And yet, I still had a bully in my head who called me a “dumb, lazy, pathetic piece of shit” whenever I sat down to write. (Also when I bought doughnuts.) No amount of insight, it seemed, could silence this inner bastard, with his long, sharp knives and colorful array of insults. Then, about six months ago, I ran into a friend who told me he’d recently quit smoking. For 20 years, he’d been a pack-a-day smoker, but after three sessions with a hypnotist named Melissa Tiers, he’d quit cold turkey.
“What else can she cure?” I asked.
“Any bad habit,” he said. “Drinking, overeating, insomnia, anxiety, negativity—you name it.”
Negativity seemed like a mild term for the sadist who’d been squatting in my brain since my early 20s. My problem was clearly not a conscious one. I knew perfectly well I was not a dumb, lazy, pathetic piece of shit. It was my unconscious that needed convincing.
A week later, I was at Tiers’ office at the Center for Integrative Hypnosis in New York City. It’s a tasteful, professional-looking place with a reassuring lack of incense. “What I do is practical neuroscience,” says Tiers. “Anything done with repetition creates a pattern, or a ‘neural network,’ in the brain. We want to swap that unhealthy network for a positive new one.”
There are a lot of different ways to be hypnotized. I lay down in a big, furry-blue reclining chair that looked uncannily like Cookie Monster, and Tiers spoke to me in a deep, rhythmic voice. The session lasted about 45 minutes.
The trance itself was surprisingly light. I never lost consciousness or forgot where I was, but at some point, I began to feel so deeply relaxed that it was as if a lead blanket had been laid over my entire body. Within three sessions, the inner bully had vanished. I couldn’t even remember what his tirades had felt like.
Just in case, Tiers also armed me with a bunch of self-hypnosis techniques to use if he ever came back. She does this with all her clients, though most, she says, are cured within three sessions. “I want people to know they can help themselves,” she says. “It’s like learning a martial art. First, you learn how to kick ass. Then, you learn how to never need to do it.”