An Unconventional Approach to Suicide Prevention
Everything (everything? Yes everything) is hypnosis.
That is not a meta-model violation*. That is a Universal Truth. Every thought you think. Every song you sing. Everything you do in your mind is self-hypnosis.
You are doing it already. And some of you are even doing it consciously. At times. Most times, you are not. Most times the inmates (negative thoughts/negative self-talk, therefore, negative trances) are running the prison.
It is so easy to make a difference in someone’s life with words of encouragement or an acknowledgment of something we appreciate about them.
Strangers are even more positively impacted. They probably go home and tell their spouse or sibling or friend about the random stranger who said the thing to them that day that had them laugh or feel appreciated or … and all we did was use their name from their name tag and ask them if everyone was treating them kindly today. We treated them like a human rather than an extension of the scanner attached to the checkout counter.
There are many ways to disrupt negative states (or say what it is: a self-imposed negative hypnotic trance) in others. Humor is one. Authentic kindness that shows a depth of seeing another is one. Tickling someone is one. Making a funny face at a crying child when you can see it and their parent’s back is to you (one of my personal favorites for public transportation) [pro tip: only lasts until mom or dad wonder why the toddler is suddenly giggling and they start to look around. I always pretend to be looking out the window. Never been caught yet. Then do it again. Build rapport with the toddler as it is just the two of you connected].
There are many others.
Sometimes just being more enthusiastic about someone’s negative trance will have them snap out of it.
Let me give an example by way of a recent and true personal story.
I have a friend who is suicidal - has truly given up on life. I recited for him (accurately hallucinated) all of his reasons he may be thinking this was the best option and he would say, “that’s right!” “How did you know?” or “That’s exactly right” each time (building rapport deeply by accurately projecting his motivations which were not known to anyone but himself).
He’s 80, and he has much he wanted to accomplish that he has not, but he has become a bitter, anxious, cynical old man and is really just waiting out his days. He thinks he is worth more to his wife dead (insurance) than alive. And that may be true even to her. They divorced 40 years ago and I don’t think you do that again - at this point, you just say screw it. But to her, he is nothing but unfulfilled promises and wasted potential. They live separately and only see each other for the grandchildren on the weekends and she treats him poorly.
And he can be an ass. But ... **shrug**
The truth is he just does not have it in him to rally for a Third Act.
Anyway, he has brought up the idea of assisted suicide enough times to me that this last time, I said: “you are really asking if I will help you”.
Yes, he said.
So I went at it with full gusto and in 15 minutes came up with a foolproof plan that would be painless, look like an accident, and require only things that he already had in his possession.
And then I said, with a chipper tone in my voice, “Awesome! You always said I could have this apartment when you died" and looking around the room ... "I’ll be sure the artwork goes to the appropriate art galleries or donate them wherever you want them (he said his some and his grandchildren had no interest in them). But I would like to keep this one (pointing to one piece) Let’s set a date! How much time do you need to get your affairs in order?” He looked at me curiously and settled on December 15th.
We chatted for a bit more and then I left.
I returned the next day around noon time.
And I came into his office. He offered me coffee. And I said, again with cheer in my voice: “So! December 15th, huh!? We get to end all this suffering for you once and for all. I hope you are ion action around your will and such.” and then I said (tapping my watch on my wrist ) “we’re on a clock mister. Count down has begun! “Let's get this ball rollin’.”
Because of the rapport I had built, he never felt mocked (and he was clear I have no judgments about suicide) and because no one is ever sure if I am joking or not, really, he figured he had a solid assistant and… well, he was impressed by the plan.
But it made it real.
So he sat me down and he said that as a result of my visit the previous evening, he actually felt much better about life. And it gave him hope and made him feel cheerful for the first time in several years. He said he would keep it in mind, but December 15th was probably not a realistic time-frame. He said he would re-think it after the holidays perhaps.
I could tell the desire had left him. Lifted as easily as a white linen window treatment in a summer breeze.
I could tell the trance was broken - because I aligned with it even more fully than he did - and had a good plan - and I was enthusiastic about him doing this thing he felt shame about. I embraced it more than he could himself. He felt seen, heard, safe, and supported.
And… I made him set a date so there was compression (what this does internally is it makes the images - usually- bigger, closer, and brighter in terms of sub-modalities; it became a more realistic fantasy if you will).
There is a transformational principle “that which you resist persists”. If you have full acceptance, there is no resistance. No pushback. No polarization. If I had tried to talk him out of it, he may have felt that he truly had no one who understood him and be driven further into isolation and despair. Instead, I offered to help him pack his bags for his trip to the afterlife, and he thought… maybe not time to check out of the Earth Hotel as a live guest.
And NOW I could tell him what I really wanted to tell him. Now he was open to it. And it was also evidentiary: “Well, you know, despair is a self-imposed trance. It’s created by your thoughts about the future and not having as compelling future to live into - imagining a negative one - predictably leads to despair. Good for you for noticing that and snapping out of it.”
I made sure he thought it was all him so he would feel a little better about himself. I certainly don’t need or care about the credit. And he is delightfully oblivious to my machinations: conspiring for his happiness and hopefulness.
And here is one of the takeaways: sometimes (actually, more often than not) the unconventional approach can produce the result the conventional approach is supposed to achieve (aborting the suicide in this case) yet fails to because it is not artful enough or flexible enough.
Remember the Law of Requisite Variety? The Law of Requisite Variety is a presupposition of NLP. It states that the system/person with the most flexibility of behavior will control the system. It is also the first law of Cybernetics.
In NLP we have the flexibility of approach to achieve a certain outcome that we are committed to. Other approaches are committed to one way of approaching something - the “method”. They are fixed and inflexible about that approach. And as a result, they have less success in achieving their outcomes - and their approach metastasized into dogma eventually. Or “conventional wisdom”.
If we have the mindset and the orientation to the outcome that it is an experiment and if one approach does not work, we will find another that does ... we are bound to be successful.
And it is true - as you just read - that we can change (and at times save) lives every day with the skills we are practicing here together.
Remember (in case I have not mentioned it yet) everything is hypnosis. Sometimes you can disrupt a trance by inflating it or “taking it to threshold” to expose its cracks. Like putting even more hot air in a balloon that was already full, the negative trance may just burst.
Sometimes all you need to do is ask someone a simple question like, “where would you love to go for a vacation”? And they are in a better trance than before, and they are likely smiling.
Imagine how much different the world would be if we all took on the intention to leave the person (especially strangers) we interact with feeling better than when we encountered them?
*Meta-model violation explained.