Autosuggestion - How To Deal With Pain
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PAIN, whether of mind or body, introduces a new element for which we have hitherto made no provision. By monopolising the attention it keeps the conscious mind fully alert and so prevents one from attaining the measure of outcropping needful to initiate success-fully an autosuggestion. Thus if we introduce the " no-pain " idea into the conscious, it is overwhelmed by its contrary—pain, and the patient's condition becomes, if anything, worse.
To overcome this difficulty quite a new method is required. If we speak a thought, that thought, while we speak it, must occupy our minds. We could not speak it unless we thought it. By continually repeating " I have no pain " the sufferer constantly renews that thought in his mind. Unfortunately, after each repetition the pain-thought insinuates itself, so that the mind oscillates between " I have no pain " and " I have some pain," or " I have a bad pain. But if we repeat our phrase so rapidly that the contrary association has no time to insert itself, we compel the mind willy-nilly to dwell on it. Thus by a fresh path we reach the same goal as that attained by induced out-cropping; we cause an idea to remain in occupation of the mind without calling up a contrary association. This we found to be the prime condition of acceptation, and in fact by this means we can compel the Unconscious to realise the " no-pain " thought and so put an end to the pain.
But the sentence "I have no pain does not lend itself to rapid repetition. The physical difficulties are too great; the tongue and lips become entangled in the syllables and we have to stop to restore order. Even if we were dexterous enough to articulate the words successfully, we should only meet with a new difficulty. The most emphatic word in the phrase is "pain "; involuntarily we should find ourself stressing this word with particular force, so strengthening in our minds the very idea we are trying to dislodge.
We shall do best to copy as closely as we can Coué's own procedure. The phrase he uses, " ça passe," makes no mention of the hurt; it is extremely easy to say, and it produces an unbroken stream of sound, like the whirr of a machine or the magnified buzz of an insect, which, as it were, carries the mind off its feet. The phrase recommended by Baudouin, " It is passing off," produces no such effect, and in fact defies all our attempts to repeat it quickly. On the whole, the most suitable English version seems to be " It's going." Only the word " going" should be repeated, and the treatment should conclude with the emphatic statement "gone ! " The word " going," rapidly gabbled, gives the impression of a mechanical drill, biting its way irresistibly into some hard substance. We can think of it as drilling the desired thought into the mind.
If you are suffering from any severe pain, such as toothache or headache, sit down, close your eyes and assure yourself calmly that you are going to get rid of it. Now gently stroke with your hand the affected part and repeat at the same time as fast as you can, producing a continuous stream of sound, the words : " It's going, going, going . . . gone ! " Keep it up for about a minute, pausing only to take a deep breath when necessary, and using the word" gone" only at the conclusion of the whole proceeding. At the end of this time the pain will either have entirely ceased or at least sensibly abated. In either case apply the particular suggestions recommended in the previous chapter. If the pain has ceased suggest that it will not return; if it has only diminished suggest that it will shortly pass away altogether. Now return to what-ever employment you were engaged in when the pain began. Let other interests occupy your attention. If in a reasonable space, say half an hour, the pain still troubles you, isolate yourself again ; suggest once more that you are going to master it, and repeat the procedure.
It is no exaggeration to say that by this process any pain can be conquered. It may be, in extreme cases, that you will have to return several times to the attack. This will generally occur when you have been foolish enough to supply the pain with a cause—a decayed tooth, a draught of cold air, etc.—and so justify it to your reason, and give it, so to speak, an intellectual sanction. Or it may be that it will cease only to return again. But do not be discouraged ; attack it firmly and you are bound to succeed.
The same procedure is equally effective with distressing states of mind, worry, fear, despondency. In such cases the stroking movement of the hand should be applied to the forehead.
Even in this exercise no more effort should be used than is necessary. Simply repeat rapidly the word which informs you that the trouble is going, and let this, with the stroking movement of the hand, which, as it were, fixes the attention to that particular spot, be the sum and substance of your effort. With practice it will become easier, you will " drop into it "; that is to say, the Unconscious will perform the adaptations necessary to make it more effective. After a time you should be able to obtain relief in twenty to twenty-five seconds. But the effect is still more far-reaching; you will be delivered from the fear of pain. Regarding yourself as its master, you will be able with the mere threat of treatment to prevent it from developing. You will hang up a card, " No admittance," on the doors of your conscious mind.
It may be that the pain attacks you in the street or in a workshop; in some public place where the audible repetition of the phrase would attract attention. In that case it is best to close the eyes for a moment and formulate this particular suggestion : " I shall not add to this trouble by thinking about it ; my mind will be occupied by other things; but on the first opportunity I shall make it pass away." Then as soon as you can conveniently do so make use of the phrase " It's going." When you have become expert in the use of this form of suggestion you will be able to exorcise the trouble by repeating the phrase mentally—at any rate if the words are outlined with the lips and tongue. But the beginner should rely for a time entirely on audible treatment. By dropping it too soon he will only court disappointment.
It sometimes happens that a patient is so prostrated by pain or misery that he has not the energy to undertake even the repetition of the word "going." The pain-thought so obsesses the mind that the state of painlessness seems too remote even to contemplate. Under these circumstances it seems best to employ this strategy. Lie down on, a bed, sofa, or arm-chair and relax both mind and body. Cease from all effort--which can only make things worse-and let the pain-'thought have its way. After a time your energies will begin to collect themselves, your mind to reassert its control. Now make a firm suggestion of success and apply the method. Get another person to help you, as Coué helps his patients, by performing the passes with the hand and repeating the phrase with you. By this means you can make quite sure of success. This seemingly contradictory proceeding is analogous to that of the angler " playing " a fish. He waits till it has run its course before bringing his positive resources into play.
Baudouin recommends an analogous proceeding as a weapon against insomnia. The patient, he says, should rapidly repeat the phrase, " I am going to sleep," letting his mind be swept away by a torrent of words. Once more the objection arises that the phrase " I am going to sleep " is not such as we can rapidly repeat. But even if we substitute for it some simple phrase which can be easily articulated it is doubtful whether it will succeed in more than a small percentage of cases. Success is more likely to attend us if we avail ourselves of the method of reflective repetition mentioned in the last chapter. We should take up the position most favourable to slumber and then repeat slowly and contemplatively the word " Sleep." The more impersonal our attitude towards the idea the more rapidly it will be realised in our own slumbers.