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A Skeptic Tries Clinical Hypnosis

Author: Mary Willix, C.Ht.

Mary Willix

Date Published:
Publisher: Hypnosis Motivation Institute

Hypnosis Treatment to Stop Cheek Biting

As a practitioner of hypnosis my job is to help my clients do what they want to do: achieve a goal, get relief from an unwanted condition, stop a bad habit, or change and improve some aspect of their lives.

Clinical hypnosis is a relaxed state in which the subconscious mind accepts positive suggestions from another person - suggestions that cause a shift in attitude or belief that allow the desired outcome to occur. If you are blocking yourself in some way and want to be unblocked, a hypnotist can help you.

One afternoon, a woman I'll call Brigit, though that's not her real name, came for a hypnosis treatment to stop cheek biting. She described this habit as a "nervous disorder." She chewed on her cheeks when stress came up and she chewed on her cheeks when she was driving or reading in the evening, not because she felt stressed, but because it was a habit. She had been biting and chewing like this for more than twenty years. Her habit vanished when she was sailing, hiking or relaxing with her husband and friends. But then a bit of frustration would trigger it. It was a predictable pattern. "Some people smoke, some people drink, others overeat, and I bite my cheeks," she said.

Cheek Biting and Keratosis

Cheek biting causes oral lesions called frictional Keratosis. Constant irritation stimulates the production of excessive keratin that changes the thickness and color of the mucosa, creating bumps, ridges, and white areas. Bleeding may occur. In most cases, mouth ulcers are harmless and heal without medical treatment, but severe mouth ulcers can lead to complications such as bacterial infections or an abscessed tooth. Brigit had ridges and bleeding; for years she had worn a night guard prescribed by her dentist. She wanted to stop cheek biting. "I have tried to control the habit," she said, "but every time I get stressed, I start up again."

Brigit had heard success stories about clinical hypnosis and she wanted to try it, but she was skeptical and afraid of mind control. Her chewing habit was deeply ingrained in her neural patterning and muscle memory because she began biting her nails when she was six. When her mother scolded her, she would bite the collars of jackets and shirts, but out of her mother's sight she kept on biting her nails. Eventually it embarrassed her, and cheek biting replaced nail biting because most people didn't notice it.

Hypnosis Suggested to Stop Cheek Biting

Many years later, people close to her who knew she wanted to stop suggested hypnosis. Brigit would answer, "It wouldn't work for me. I'm not the type. I'm too skeptical. Besides, I don't want anybody I don't know messing with my mind." Well, she knew me, from Spanish conversation classes. After a long career as a professor of Spanish, I devoted two years to hypnotherapy training. When I opened my practice, I notified former students, and Brigit was one of them. She said she wanted to try because she trusted me. I knew that meant she would feel emotionally safe, which is essential.

Brigit asked my opinion about whether or not I could help her stop cheek biting. I told her I was confident that I could. I explained that skeptics are often cured because hypnosis bypasses the conscious mind. A consciously skeptical person can unconsciously accept suggestions under hypnosis.

When you see a health professional for hypnosis, whether it's for pain, to lose weight, to stop a bad habit or increase your self-confidence, the treatment focuses on a problem you want to solve. You and the hypnosis practitioner have a common goal; the hypnosis used in this setting is positive hypnosis. Negative hypnosis takes place when an aggressive sales person gets you to buy something you don't want, or when you get glued to a scary movie that you didn't want to watch, that is negative hypnosis. You could have walked away from the sales person or stopped watching the movie. Or could you?

If you are suggestible, open to suggestions and easily drawn in, you will value becoming a skilled recipient of positive hypnosis. You will learn to recognize negative hypnosis; you will no longer feel as threatened by aggressive people with an agenda that differs from yours. The facility to go in and out of hypnosis becomes a skill, like swimming. A swimmer in a rowboat has a different mindset than the non-swimmer beside him.

The Hypnosis Treatment

Before the hypnosis treatment, I guided Brigit through some breathing exercises that she did with great enthusiasm. "For a long time I've wondered if maybe I don't breathe right," she said. "When I hike with my husband, I get out of breath. I'm really strong and I get a lot of exercise, so it doesn't make sense." We decided that practicing a variety of breathing techniques would be a healthy replacement for cheek biting. Many people in our fast-paced society are shallow-breathers, failing to fill their lungs fully or to expel the air completely, so the brain doesn't get the oxygen it needs.

While she was under hypnosis, Brigit repeatedly heard the suggestions that there was no need to bite her cheeks, the habit no longer served her, it was a thing of the past. The truth was that it never relieved stress. That was an illusion. Deep breathing relieves stress. Everyday she would practice her breathing techniques and whenever she noticed that she felt nervous, she would consciously remember to breathe slowly and deeply until her lungs were full, and that would trigger a memory of how relaxed she felt under hypnosis. When we finished, she made an appointment for two weeks later, but agreed to call for an earlier appointment if she needed to.

A week went by and I didn't hear from her, so I sent a how-are-you-doing email. She wrote back that she was doing well and would see me the following week. In the past, using the "will power method," the longest she had refrained from cheek biting was one week. As that week ended and the next one began, I imagined she might be struggling. I know how strongly the subconscious mind resists change. It likes our habits even when the conscious mind hates them. Habits are hardwired in our neural patterning and tied to our emotions and beliefs.

A belief that cheek biting, hair twirling or knuckle cracking reduces stress is not logical and cannot be treated with logic. Would you suggest to a nervous child that she try twirling her hair? Habits like that become ingrained in muscle memory and run on automatic pilot; the physical body and its emotional components are highly skilled in executing them. Psychologists say that humans prefer pleasure over pain; the subconscious interprets that as a preference for the known over the unknown. It accepts anything it knows as safe, even if it is harmful. You can tell a smoker the dangers of smoking and he'll light up anyway. But if you retrain his mind, when his body is free of nicotine he will never smoke again. It is a repatterning process.

The Outcome of Using Hypnosis for Cheek Biting

It occurred to me that Brigit might need more than three sessions for retraining. To my surprise, she arrived for her appointment with a huge bouquet of spring flowers.

Wow. Oh, my goodness," I said. "What a gorgeous bouquet.

She grinned when she handed them to me.

I'm cured!

You're what?

I'm cured! When I left here that day, I was cured. I haven't bitten my cheeks at all." She gave me a quizzical look. "Are you surprised?

I'm astonished. I thought it would take three sessions. It's a miracle.

The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own

I was joking. But the truth is that the human brain has miraculous power and potential. Neuroscientists can explain how habits begin, but they don't know the precise biology of the spontaneous end of a habit. Richard Restak, a neurologist who has written popular books on the brain for the layperson, explains how a habit begins on page 116 in The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own.

Each living cell, or neuron, is altered by experiences and its environment. And since each cell influences the action of another, it becomes that much easier for the same response to occur a second time. This is the basis of a habit.

One Year After Hypnosis Treatment for Cheek Biting

Nearly one year after Brigit's session to eliminate cheek biting, there is no sign of her old habit. Think for a moment about a habit of yours that does not serve you well, something you'd like to stop doing that is deeply hardwired into your neuronal patterning because you have done it a million times.

You can try using your will power to stop. That works for a short time for some people and a long time for a few, but in order to eradicate a habit, the mind that controls your behavior, the powerful one that's like the control panel behind a closed door, that's the one that must be convinced. And that is what hypnosis is all about.