Through Imaging and Self-Hypnosis
Nancy J. Napier
(Previously Recreating Your Self: Help for Adult Children
of Dysfunctional Families)
1: Can the Self be Recreated?
2 :Early Learnings: Laying the Foundation
3: Self-Hypnosis: A Technology for Change
4: The Self: Parts or Wholes?
5: The Future Self
6: The Child Within: Reclaiming the Self
7: Bonding with the Infant
and Healing the Shamed Child
8: The Power of Family Myths
9: Giving Back Hand-Me-Downs
10: Manifesting a New You
have a love affair going on with the unconscious. I admit
it. I also have an underlying faith in the unconscious as
a creative resource, a friend who is always looking
out for me, even if at times it uses old or outmoded strategies
to keep me safe.
The approach encompassed
in this book has emerged and evolved from my own process,
both as a client and as a psychotherapist. As a client, I
have made a long journey from experiencing life as a wounded,
unevolved "child in an adultās body" to being a
healthier, more empowered person in my own right. As a clinician,
I have made an equally long journey of discovery, theoretically
and practically, to find ways to help others heal their own
Most influential in my journey
as a psychotherapist have been my training and work with Ericksonian
hypnosis and an interest in the concepts encompassed by the
maturing field of self psychology. As an individual, what
has been most important in my development is a long-held fascination
with, and exploration of, human consciousness, particularly
the realms of intuition and nonrational ways of knowing. I
see the most promising and intriguing "new frontier"
as the inner space of human consciousness rather than the
outer reaches of the astronomical universe.
In this book, I will share
with you some of the exciting, inspiring things I have encountered
as I have explored the tremendous potential of the unconscious
ö a potential that resides in all of us. It encompasses an
inherent talent to express ourselves in creative and surprising
ways. I will also share with you some of my own healing journey
and that taken by my clients, workshop participants, and members
of my self-hypnosis groups.
Examples drawn from my own
life will be presented as they actually were experienced.
The client stories I share here, though, are composites: none
is exactly as it happened in sessions. In fact, any resemblance
to actual people is purely coincidental. The cases presented
represent common issues and descriptions derived from many
hours of hypnotic work with individuals and groups, rather
than specific instances from specific client work. And yet,
it is only through the rich variety of experiences of real
people dealing with real issues ö and through their generosity
ö that any of this is possible.
Underlying the ideas and
cases shared in this book is an assumption that the unconscious
has the capacity to draw on a deep well of inner resources.
These resources operate to promote a healing, integrative
journey of reclaiming the wounded child within from the past
and recreating the self in the present. Taking this journey
evokes the potential for an internal, ongoing experience of
"selfhood," which is both empowering and satisfying.
Every one of us has a right to achieve this, and yet, we often
find ourselves thrown off track by wounds that were inflicted
early in life.
The process of reclaiming
the child within and recreating the self is undertaken with
the firm belief that we humans are surprisingly resilient:
the seeds of our potential to be whole, creative, and comfortable
are ever-present. What these seeds need is a supportive internal
environment in which they can generate.
The promise of change can
be found, also, in a challenge that awaits us everyday, if
we choose to meet it. Life experiences constantly invite us
to let in new information and create new concepts about ourselves
and the world, and to try out new responses and risk new behaviors.
We are also given an opportunity to let go of once cherished
beliefs, after they have served their purpose.
As this book has evolved,
the same challenge has emerged for me. As a clinician, I have
moved through phases of theoretical understanding, beginning
with training in psychoanalytic approaches and evolving through
cognitive and systems therapies. Included has been a long-standing
interest in transpersonal psychology. As I look back over
the last 15 years, I can see how some of my dearly held convictions
have changed as new information has become available. At times,
it was hard to shift my perspective on how people heal and
what to emphasize in the therapy process. At other times,
letting go was easy, as new information was more compelling
and immediately useful.
And so, the ideas presented
in this book have continued to evolve for me, even as I wrote
them. In psychology, as in other disciplines, new challenges
constantly arise and new solutions inevitably emerge. It is
for this reason that some of what is offered here will look
different to you, and to me, after the passage of time and
experience. Thatās fine. Itās the way things are, the way
the mind inevitably moves on to new understandings when life
presents new experience. It is my hope that, as you read what
is contained here, you will also allow your ideas to develop
along lines you may not have expected. Itās all part of the
ongoing process of recreating yourself in better and more
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the Self be Recreated?
once said that it is amazing we survive growing up in families.
Although this may seem like a strange statement on the face
of it, if you think about the current revelations about child
abuse, there does appear to be reason for concern about how
we make it from here to there ö from childhood to adulthood
ö in a reasonably healthy and functional way. Often, as I
am walking to and from my office, I look at the many windows
in the tall apartment buildings along the way and I wonder.
I wonder what is happening inside those apartments, behind
those outer walls. I wonder who is being terrorized. I wonder
who is being berated verbally. I also wonder who is having
a wonderful birthday party or getting ready for a delicious
trip somewhere special. It is impossible to say what is really
going on behind those walls. As I listen to clients in my
office, I hear life stories that seem so very benign on the
outside but, behind the walls of another time and another
place, they are stories of terror and abuse.
In my work as a clinician,
I have had the privilege and the heart-wrenching honor to
share with many people the stories of their struggles in the
journey from childhood to adulthood. I have also had the opportunity
to participate in the discovery of healthy, creative, expressive
selves, waiting deep inside for the proper environment of
safety and respect to begin to emerge.
Much of this book will,
by necessity, focus on healing the wounded child each of us
carries inside. It will also look at family patterns of intimacy,
family myths, family values and expectations that comprise
the fabric of understanding that each child creates while
growing up. These family "heirlooms" are powerful
unconscious elements and play a significant part in shaping
our view of the world and or place in it.
Even with an emphasis on
healing the wounded child, there will be ample space given
to the considerable resources we each bring to the
process. No one is only a wounded person. The unconscious
of each of us contains, at the very least, an inherent urge
to be healthy and well. This urge is transformed into active
participation when a context is created in which we are willing
to listen to ourselves in a new way and discover parts of
ourselves that we may not have guessed are available to us
Some of these parts may
be familiar to you from approaches such as psychosynthesis
and gestalt therapy. They comprise the parts of the self that
function as guide, wise person, protector ö and many more.
We will spend some time exploring the important concept of
"ego states," those parts that developed when you
were young to keep you safe and alive psychologically and
physically. Also, we will focus on aspects of the self that
may be new to you ö particularly the future self. These are
parts of you from beyond your current timeframe, from a time
yet to come. These are the parts of you that have achieved
already the things you seek, and they become important resources
in the process of healing the wounded child and empowering
you in your current life.
To make sense of these and
other concepts Iāll be presenting, let me first share with
you my current view of the unconscious. I say "current
view" because when you explore a new frontier things
are always changing as unexpected discoveries are made. I
expect my perspective on the unconscious to keep evolving
and changing as this fascinating terrain reveals more of itself.
If necessary, feel free
to suspend any disbelief you may experience as we make this
journey together. Ultimately, what is useful will make sense
to you. The rest can just become something curious you thought
about one time and then tucked away in that place of forgetting
that seems to have all the room it needs to store seemingly
non-essential pieces of learning that might be useful someday.
is the Unconscious?
First, I want to define for
you what I mean by "unconscious." For me, the unconscious
is the sum total of human consciousness that operates outside
the linear, concrete day-to-day awareness we use to write
a check or add up a series of numbers. I find it difficult
to draw a distinction between conscious and unconscious, because
Iām not really sure where one begins and the other ends.
In hypnosis, we talk of
going into a trance state and entering a realm of experience
that is generally outside conscious awareness. Unconscious
awareness seems a contradiction in terms; however, it is a
valid and viable kind of knowing that often finds its way
into conscious awareness through sudden insights, dreams,
flashes or recognition. Ultimately, we need the "conscious"
mind ö the rational, linear part ö to translate the unconscious
and make useful sense of it.
Itās rather like the right
brain/left brain concept. We now know there is not such a
definitive distinction as a left brain that is logical and
a right brain that is illogical. In the whole brain, right
and left share many similarities, with a bias towards verbal
functioning in the left hemisphere and nonverbal functions
in the right. Where one leaves off and the other begins is
not clearly defined; that is true of conscious/unconscious
functioning as well.
For me, the unconscious
includes all we have ever learned and then forgotten, all
that is stored away for future use. It encompasses unresolved
conflicts and unrealized wishes. It reaches into realms of
awareness called transpersonal and paranormal.
It is the source of those creative breakthroughs and inspirations
that become peak experiences and the seeds of new awareness.
It is the repository of things positive and negative. Most
of all, the unconscious is our ally and protector ö always
seeking the best for us, even if sometimes misperceiving how
to go about doing that.
In terms of how the unconscious
becomes conscious, think of a prism. When no light is shining
through the prism, what you see is glass, with no color at
all. When light is shown through one of the facets of a prism,
the colors are suddenly visible. They have been there all
along but not in a way you could perceive them.
Or, think of a radio. Even
though you re tuned to a particular station, that doesnāt
mean the others arenāt still there, playing on frequencies
that are all around you, passing through your body. You are
just not tuned in to them. You can change the station or turn
the radio off and all those frequencies still exist.
Itās the same with your conscious awareness. It is tuned to
one station at a time, in a linear fashion, but the unconscious
is there, operating fully, even though it is outside conscious
awareness. Dreams are like a sleep-snooze alarm. You have
turned off the radio ö your conscious mind ö and the unconscious
wakes you up with a dream, turning on that awareness again.
So, when I say "unconscious"
I mean a sum total of all the levels of your consciousness
ö whether you are aware of them or not. And I mean the positive
and seemingly negative, constructive and seemingly destructive
elements of that consciousness. I say "seemingly"
before negative and destructive because it has been my experience
that unconscious impulses are often misdirected, intending
to be of help but not knowing how.
My approach to accessing
the unconscious draws heavily on the hypnotic techniques of
Milton Erickson. This method of hypnosis has gained tremendous
popularity in therapy circles in the past 10 years. One of
the main things that originally attracted me to Ericksonian
hypnosis was that, using this hypnotic approach, there is
no right way to have a trance experience. There are as many
ways as there are people. Accepting each individualās unique
trance abilities can convey a powerfully affirming message.
In this approach, the conscious mind becomes a translator
of the underlying activity of healing that the unconscious
sets in motion in response to trance work ö healing that may
only become apparent, consciously, long after the unconscious
has received suggestions for change.
I value the conscious mind
as the means by which unconscious resources can be brought
into awareness. Such awareness is not always essential, however.
You didnāt learn to walk because you understood, consciously,
about walking. You learned to walk because you followed your
bodyās unconscious impulses.
This kind of learning reminds
me of the story of the frog and the centipede. One day, a
frog was sitting on a lily pad in the middle of his favorite
pond. Along the shore came a centipede, walking rapidly on
all his hundred legs. Curious, the frog said, "Hey! How
do you get all those legs to work all at once without tripping?
It seems like a complicated business to me." The centipede
stopped in his tracks and said, "I donāt really know,
now that you mention it. Let me think about it." As he
was thinking, the centipede began to walk again. Much to his
astonishment, he fell flat on his face!
And so, your unconscious
takes care of some things a lot better than your conscious
mind can. When you learned to read, you used the conscious
mind to feed information into the unconscious. It was in your
unconscious, though, that those three lines that looked like
a teepee suddenly came together as the letter A. It was your
unconscious that understood, all of a sudden, that the two
bumps and a line were the letter B, and the half circle was
the letter C.
You can trust your ability
to learn unconsciously and discover those times when itās
just as well to leave the unconscious to its own devices and
keep your conscious mind out of the way. You might wonder
about this kind of learning. Itās really second nature and
you know much more about it than you realize. And, maybe thatās
a nice thing to discover as you begin this journey into your
Timeless Nature of
One of the most important characteristics
of the unconscious is its timeless nature. Everything in the
unconscious is taking place in the "now." There
is no "then" or "when." In our usual,
everyday, linear awareness, we tend to think in terms of "yesterday,
" "today," "tomorrow," "this
page," "the last page," "the next one."
We make rational sense of our world this way, organizing the
natural progression of days into weeks, weeks into months.
the unconscious, however, things are quite different. For
instance, think of something that happened to you several
weeks ago, or a long time ago, that was really upsetting.
Maybe you were angry or hurt. If you think about that upsetting
event and just let yourself drift into a reverie about the
memory, chances are good that you will find yourself back
there, feeling as though you were there again, right
now. The anger or hurt or humiliation may even feel as strong
as it did then. Whenever you drift into a reverie about something,
you are entering the timeless unconscious and the "memory"
becomes a current, immediate experience.
If you were to begin to
daydream about an upcoming event, really to be there
imagining yourself doing something you are truly excited about,
or something you dread doing, chances are you would begin
to feel as though you were actually there right now. Memories
are not the only way to enter the timeless unconscious. Anticipations
about the future can take you there, too.
It is the timeless nature
of the unconscious that makes the approaches presented in
the following pages possible. Entering the "eternal now"
provides a framework for moving through time in any direction
and interacting with parts of the self that exist in the past,
the present, and the future.
The timeless nature of the
unconscious is central to our consideration of the wounded
child. Because the unconscious is timeless, the child you
were actually exists in the present, psychologically.
Think, for a moment, of times when you have had an interaction
with your boss, or a colleague, and you suddenly felt intimidated,
or frightened, or enraged, and you just couldnāt get hold
of yourself. Chances are good you were experiencing yourself
as the child, that you engaged the current situation as if
you were a child rather than an adult. You might remember
a time when you were in an interaction with a loved one and
suddenly felt powerless or overwhelmed by some emotion that
you couldnāt seem to control. Again, the child within was
probably responding to some old pattern you learned in the
family, as if no time had passed and as if the adultās present
were the childās present.
In any of these cases, the
timeless unconscious is playing out early learnings and responses
as though it were still then instead of now.
While this may cause problems at times, because the old patterns
get in the way of current relationships, there are also patterns
and parts of you in the unconscious that express in empowered
and positive ways.
For example, think of a
skill you have developed that you feel really comfortable
using. How about a time when you were experiencing something
in a way that everything felt just right? These are examples
of resource states, developed within the unconscious and available
to you at a momentās notice.
The timeless unconscious
is a treasure trove of resources and learnings that can be
accessed consciously. One way to do this is by entering into
a self-hypnotic trance, which you will be exploring extensively
in the exercises in this book.
Whenever you shift your attention
from the outer world to your own inner awareness, you enter
a state of trance. In fact, one definition of trance in Ericksonian
hypnosis circles is "focused attention."
You have a lot more experience
with trance than you realize, even if youāve never done hypnosis.
We all experience what are called "naturalistic trance
states" throughout the day. Whenever you are daydreaming,
staring off into space, youāre in a natural trance state.
Whenever youāre swept up in a strong emotion or listening
raptly to beautiful music and have forgotten all about where
you are, youāre in a natural trance state.
Iāll talk more about trance
in the chapter on self-hypnosis. For now, the thing that may
be helpful to know is that youāre already familiar with the
state of mind youāll be entering in the exercises in the book.
As is true with many people, you may find trance so familiar
that you wonāt sense any difference between self-hypnosis
and meditation or visualization experiences you may already
have had many times.
of the Self
In my work with clients, I emphasize
a process of engaging the many parts that make up an individualās
psychological life. In later chapters, Iāll go into some detail
about these parts and how to work with them. For now, let
me simply say that your best resources are the many parts
that come together to make up the intricate and complex creature
you are, psychologically. Learning to communicate and cooperate
with these parts opens up areas of potential that may have
been unavailable to you for much of your life.
I have a favorite story
about the desert in the Antelope Valley in California. When
you visit this area during most times of the year, there is
a vast landscape of dirt and scrub. It doesnāt look like the
kind of place where things can grow easily. For as far as
the eye can see, the predominant colors are brown, beige,
and dun. You may see some of the gray- or brown-greens that
characterize much of the flora of California, but all in all
it appears to be a rather inhospitable environment.
During the spring of most
years, the rains come to the California desert. When the rains
come in the desert, they arrive in a torrent, bringing a great
abundance of water. Within that new, moisture-rich environment,
something miraculous happens. Almost overnight, that arid,
dusty desert landscape is transformed into fields and fields
of colorful wildflowers.
To me, the message conveyed
by the California desert wildflowers is a message of hope.
It says to me that no matter how hostile an environment may
appear, the seeds of our potential lie under the surface just
waiting for the right time and conditions that will allow
them to emerge and come into full bloom. For the wounded child
in each of us, this message becomes a promise: all is never
lost and there is always hope that you can become the
best of what you have always had the potential to be.
Throughout the book, Iāll
be emphasizing the fact that we are resilient creatures by
nature. You have survived whatever your childhood brought
your way. Having survived, you can now develop in ways that
were not possible in that old context. If you are still carrying
around that old context inside ö as many of us are ö you can
develop a new internal environment that promotes and supports
what is best in you.
Few Words About
Functional and Dysfunctional
In recent years, as the family
therapy movement has grown, a great deal of research has been
done on styles of coping and communication in families. Alcoholic
families have been a main source for these studies. The burgeoning
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) movement has emerged as
another force in defining and describing family patterns and
their effects on family members.
The terms "functional"
and "dysfunctional" refer to the kinds of
coping strategies and communication patterns a family uses.
Functional strategies and patterns are those that allow the
family to negotiate challenges and trauma effectively. Those
that are dysfunctional get in the way of the familyās ability
to deal as effectively with stressful events.
Here are some examples of
these different coping strategies:
- In a functional family, children
are encouraged to have friends, outside activities, independence.
In a dysfunctional family, children are kept close to home.
Strangers and outsiders are not welcomed. The family has
secrets ö alcoholism or incest, for example ö that it cannot
- In a functional family, children
have reasonable privacy. In a dysfunctional family, a childās
diary might be fair game for anyone who finds it and wants
to read it.
- In a functional family, individual
differences are applauded and respected. In a dysfunctional
family, conflict is denied. Among ACOAs, thereās the story
of the elephant living in the house that no one talks about.
If you grew up in a home where there was substance abuse
or sexual abuse, you are probably particularly familiar
with this kind of denial.
Functional and dysfunctional
are not the same as good and bad. They do convey, though,
the premise that dysfunctional responses tend to be maladaptive
and not the best choices for coping with lifeās challenges
and stresses. Children raised in dysfunctional families are
likely to have less resilient coping styles as adults. By
identifying dysfunctional patterns from your own family, you
give yourself an opportunity to review your coping skills
and change them to more functional patterns.
Parents and Parenting
If you are a parent now, there
are a few things Iād like to say to you before you begin to
work with the material in the book. As you engage the process
of recreating your self, you begin to realize the effects
your familyās patterns of communication and style of intimacy
had on you. So often, Iāve heard clients and workshop participants
express feelings of devastation or guilt when they realize
how they have passed these dysfunctional patterns along to
their own children. If you run into any feelings like these,
please remind yourself that it is absolutely normal ö and
nearly inevitable ö for you to do to your children what was
done to you. The thing to keep in mind is that youāve done
the best you could all along and that now youāre learning
something new. And, do remember how resilient children are.
Yours are no different. They, too, have the resources to heal
the wounded children in them.
What may surprise you is
how quickly you begin to experience your children in new ways,
as you come to know the child in yourself. The approach presented
in this book offers ways to break patterns of abuse and craziness
that, most often, have been passed down through many
generations. And so, you may discover things you wish you
hadnāt done. Please allow yourself to treat these discoveries
as important pieces of information that are helpful to know
about. Youāre on a journey of learning something new. Celebrate
that journey, even as you find family patterns you want to
eliminate from your own parenting style.
Even with all the awareness
in the world, it is virtually impossible for parents to be
consistently supportive to their children or to do the "right"
thing every time. Parent training ö the most important training
I can think of ö isnāt commonly available to most people.
From the beginning, parents are "thrown in the deep end"
and are expected to have perfected their swimming strokes
before having had any training or practice. Be gentle with
yourself ö as gentle as I hope youāll be with the child in
the Stories in this Book
Throughout the book, I use the
male and female gender interchangeably to represent the generic
person. My choice of when to use each is purely arbitrary.
As mentioned in the Preface,
the stories of individuals woven throughout the book are composites
created by me and do not reflect any one personās experience.
I chose to use composites for two reasons. First, I wanted
to protect the identity and confidentiality of the people
who have trusted their stories to me. Secondly, over the years,
I have observed that there are primary themes that run through
the experiences of adult survivors of dysfunctional families.
Because these themes are so common ö and so many of us recognize
ourselves in them ö I wanted to be able to present a broader
picture of how these themes operate than is possible with
just one personās experience. Using the composite form allowed
me to illustrate more elements of each theme.
Also, the stories Iāve chosen
to share with you cover a wide range of experiences. They
are not the most horrifying of the stories that have been
shared with me. I chose less dramatic themes because of the
tendency of those of us from dysfunctional families to discount
our experiences. If we hear something that sounds worse than
what we went through, itās too easy to say our experience
didnāt really matter. I wanted to leave room for the whole
range of childhood woundings ö from the most dramatic to the
most seemingly insignificant. I honor them all as important
to the child who had them. Iād like to ask you to do the same
as you proceed through the book. Pain and injury are relative
ö they feel bad to the person having them and thatās all that
Technical Note: Exercise Format
The exercises in this book provide
one way for you to develop a supportive internal environment.
Most of the following chapters contain self-hypnotic exercises
that guide you in developing new and healthier relationships
with parts of yourself.
Each exercise is presented
in two forms. First, youāll find a full self-hypnotic induction
that guides you into trance and on to an exploration of some
part of you. I recommend that you tape record the entire induction
and then play the tape back to yourself as you do the exercise.
Hearing your own voice on tape is a powerful way to connect
with your inner process. In case you donāt have a tape recorder
available, youāll find a short version of every exercise at
the end of the book. If you choose to use the second, shorter
version of the exercise, I recommend that you read the entire
induction first to get a feel for what youāre doing. Then,
you can glance occasionally at the short form as you go along.
Youāll find that the taped version of the exercise will probably
allow you to go more deeply into your experience than the
As a final note to this first
chapter, I briefly want to mention my own process of healing
the wounded child in me. A keynote to my childhood ö and to
the child within who has accompanied me into adulthood ö has
been a fear of humiliation. As strong has been a lifelong
conviction of not deserving ö not deserving to get my needs
met, not deserving reliable, trustworthy love, not deserving
The seeds of these internal
fears and expectations were sown early in my life ö as they
were for most of us. I began as a cross-eyed kid, terribly
self-conscious and embarrassed whenever I had to speak or
perform in public. The ridicule of some of my schoolmates
early on left an indelible imprint ö I was the "cross-eyed
monkey born in a zoo" and I did not know how to see beyond
that humiliation. That, accompanied by early sexual abuse
by my father, and then the loss of him to divorce when I was
six years old, left me with my fair share of dysfunctional
patterns in life and relationships.
I began to work with the
child within in the ways described in this book a number of
years ago. Much of what has evolved in the work I do with
my clients has emerged from my own process. Fundamental to
the shifts Iāve felt in my own relationship with parts of
myself has been the development of an underlying sense of
self-acceptance. With the increasing self-acceptance
Iāve experienced over the past few years, I have also discovered
how to give myself permission to have a better life than I
ever imagined possible.
Through the process of working
with the child within and accessing resource parts I had not
imagined were available, I have discovered a person inside
whom I truly love. I am now comfortable speaking to large
groups and conducting large workshops. In fact, I now enjoy
sharing my ideas and myself with others without the grinding
fear of being exposed to incapacitating humiliation.
My wish for you is that
what is contained in this book will provide a foundation for
your own process of reclaiming and recreating yourself. It
is possible to develop a relationship with all the
parts of you, a relationship that is an empowering, enabling
one. You can become a friend to yourself in a healthy and
comfortable way, giving yourself permission to have the best
life possible. Your relationship with the parts of you can
become one of cooperation, validation and self-affirmation
in ways that give you an opportunity to be more comfortable
within yourself and more available to others in positive and
And so, I ask you to explore
the pages that follow with the thought in mind that your unconscious
understands so much more than your conscious mind does of
what is contained here. Allow yourself to give permission
to your unconscious to do the important learning for you and
for your conscious mind to discover, in its own ways, the
things you need to know to recreate yourself in the most powerful
and positive ways possible.
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