What is a Fear of Hypnosis?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
An irrational fear of hypnosis is called hypnophobia.
An irrational fear of hypnosis is called hypnophobia.

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.

A person with a fear of hypnosis may experience panic attacks at the thought of being hypnotized.
A person with a fear of hypnosis may experience panic attacks at the thought of being hypnotized.

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.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate the symptoms of hypnophobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate the symptoms of hypnophobia.

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.

Hypnophobia refers to a fear of hypnosis, as well as a fear of sleep.
Hypnophobia refers to a fear of hypnosis, as well as a fear of sleep.

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.

People who have a fear of hypnosis may experience trembling.
People who have a fear of hypnosis may experience trembling.

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

KoiwiGal

@clintflint - It seems like a fairly reasonable fear to me. I mean, as fears go, it's one that is generally supported by evidence, since a lot of people tend to believe in hypnosis as a valid means of controlling others or themselves.

I remember when I was a kid I totally believe in it and tried to hypnotize my friends (which didn't really work, surprisingly enough). If you really believed that it was a common thing for people to do, there's no reason why you shouldn't believe it might happen to you, whether or not you're an important person.

Average people get mugged all the time. Being average doesn't mean that you're safe.

clintflint

@Fa5t3r - Yeah, I think people are convinced by stage hypnosis shows, but they are basically not real. The guy on stage either uses people who have been planted, or he will just make sure that the people he picks look like they are really playing along.

But there have definitely been studies that show it can help in some cases to reduce pain or relieve the symptoms of illness. So there must be something to it.

I think in most cases people who are really afraid of hypnosis are experiencing paranoia, though. Because, the thing is, why would anyone bother to hypnotize them? I don't mean to be dismissive, but if I could actually hypnotize people against their will and I was happy to use that talent, I'd probably be going after people in power.

Fa5t3r

It's my understanding that people can't really be hypnotized without permission. I mean, if they could be, I think it would happen quite often because there are some horrible people in the world. But I'm pretty sure you have to go to a hypnotist with a phobia for hypnosis treatment and even then it might not work. It's not the magical tool of manipulation that they show on television.

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    • An irrational fear of hypnosis is called hypnophobia.
      An irrational fear of hypnosis is called hypnophobia.
    • A person with a fear of hypnosis may experience panic attacks at the thought of being hypnotized.
      A person with a fear of hypnosis may experience panic attacks at the thought of being hypnotized.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate the symptoms of hypnophobia.
      Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate the symptoms of hypnophobia.
    • Hypnophobia refers to a fear of hypnosis, as well as a fear of sleep.
      Hypnophobia refers to a fear of hypnosis, as well as a fear of sleep.
    • People who have a fear of hypnosis may experience trembling.
      People who have a fear of hypnosis may experience trembling.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy may help treat a person's fear of hypnosis.
      Cognitive behavioral therapy may help treat a person's fear of hypnosis.