In September of 2008, while wrapping up a joyfully tearful hypnotherapy session for a friend who had been six months into a hellish post-break-up heartache, the seed of this project was planted into the cyber garden of the internet.
For a few years prior I had been amazed at the ease and speed with which hypnotherapy was able to help people emerge from all-consuming heartache. My affinity for this topic came early in my career as a hypnotherapist, starting with a pro bono session I did for a friend of a friend when I was still cutting my teeth at doing emotional healing work back in 2004, the year after my training.
I had been out at a bar one evening, catching up with some friends, when the topic of my entry into seeing clients for hypnotherapy came up.
“You must help my friend Paul,” pleaded my friend. “He got dumped two months ago and has been a mess ever since. He cannot be alone and he goes out drinking every night.”
My friend connected Paul and I, and we set up a time for me to go over to his apartment to do a session. He was nervous, and so was I – I was new at this, and the pressure was on to help a real person in real suffering.
Paul had allowed his entire sense of self to get tied up with his ex-boyfriend. When his ex ended the relationship, Paul was completely devastated and unable to cope with the inner emotional turmoil without constant social interaction/distraction and numbing the pain through alcohol. It was a familiar story, and not a difficult one to relate to. I had been down that trail before, as had most people I knew.
The roommates were out of the apartment. The phone ringer was turned off. The sounds of evening rush hour traffic rumbled their way through the single paned, street-facing windows. Paul lay on his bed, which was a twin mattress placed on the floor of his room. I sat on a chair a couple of feet away. I used some of the standard hypnotic induction techniques I had learned back when I first started studying hypnosis on my own back when I was 15 years old, and which were reiterated to me in my formal training some 13 years later.
It was his first time to experience hypnosis, and Paul seemed to take to it very well. After several minutes of slow, deep breathing, we moved into visualizations. I could see his eyes dance from side to side underneath his eyelids, which let me know he had entered a hypnotic state and was fully engaged in the imaginal world I was verbally crafting for him.
Paul was suffering from what many of us do in his situation – a distorted sense of self. Even though Paul had likely spent most of his life as an independent, single person, he had somehow allowed his identity to get entangled with his romantic partner. And when that partner left, so did Paul’s sense of self. I knew that this distorted sense of self was the low hanging fruit that I needed to address with him right away.
Acknowledging that, as with any client in such a situation, there was the possibly that his trauma from this breakup could be partly due to unresolved childhood issues such as abandonment or lack of solid love from parents, I knew that Paul’s main priority was to feel better – and right now. Healing childhood issues can require a longer time and a greater commitment to the therapeutic process than the single session that he and I had arranged. I knew I had to do what I could to help him in this moment of his life – to give him quick relief. His childhood would be there to deal with later, if that even turned out to be an issue for him.
My main goal was to reactivate Paul’s sense of self. To guide him to feeling good about himself once again. In hypnotherapy circles, we call this “ego strengthening.” Spiritual and personal development circles often talk about the detrimental effects of having a “big ego” but we rarely discuss the implications of having a diminished ego.
The diminished ego is the domain of victimhood, fear, vulnerability, and dependency. And for those suffering from heartache, one of the main causes of emotional pain is a lack of self worth, self-regard, self-esteem — whatever words we choose to use. This weakened ego manifests as regret, self-blame, self-doubt, and self-loathing, and can lead to thought patterns such as:
- “I’m not worthy”
- “I don’t deserve”
- “I’m not likeable”
- “I’m not lovable”
All of these can easily translate into “I’ll never find someone and I’ll be alone and miserable for the rest of my life.” Yes, it looks dramatic written out, but that’s the reality of the heartache mind. Its no wonder that devastating breakups are a common predecessor to depression and suicide.
Paul, despite the emotional intensity of his subjective experience, was actually an easy case. His circumstances were ideal:
- He had a stable, loving childhood (strong foundation at the base family level)
- He had happy, socially successful teen years (positive validation from the outside world)
- He had a vibrant adult social and work life (continued positive validation from the outside world thru to the present)
These positive realities are what we call “inner resources,” which can be tapped into and activated during hypnosis to remind the person of how likable, lovable, and successful in life they are. And in the case of Paul, this is all we needed to do.
After establishing the hypnotic state, I simply guided Paul to recall a happy, loving, and fulfilling time from his past. He scanned his memory banks for a period in life that fit this criteria and was soon back in the high school play: performing on stage, receiving accolades from his teachers, and enjoying incredible love and support from friends and family. It was his golden moment. After 10 to 15 minutes steeping in these good memories, I gently guided him to return to the waking state bringing all of those good feelings back with him. The session was complete.
Paul emerged jubilant. He felt like he had been transplanted into a new body and new brain. He felt light, happy, and completely free of all of the terribly consuming thoughts and feelings he had prior to the session. While his body and mind were experiencing bliss, Paul’s intellect was in a state of disbelief at the complete shift in his subjective experience within a 30 minute session that simply involved recalling some good memories.
I was likewise overjoyed. It was one of those moments in life that let me know I was on the right track. That this was important work. That I needed to continue with it. That there was so much healing to be done. So much suffering to alleviate. And that so few of those suffering from emotional turmoil had any clue that such direct and rapid healing was available to them through this bizarre and little understood practice of hypnotherapy.
Paul continued to reach out to me for several weeks, letting me know that the healing had lasted and that he was now in a in a sustained joyful and vibrant place in his life. The last check-in I had with him, he was happily in a new relationship that felt stable and healthy to him.
Can healing really be that simple? In many cases, yes. When we understand the technology of hypnotherapy and when we understand the rules of engagement of the mind and emotions, we can be incredibly effective with very little effort. It’s like the status quo is thinking that to get through a set of doors, we will need a battering ram and ten strong men. Then comes along a frail old man with a key, who slips it into the keyhole, makes a subtle turn of the wrist, and then the doors pop open all on their own. Depression and anxiety can seem insurmountable and clinicians often don’t know what to do aside from prescribe medications. But there are other gentle approaches, such as hypnotherapy, that bring actual healing at a fraction of the cost and with no biological toll on the brain and rest of the body.
Four years later, its 2008. I’m back at the end of wrapping up the heartache healing session with my friend I mentioned at the beginning of this story. He, like Paul, was overwhelmed with joy at his liberation from heartache after a 15-minute guided process. I told him that I had had many such incredible experiences of healing with clients, and was contemplating sharing the techniques with the world via a website called “HeartBreak Therapy.” He responded with “You HAVE to do this!” and insisted that we go online, in that moment, and buy the domain name www.HeartBreakTherapy.com. And we did.
It took me nearly a year to set aside the time to start transcribing the techniques I had been using. From 2009 through 2012, what started out as a simple website with a few audio links morphed into a full-fledged book project. All these years later, the book is finished.
What a thrill and adventure and series of joyful collaborations it has been to bring this project to fruition — from the cover graphic, designed pro-bono by a Mexico City-based graphic designer I met at a beach on vacation, to the book’s subtitle “Repair Manual for a Broken Heart,” which was suggested to me from an activist-photographer I began chatting with one afternoon at my local coffee shop, to the book’s comedic illustrations, which were generously gifted from my cartoonist brother. This book is the product of the gifts of many and was created in the spirit of love and generosity and the desire to make the world a little easier to live in.
I hope you enjoy this book and that you and those you share it with are able to benefit from the fruits of all of the labors, inspirations, and good intentions that went into making it a reality.
May we all live with open hearts.