Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
This Blog is published for information and educational purposes only. No warranty, expressed or implied, is furnished with respect to the material contained in this Blog. The reader is urged to consult with his/her physician or a duly licensed mental health professional with respect to the treatment of any medical or psychological condition.

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The New Center for Counseling and Psychotherapy, LLC

The New Center for Counseling and Psychotherapy, LLC, is located at 675 Route 72 E Manahawkin, NJ 08050. Telephone us at(609)709-2043 and (609) 709-0009.Take Mill Creek Road South, just off Route 72, on the road to Beach Haven West.After about 400 feet, turn right into the office complex of Greater Coastal Realty. Then turn right and go past the Lyceum Gyn. Continue on to the Prudential Zack Building. We. are the last office at the end. We accept Medicare and most other major insurance.Weekend and evening office hours are avalable.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

How to Turn a Hypnotized Person into a Chicken

"Help! I'm a student in Dr. Gibbons' Introductory Psychology class!"
Several years ago, when I was discussing the topic of hypnosis and reincarnation in an Introductory Psychology class, I mentioned that is was almost as easy to suggest to people who respond well to suggestion that they are a chicken as it is to suggest that they are regressing to a past lifetime, or to create the conditions for them to come to such a conclusion themselves. On the spur of the moment, I asked a student who had volunteered in a previous demonstration if she would be willing to help me illustrate the point. She readily agreed, and at the conclusion of an induction, I told her that I would count backwards from ten to one, and that at the count of one she would have been turned into a chicken.

"You will always be able to hear and to respond to my voice," I continued, "and I will return you to your normal state in a few minutes, before I bring you out of hypnosis. But until I do, you will experience the world exactly as if you had been turned into a chicken. You will remember everything I have said, and it will be a thoroughly enjoyable experience that you will enjoy telling to others. Okay?"

She nodded her agreement, and I counted slowly backwards from ten to one, providing suggestions along the way that she could feel herself changing into a chicken, and at the count of one I announced that she had become a chicken. "Would you like to open your eyes and walk around a bit?" I asked. She did so, walking slowly as I grabbed hold of her extended elbow. "Why are you walking like that?" I asked.

"I'm a chicken," she replied in a high voice, much to the amusement of the class.

I told her to stop walking and close her eyes once more, counted from one to ten to restore her to her usual perceptions, and then concluded the hypnotic demonstration. "If I had told her that she was re-entering a previous life, and if she believed in reincarnation," I concluded, "it would have been just as easy."

I like to think of hypnosis and hyperempiria as a form of experiential theater, in which a suggested event can become just as real as the actual event itself. When we are discussing psychic phenomena, the power of the imagination frequently makes it easy to confuse things.

Demonstrations such as this, while experienced as real by the participant, provide insight into what Martin Orne has termed "trance logic," a logic similar to that which is often found in dreams. Orne demonstrated that genuinely hypnotized high-responsive subjects could be distinguished from simulators if, after being given an induction, they were told to open their eyes and describe the back of a chair in which a man was sitting. The simulators, after opening their eyes, stated that they could not describe the back of the chair because there was a man sitting in it. The hypnotized subjects, on the other hand, proceeded to describe their perception of it. Hence, it is possible for a hypnotized volunteer to "talk" (or at least intelligibly cluck!) at the same time that she is subjectively experiencing life as a chicken.

Young children (especially those with "cool" parents who encourage this kind of active imagination) often have this kind of involvement as part of their natural play life. +Kelley Woods  described it as, "Rather like when my son was small and, living in his delightful trance state, had no limits on his imagination...he thrilled at becoming a dog, a car, a monster! . . .I love reminding clients of similar "resource states" and once the door is opened, they can go there at will."

Adults, however, usually need what +michael ellner  called the "transformational magic" of an induction in order to attain this degree of imaginative involvement. And that's where hypnosis and hyperempiria come in. 

But once the door is opened, adults should be able to imagine even more transformational things than children can. With our adult ability to conceptualize, and with sufficient experiential training using hyperempiria and the Best Me technique, we can build an almost unlimited number of resource states, with an almost unlimited number of dimensions. In the words of the mystical poet, William Blake, experiential hypnosis enables us,


To see a world in a grain of sand,
Or a Heaven in a wild flower.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Infinity? No problem. Eternity? Check. "Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour?" Hang on, here we go. . . ..


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hypnotizability: Three Things to Remember, and One to Forget

If, after formal training in hypnosis, you should happen to have any lingering doubts about your own abilities as a hypnotist, I would like to suggest three things to remember, and one to forget.
  1. Remember that your partner is responding to his or her own thoughts, as well as to your suggestions.  Even after an appropriate pre-hypnotic talk has been given which is designed to allay any misconceptions about the nature of a hypnotic experience, there could be many individualized reasons for your partner not being able to "get into it;" and if this should occur, the best way to find out if there is some specific obstacle is simply to ask.
  2. Remember that the ability to respond to suggestion is strongly influenced by the culture in which we live. Mesmerized subjects used to go into convulsions and faint in response to what they believed to be the power of  "animal magnetism;" but today we know that they were responding to the power of suggestion. Nowadays, some people who are experiencing hypnosis may behave like glassy-eyed zombies -- unless, of course, it is suggested that they will behave in a completely normal manner and act as if they were wide awake!  It was differences such as these which led T. R. Sarbin to define hypnosis as a social role which we accept and live out as part of our own personal reality, but which we would experience quite differently if the role were defined in a different manner. He wasn’t talking about some sort of pretense or play acting, of course, but the kind of socially agreed-upon reality which we experience every day, and which is at least in part defined by people’s beliefs and expectations -- such as the role of bride an groom at a wedding ceremony, or the role of mourner at a funeral, or the role of a person being cited for breaking a traffic ordinance.
  3. Remember that the ability to respond to suggesstion is also strongly influenced by the partner's own imagination. T. X. Barber has defined hypnotizability as "the ability to think along with and vividly imagine the instructions and suggestions one is given."  If you are able to lose yourself in watching a sunset, or the dying embers of a campfire, or listening to a song or the words of a poem, you already know what a hypnotic experience often feels like. Similarly, most of us are able to recall the experience of becoming so absorbed in our play when we were children that we did not hear our mother’s voice calling us in for dinner. (In adults, this is referred to as a negative auditory hallucination, and is regarded as an indication of deep hypnosis!) +Kelley Woods  has pointed out that little children usually have no trouble turning themselves into a monster or a fire engine. We don't learn to become good hypnotic responders, then, we un-learn it! All that your partner has to do in order to experience hypnosis is to be able tp let go and respond in a spontaneous, childlike manner which is different from the everyday, logical, practical state of mind in which we conduct most of our everyday lives.
With these three things to remember, if the thought should still come to mind that you are not any good at using the power of suggestion in order fo enable your partner to experience hypnosis -- forget it!   By chance alone, you could encounter three or four people in a row who happen to be on the low end of the bell-shaped curve which we find in most laboratory studies of suggestibility, though not necessarily in everyday life. However, you can always use a few "convincers" to persuade even low-responders that they too have been hypnotized, and they will usually respond better to whatever treatment is subsequently provided. (We may not be Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, but most of us like to dance -- and most of us, with practice, can become pretty good at it!)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Recognize a Personality Disorder, Toxic Person, or an Energy Vampire

If a person is obviously mentally ill or has a substance abuse problem, we usually have a pretty clear idea of what is wrong and how to go about getting help for them.. But people with personality disorders are usually not even aware that they have a problem. We may interact with them every day, and we may even be very close to them emotionally, even though they are often difficult to get along with because something about them is just -- well, different.

Personality disordered people are not “crazy” in the popular sense of the term, and they usually do not end up in mental hospitals unless something else is wrong with them; but these patterns tend to lie at the very core of their sense of self. They may sometimes even be proud of the traits that make them different and set them apart from others.

While actual diagnosis and treatment should only be undertaken by a mental health professional, the summaries which follow will help you to gain at least occasional insights into the behavior of many of the people you interact with every day, and which probably form the basis of many toxic relationships in the workplace, and possibly even within your own family and circle of friends. We all occasionally have some of these traits; but if you think that you may have a particular type of personality disorder, you should only consider this question very carefully, with professional help -- and the chances are very good that you don't.

The following descriptions of personality disorders have been compiled by some of the best minds in the field of mental health, drawing upon years of clinical observation and literally hundreds of research studies to find patterns which “clump together” in present-day culture. Please keep in mind, however, that it is possible to have more than one personality disorder at a time, and many people can possess some of the traits of one or more personality disorders without having enough to qualify for a formal diagnosis. 

A word of caution: You Tube is flooded with descriptions of personality disorders, but since anyone can post to You Tube, there is no quality control whatsoever. Even people who may have published books on one or more personality disorders may tend to treat everyone the same, without due regard for individual differences. Like anything else on the Internet, such postings should not be taken as authoritative unless you trust the source!

Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The ancient Greeks used to tell the story of Narcissus -- a lad who was so good-looking that he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and spent so much time gazing at it that he eventually fell into the pool and drowned. People who are given a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder are often perceived as being selfish or conceited. They may often spend a great deal of time telling you how great they are, or boasting of their achievements or accomplishments.

Some people think of a person with a narcissistic personality disorder as having a superiority complex to cover up for an inferiority complex. When you get to know such people well, it soon becomes apparent that the reason they spend so much time “tooting their own horn” is that deep down inside, they really feel afraid, inadequate, and unlovable.

Narcissists do not always act selfishly in the short term. They are often highly motivated to pursue long-term goals in order to prove their worth both to themselves and others. For this reason, narcissists often tend to gravitate to positions of leadership in business, government, education -- and yes, even churches.

Narcissists often cause a great deal of suffering, particularly when they happen to be employers, family members,  or romantic partners. Yet there are ways of dealing with them, as illustrated in the following video. (Since no two personalities are exactly identical, however, you cannot stereotype them and treat them all exactly alike.)

Histrionic Personality Disorder.

People who have been diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder may often be compared to an adult version of the “spoiled child” who will do anything to remain the center of attention. If histrionics are able to “show off” and remain the center of attention by doing a good job, they often accomplish a great deal. But if they feel that they are being ignored, or that the attention which they crave so deeply is denied them, they may become angry and disruptive in order to get it back again -- even if it’s unfavorable attention this time! ("I don't care what yor say about me," one publicity-hungry histrionic is reported to have said to a reporter for a scandal magazine. "Just be sure you spell my name right.!")

Antisocial Personality Disorder.

People with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder did not incorporate our society’s standards of right and wrong into their personalities as well as the rest of us have. They begin getting into trouble with the authorities by the time they are adolescents, and don’t grow out of it. As you might suppose, this pattern is much more common in men than in women.

Since personality disorders are so difficult to change, many such people keep going back and forth to jail from their teen years until middle age, when they seem to mellow out of their own accord. They make up the bulk of most prison populations, and often have a history of substance abuse or substance dependency. However, people with antisocial personality traits (I like to call them stealth antisocials) may be encountered almost anywhere, even at the highest levels of many organizations; and they may not be found out until their behavior gets them into trouble. (The discovery and apprehension of stealth antisocials in high-profile positions is the basis of many of the news stories we read about every day.)

Borderline Personality Disorder.

To understand the person who qualifies for a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, think back to some of the stormiest days of your own adolescence, or the adolescence of someone you know well. With an incompletely developed sense of self, the borderlines have no firm idea of who they are and where they are going. Their lives are often erratic, with frequent job changes and alterations in long term goals, and intense and unstable friendships and romantic involvements.

Because of their poorly developed sense of self, borderlines often have difficulty with so-called “boundary issues,” or the ability to distinguish between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in a given situation. Some borderlines, in fact, may find it difficult to even talk to a person of the opposite sex for very long without acting as if they are falling in love with them. As would be expected, the romantic lives of borderlines tend to be especially intense and tumultuous. The manipulative abilities of people with borderline personality disorder often enable them to deceive those who do not understand the inner storms which produce such behavior, which frequently causes their sudden bouts of passion to be mistaken for genuine love.

Borderlines often engage in “splitting,” with either extremely positive or extremely negative feelings towards others, sometimes suddenly reversing from extreme friendliness to extreme rejection and vice-versa. This changeability frequently leads them to engage in behavior that is highly manipulative. This splitting may also be the reason why the interpersonal relationships of borderlines are often centered around real of imagined fears of abandonment. (One book on borderline personality disorder is entitled, I Hate You - Don’t Leave Me!) These tendencies to engage in splitting may also explain why borderlines also seem to have a strong ability to divide those around them into separate camps of friends and enemies.  

Borderlines usually have very low self-esteem, and suicidal gestures, genuine attempts,
and successful suicides are not uncommon. Since many borderlines have a history of cutting themselves, or other forms of self-injurious behavior, it has been speculated that this represents an extreme attempt to combat the overwhelming numbness of an otherwise empty life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.


People who have been diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be popularly known as a “nit-picker” or “neat freak.” They may become so involved with orderliness, perfectionism, and control that efficiency suffers as a result. This culture tends to place a high value on preoccupation with detail in certain jobs. With proper training, people who have milder forms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may become excellent law clerks, college registrars, bank auditors, or personal physicians -- in which case, it may not be a personality disorder any more, unless it interferes with their functioning off the job!

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is closely related to another disorder with a similar name, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD for short, which is similar in nature but more limited in scope. Obsessive-compulsive disorder refers to a pattern of continually recurring thoughts (obsessions), or behaviors which one is compelled to continually repeat, such as checking a door several times in a row to be sure that it is locked.

Avoidant Personality Disorder.

People who carry a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder have had such unpleasant social interactions in the past that with the possible exception of one or two close relatives or special friends, they have come to fear all human contact. Avoidants are frequently not merely shy about most social situations, they are genuinely phobic about them. Their avoidance is often centered around a core belief that if people really got to know them, it would immediately become obvious how incompetent and worthless they really are, and the immediate result would be scorn, rejection, and loss of employment. People with an avoidant personality disorder often tend to gravitate to solitary occupations -- researchers, librarians, or forest rangers, for example; and they may be attracted by certain monastic orders. (Of course, not everyone in these types of occupations could be diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder!)

Dependent Personality Disorder.

A central theme in the life of people who have been diagnosed with a dependent personality disorder is a need to be looked after and taken care of, often accompanied by excessive fears of real or imagined abandonment. Ironically, some people who qualify for a diagnosis of DPD may behave in exactly opposite fashion. Those with milder forms of this disorder may attempt to satisfy their underlying dependency needs by becoming so efficient and thorough that they make themselves indispensable. Others, whose disorder is more severe, become highly dependent on instructions from above, and are reluctant to show any initiative in carrying out their responsibilities for fear that they will have made the wrong decision.

Paranoid Personality Disorder.

People who have been diagnoses with paranoid personality disorder tend to see the activities of other people as ill-intentioned -- even when the opposite is true. Compliments may be seen as attempts to gain undue influence through flattery, and offers of help may be seen as evidence that the person to whom the help is offered is viewed as incompetent. The resulting suspiciousness and hostility may tend to bring about the negative attitudes and behaviors which the person with a paranoid personality disorder believes were always there. (The saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!”)

Schizoid Personality Disorder.

The person who has been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder is an extreme loner or a “cold fish” who just isn’t interested in being around people. Such people are often found in the most solitary jobs which others might tend to shy away from. Because of their extreme lack of social skills, they should not be expected to change simply by inviting them to parties or by introducing them to a wide circle of people.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder.

People who have been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder typically have bizarre notions of cause and effect, and may practice unusual rituals of their own devising, either to make things happen or to prevent them from happening, similar to those who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their everyday speech patterns and favorite topics of converstation are usually regarded by those around them as being somewhat bizarre, although not totally “crazy” in the popular sense of the term. They may also take a keen interest in cults and in the paranormal. Although certainly not everyone who is interested in such topics has a schizotypal personality disorder, the true schizotypal still tends to stand out because of bizarre thought patterns.

Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.

Although the American Psychiatric Association no longer officially lists this as a separate personality disorder, people with passive aggressive tendencies try to disrupt things by sabotaging the success of their employers, their family, or their friends without appearing do so deliberately, because they feel that their own needs for recognition, status, or achievement are not being met, or that other people are more successful than they are. Passive aggressive people may risk an occasional confrontation if it helps them to get their frustrations out, but they can usually gauge their actions carefully enough to avoid losing their jobs or their families.

If they are not frankly and firmly confronted about their behavior, their passive-aggressive patterns may become worse over time as they continue to follow their own “hidden agendas” and they feel that their actions are being accepted or condoned. They may single out for special treatment vulnerable individuals or groups who will not or cannot “fight back,” and their behavior may degenerate into outright bullying. Then, when the inevitable day of reckoning does arrive, the consequences may be much more serious -- both for the victims and for the organization -- than if the problem had been immediately and forcefully dealt with.

Limitations of a Personality Disorder Diagnosis.

In order to qualify for any of the foregoing diagnoses of personality disorder, the disorder must be seen to cause people significant distress in their social, intellectual, or occupational functioning, regardless of whether or not they are aware of this fact. Temperamental but highly successful movie stars, for example, whose demanding and self-centered behavior would interfere with their adjustment in another setting, would probably not qualify for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder as long as they can "get away with it." Similarly, people who live alone in a remote location miles from the nearest neighbor would not qualify for a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder as long as they are able to function well their current situation, regardless of how intensely they may dislike having social contact with their fellow human beings.

It's easy to see how more than one personality disorder, or the traits of several, can work together in the same individual. Most of us are familiar with, or have heard stories about, the narcissistic borderline who sleeps her way into an executive position and then proceeds to systematically eliminate all those who are familiar with how she got to where she is, while tyrannizing over the ones who have been hired as their replacements. We are also not surprised to learn about a convict who immediately commits another crime upon his release from prison, which entitles him to several more years of "three hots and a cot," plus free medical and dental care. Many of us have also witnessed instances of a passive-aggressive histrionic, who regularly disrupts public meetings with their oft-repeated tales of woe, to the extent that it becomes next to impossible to get any business done.

People with personality disorders are not likely to seek professional assistance, because they are frequently inclined to blame their troubles on everyone but themselves. When they do seek help, it is usually because they are forced to do so (often in conjunction with an assault or a suicide attempt, or because a family member insists on it). They tend to remain as long as they are "hurting," or as long as they are forced to stay. When they are no longer hurting and are in a position to stop, they discontinue therapy. 

Istead of seeing the personality-disordered individual directly,a therapist is much more likely to see a family member, romantic partner, or employee who presents with anxiety or depression as a result of their interaction with someone who has a personality disorder (whom they may refer to as a "toxic person" or an "energy vampire").

A final word of caution: as stated previously, an actual diagnosis of a personality disorder should only be made by an appropriately trained mental health professiional. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to insult people is to let them know that you suspect them of having a pesonality disorder! While avoiding making such a diagnosis yourself unless you are properly trained to do so, and not communicating your suspicions to the individuals concerned, knowing how to recognize the major symptoms of a personality disorder will place you in a much better position to deal with people who appear to have a personality-disorder on a daily basis, and to seek professional assistance in order to better cope with them if you need to do so. 

Print Sources

Cavaiola, A. C., & Lavender, N. J. (2000). Toxic co-workers: How to deal with dysfunctional people on the job. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statisticl manual, DSM-V. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.