The fear of being hypnotized, maliciously placed in a hypnotic state by others, or simply a general fear of mesmerism characterizes the fear of hypnosis. This can be either a mild discomfort or a full-blown, irrational fear called hypnophobia. This term is also used to mean a fear of sleep, but not all hypnophobes are afraid of sleeping at night. In its mild state, people might only be slightly concerned of what might happen to them if they were hypnotized or rendered unconscious, but in its fullest expression, this fear becomes haunting and may greatly affect how well people are able to pursue their lives. There is treatment for hypnophobia, but typically hypnosis, which is one of the treatments for many other phobias, is not an acceptable route.
While there are some people suffering this fear who are otherwise free of mental illness, hypnophobia sometimes is expressed in people with other paranoid conditions. Some schizophrenics, for example, believe that anyone attempting eye contact is trying to induce hypnosis, and this could mean people can have little contact with the outside world. With medications like antipsychotics, this fear could recede.
Other hypnophobes, who don’t have schizophrenic conditions, can still be rendered miserable. They might fear they’ll be accidentally hypnotized. They’d avoid any films of it occurring, they may feel a susceptibility to being “put under,” at any time, and they often greatly fear for their safety if hypnosis occurs.
These aren’t rational fears; most people can’t be hypnotized against their will or forced to do anything they don’t want to when under hypnosis. Phobias, though, aren’t rational, and so these fears build. When fear of hypnosis builds, a person could have a variety of unpleasant reactions like nausea, racing heart, perspiration, rapid breathing, trembling, or full-blown panic attacks. Such responses make life very difficult.
Depending on the extent, fear of hypnosis may not just apply to being hypnotized. People might be afraid of being sedated medically. This could make certain things, such as surgeries, impossible to perform. A person might not be able to gather up the courage to face a bout of unconsciousness, of which there is no memory. Ironically, in many forms of hypnosis, people have full recall of what occurred, but the idea of not knowing what happens when something like anesthesia is used can be pervasive and frightening.
Fear of hypnosis means hypnotic techniques aren’t appropriate to address this condition, but other techniques that are successful are still available. In the short term, some people might be treated with non-sedating anti-anxiety medications that can help reduce symptoms. Additionally, different forms of behavioral therapy can then be tried; cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are two of the most common. Over time, these therapies can help reduce the fear of hypnosis response, greatly normalizing a person’s life. Patients must commit to hard work during therapy, but many successfully conquer this fear.