Auto-suggestion is now recognized as a factor in hypnotism by all followers of the Nancy school. Professor Bern-heim mentions it as an obstacle in the way of the cure of some of his patients. One case that he mentions was that of a young girl suffering from a tibio-tarsal sprain. " I tried to hypnotize her," says Bernheim; "she gave herself up to it with bad grace, saying that it would do no good. I succeeded, however, in putting her into a deep enough sleep two or three times. But the painful contracture persisted: she seemed to take a malicious delight in proving to the other patients in the service that it did no good, that she always felt worse. . . . The inrooted idea, the unconscious auto-suggestion, is such that nothing can pull it up again. When the treatment was begun, she seemed to be convinced that hypnotism could not cure her. Is it this idea, so deeply rooted in her brain, which neutralizes our efforts and her own wish to be cured?"1
Moll, more distinctly than Bernheim, recognizes the power of auto-suggestion as a potent factor which must always be taken into account in conducting experiments; although he, like Bernheim, strangely forgets to take it into account when he discusses hypnotism in its relations to crime. The following passage, for instance, should have been incorporated in his chapter on the Legal Aspects of Hypnotism:
"Expressions of the will which spring from the individual character of the patient are of the deepest psychological interest. The more an action is repulsive to his disposition, the stronger is his resistance (Forel). Habit and education play a large part here; it is generally very difficult successfully to suggest anything that is opposed to the confirmed habits of the subject. For instance, suggestions are made with success to a devout Catholic; but directly the suggestion conflicts with his creed, it will not be accepted. The surroundings play a part also. A subject will frequently decline a suggestion that will make him appear ridiculous. A woman whom I easily put into cataleptic postures, and who made suggested movements, could not be in duced to put out her tongue at the spectators. In another such case I succeeded, but only after repeated suggestions. The manner of making the suggestion has an influence. In some cases it must be often repeated before it succeeds; other subjects interpret the repetition of the suggestion as a sign of the experimenter's incapacity, and of their own ability to resist. Thus it is necessary to take character into account.
It is often easier to induce some action by suggesting each separate movement than by suggesting the whole action at once (Bleuler). For example, if the subject is to fetch a book from the table, the movements may be suggested in turn: first the lifting, then the steps, etc. (Bleuler).
1 Suggestive Therapeutics, p. 214.
"It is interesting to observe the way in which resistance is expressed, both in hypnotic and post-hypnotic suggestion. I myself have observed the interesting phenomenon that subjects have asked to be awakened when a suggestion displeased them.
"Exactly the same resistance is sometimes offered to a posthypnotic suggestion. It is possible in such a case that the subject, even in the hypnotic state, will decline to accept the suggestion. Many carry out only the suggestions to which they have assented (Pierre Janet).
"Pitres relates an interesting case of a girl who would not allow him to awake her, because he had suggested that on waking she would not be able to speak. She positively declared that she would not wake until he gave up his suggestion. But even when the suggestion is accepted as such, a decided resistance is often expressed during its post-hypnotic execution. This shows itself as often in slow and lingering movements as in a decided refusal to perform the act at all. The more repugnant the acting, the more likely is it to be omitted."1
Thousands of experiments are daily being made which demonstrate the impossibility of controlling the hypnotic subject so far as to cause him to do that which he believes or knows to be wrong. A common platform experiment is that of causing subjects to get drunk on water, under the suggestion that it is whiskey. It frequently happens that one or more of the subjects are conscientiously opposed to the use of strong drink as a beverage. Such persons invariably decline, in the most emphatic manner, to indulge in the proposed debauch. Like all such experiments on the stage before a mixed audience, they are passed by as simply amusing, and no lesson is learned from them. The intelligent student, however, cannot fail to see the far-reaching significance of the refusal of a subject to violate his temperance principles. Again, every platform experimenter knows that whilst he can cause a crowd of his subjects to go in swimming in imaginary waters, he can never induce them to divest themselves of their clothing beyond the limits of decency. Some cannot even be made to take off their coats in presence of the audience.
Others will decline to accept any suggestion, the pursuance of which would cause them to appear ridiculous.
1 Hypnotism, p. 171.
Again, it is well known to hypnotists that an attempt to contradict or argue with a subject in the hypnotic state invariably distresses him, and persistency in such a course awakens him, often with a nervous shock. A conflict of suggestions invariably causes confusion in the subjective mind, and generally results in restoring the subject to normal consciousness.
Now, what is an auto-suggestion? In its broad signification it embraces not only the assertions of the objective mind of an individual, addressed to his own subjective mind, but also the habits of thought of the individual, and the settled principles and convictions of his whole life; and the more deeply rooted are those habits of thought, principles, and convictions, the stronger and more potent are the autosuggestions, and the more difficult they are to overcome by the contrary suggestions of another. It is, in fact, impossible for a hypnotist to impress a suggestion so strongly upon a subject as to cause him actually to perform an act in violation of the settled principles of his life. If this were not true, suggestion would mean nothing; it would have no place in psychological science, because it would not be a law of universal application. The strongest suggestion must prevail.