’re reading this article, so that means I’m a fascinating writer.

You’re switching between skimming and careful reading, so these patterns must be sinking deep within your psyche.

As you can see, these meanings don’t necessarily logically follow — they’re connected by personal implication or causation.

Complex equivalents are probably common in your conversations with others as well as with yourself. You might not even notice you’re using them. They can masquerade as non-negotiable truths, not because of their integrity but because of their structure! Insidious, right? This is what happens, for instance, when people take rejections or arguments personally. You might think, “If that editor didn’t accept my writing, they must think it’s low quality.” Or “That person doesn’t agree with me, so clearly their thought processes are flawed.”

These assumptions can run our lives. We think they’re pointing toward some solid, unchangeable recognition about ourselves or about the world. We remain unaware that it’s not the content of the statement that’s convinced us. Rather it’s the pattern or the structure of the assertion making it stick.

This is why better relationships often start with a recognition of where you’re using complex equivalents. Why? It’s rare to become upset because of an action by itself. Your friends or family members’ actions don’t necessarily anger you. The anger stems from what those actions symbolize or imply.

Without recognizing your interpretations as complex equivalents, you’ll see your feelings as sacred harbingers of truth. This is reactivity at its root.

How to Recognize the Hypnotic Patterns That Run Your Thinking

Recognizing the ubiquity of complex equivalents can help you unhook from trauma-based patterns of thought. This recognition is liberating because it provides fresh angles for understanding how you form perspectives. These considerations also offer insights into the integrity of your decision-making or assumptive tendencies.

The truth is this: many of your interpretations are built on projections. Understanding this allows you to ask questions and engage with reality as it currently is rather than how your fears portray it to be. Interestingly, the difference between your mind and reality itself often lies in subtleties in language.

Practically, this can mean simply asking a person why they didn’t reply to your text message or come to your birthday celebration rather than simply assuming a meaning.

Awareness Opens the Door to Freedom

Like meditation, simply being aware of the existence of this pattern is often enough to inspire change. Think about the difference between someone who has never meditated vs. someone well aware of the practice.

Many people spend entire lives thinking without knowing they’re thinking. They don’t know there’s an alternative: being aware of the constant arising and passing of thoughts. They assume who they are is indistinguishable from their anger, sadness, or excitement. Yet once these people practice meditation, these emotions reveal themselves as mere objects in a larger field of consciousness.

The identification of the hypnotic language patterns that govern your thoughts works similarly. There are architectures of thought that, by their very nature, penetrate their flags more deeply your psyche. Knowing this, it’s easier to analyze the truth of a statement apart from how it’s presented. Recognizing complex equivalents lets you directly engage with reality rather than interpreting its appearance through wounded eyes.

Language is a double-edged sword. While it forms the basis of our conception of reality, it’s also a mirage. Language gestures toward reality, indeed, but it’s not reality itself.

Through the lens of complex equivalents, you’re being invited to see language as a bridge, not a destination. Seeing the hypnotic patterns or indirect suggestions governing your thinking opens the door to a more expansive view of reality — one that is run not by appearance but by presence and careful inspection.

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