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smoking block

Smoking Block stopping stopping

I had an interesting session today. My client was an Indian IT guy, recently arrived in this country. He came from a traditional Indian family. There is a lot of pressure to conform. They don't like him smoking.

He wants to stop smoking but can't. He stopped for two years but then started again due to stress in his marriage. Says he smokes because it is always the easy way out of stress. He feels that he's got some sort of mental block. He doesn't want to smoke but keeps doing it. The block was mentioned several times in his description of the problem.

Targeting the block

Because he mentioned the block so often I decided to use that as my starting point. I asked him to think about going to work, walking up the steps, with his cup of coffee. Not wanting to smoke but feeling that block that stops him stopping. I developed the idea and he then began to talk about the block.

He said it was shapeless and limitless. I got him to describe what it looked like and eventually he said it just looks like smoke. I got him to talk about how he felt about that smoke. He said he felt that it was like smoke under a glass jar. It kept changing. I asked him what he wanted to have happen to the smoke. He said he wanted to disappear. I asked "And if that disappears what would that mean for you?".  "I would be able to see through it." "And what could you do then?". "I could manage it, I could get away from that black smoke, and manage to stop."

This confirmed the link between "disappearing" and "manage to stop".

Clearing the smoking block

I then said "and what would have to happen for that smoke to disappear". He hesitated for a long time. I said to him "look around you and see what else is there in that place." To my surprise he said "there is a painting."

I developed the painting.  He said "it has flowers. It is beautiful." I suggested to him "this is the source of power for you." "You can use this to get rid of that smoke." I used that resource until he agreed that the smoke had disappeared.

When the smoke had disappeared, I deepened him to a deeper level of trance. To be sure, I did an eye catalepsy test. He could not open his eyes.  Then I did the DRAIN metaphor therapy. This had him clear the block so that it drained out the soles of his shoes.

Organ talking

I then used the TALK TO THE PARTS method. I got him to talk to his lungs and listen to what they said. I got him to talk to his heart and listen to what that said. Then I suggested that he listen to all the other parts of him that are being affected by smoking. He said there were all complaining about his smoking. I got him to apologize to those parts for having betrayed them by smoking.  Then I got him then to ask for their forgiveness. He negotiated all this internally.

Then I used direct suggestion and him that he would never smoke again. I told him that he owed it to his organs to live for a long time. It was his job to keep himself healthy. He owed it to those parts to live for a long time.

Reinforcing the message

I tried for a hand ideomotor signal. I am not sure that I got one. But I suggested that this was his unconscious mind signaling to him. Then I told him to thank his unconscious mind for having made this change and making him a non-smoker. I suggested that he might get a message back of some sort. I am not sure what he got. His fingers did not move as I expected.

I then counted out and back to the present. He was clearly still partly in trance. I explained what had happened in terms that he would understand using a metaphor about operating systems. He could barely remember what had happened, except when I prompted him.

I was interested to see if his cultural background would have suggested something unusual in terms of his unconscious mind communicating something to him. Apparently not.

Interesting session.

 

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smoking my time

Smoking Stress and My Time

SMOKING AND MY TIME

Smoking is often claimed to be addictive, more addictive than heroin. But a moment's thought will bring up any number of examples of people who have smoked for decades and then gave up overnight. Or of people who can smoke a whole pack at the weekend and never think of a cigarette again during the week. Or who can smoke like chimneys on holiday and then stop completely until the following year. So smoking cannot just be a simple substance addiction.

The reasons why people smoke are as different as the people themselves. One reason that I come across again and again is that smoking is 'my time'.

'My Time' is how smokers describe the period after all the kids have been put to bed, or all the customers have been dealt with. It is a time to withdraw from the demands of others. A time to satisfy yourself, to have a break and chill out with your cigarette. They can put up with anything as long as they know that they can have some time to themselves later. Over many years they have come to associate having personal time with having a smoke. They now think that it is the cigarette that is making them feel better. In fact the cigarette is just incidental, the benefit is coming from the break, not the cigarette.

Smoking and addiction

This type of smoker has very little 'addiction' to tobacco. What they do have is a strong association between smoking and getting away from the incessant demands and responsibilities for others. This type of smoker is actually quite easy to get to stop smoking. Essentially all you have to do is to assure them that they are still entitled to their own quiet time, but to link this to doing something else. The smoking habit will go into extinction quite quickly, since it was never about nicotine in the first place.

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bad news for smokers

More bad news for smokers

More bad news for smokers

Smoking is bad for you in so many ways. It causes heart disease, lung cancer, skin wrinkles and emphysema. It also makes you smell, keep you addicted, and uses up all your money. But that actually is more bad news for smokers.

New research shows that smoking can prematurely age a man's sperm. It has long been known that older women have a greater risk of having children with birth defects. Apparently this also applies to men. The older the father, the more likely it is that his children will not be healthy.

The risk seems to be associated with epigenetic tags on the of the father's DNA. These DNA tags determine how active the genes are. The tags are altered by age, and diet, and now it appears, also by smoking. In fact, the correlation is so clear that scientists can now very accurately predict a man's age by examining these DNA tags. Scientists got a surprise when they matched their estimated age from the tags to the actual age of the man donating the sperm. They found that smoker's sperm showed much older tags than their actual age. The conclusion is that smoking ages your sperm prematurely.

Pregnant women should stop smoking

This is a worrying development. Older men have an increased chance of fathering children with autism and schizophrenia. It is not known if there is a connection between smoking and this, but the possibility is there. 

Pregnant women are routinely advised to stop smoking when they get pregnant. This research suggests that men who want to have children should also stop smoking. Particularly if they are older men to start with.

There is some good news. Sperm is produced fresh throughout a man's life. Therefore there is a chance that if the prospective father stops smoking he may be able to reverse some of the damage.

 

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smoking weight gain

Smoking Weight Gain

Smoking weight gain

I had an unusual client yesterday. She was very insistent that when she stopped smoking, she does not want to start eating instead. She is very afraid of putting on weight. And of something much deeper.

When we were talking about the reasons for her smoking, she hinted at various dark things in her childhood. But she was also adamant that she was not going there. She told me that she wanted me to stop her smoking. That was her number one priority. And when she has successfully done that she might look into dealing with the other things in her past. She had stopped smoking for four days when she was taken into hospital to have a stent put into her heart after having had a heart attack. In the hospital she felt great. She could clearly feel the benefits of not stopping. But as soon as she got into the car on the way home it smelled of smoke and her husband was smoking.  She immediately said "give me one of those." And has been smoking continuously since then.

Reasons for smoking

We talked at length about why she smokes. She smokes whenever she is agitated, whenever she is unsure what to do, whenever she is getting stressed. Basically smoking is an avoidance mechanism. She is using cigarettes as a way of putting off dealing with whatever it is that she has to deal with. I spoke at length about finding out what it is that is driving her to smoke, what is that is making her nervous and unsure. I asked her for examples. She said "when I'm giving a presentation, when explaining things to a client". I said that after 30 years surely she should have gotten over that. I said that "this is just a clear example of the way that something is making you uncertain and unsure of yourself".

I said that we really should try to deal with the deeper issues. But she absolutely refused. I told her that I could stop anyone smoking, and I didn't want her coming back in a few weeks. If  she was in a smoking household the pressure is so much stronger. Her husband smokes around her, he smokes indoors, she needs to put some pressure on him to be more supportive. He needs to recognize the danger he is posing to her. We left it at that.

Hypnosis for smoking

I suspected that she needed some willpower, some strength, some belief in her own ability to get through this. So I hypnotised her and took her to a bridge. On the bridge there was a powerful figure waiting for her to give her the strength that was missing.  The figure got her to realize that she was carrying something around with her. The figure said that these were stones. She dropped the stones off the bridge. And in return the figure gave her a magic talisman. 

I then reconnected her to the feeling she had in hospital, of being a non-smoker. After she had experienced what it was like to be a non-smoker, I did a metaphor of draining all the doubt out of her mind. This removed her belief that she could not give up smoking.

When she came back from trance she said that one of the stones was white and the second one was black. She said that she knew what they represented. She told me that the talisman was just a light. She went away convinced that she could stop smoking.

But I still wonder what deep secret she is holding.

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magic smoking question

Magic smoking question case

Every smoker is different

This case shows the power of the magic smoking question. A young woman came for stop smoking hypnotherapy. She told me that she really wanted to stop because of possible health issues in the future. She had no health issues now. I asked if she had ever stopped. She said that she had stopped once for three months but then started again when she arrived in this country. She liked to use cigarettes to break the ice at social events and meeting people. I couldn't get any real reason for why she wanted to give up. She told me she liked smoking and smoked whenever she could. Nobody was allowed to smoke at work so she smoked on the way to work, and after she got home at night. Even so she was getting through 15 cigarettes a day.

She said that she liked to smoke when she was stressed. Sometimes she would deliberately pick a fight with her boyfriend so that she would feel bad. That meant she could go outside and have a smoke to calm down. She did other things to provoke these feelings that let her light up to relieve the stress. Although she was completely honest and open about it, at the same time she wanted to hide her smoking from her parents back home and the people she worked with. She agreed that smoking was her secret and she got a bit of thrill out of that.

Asking the magic smoking question

I was at a bit of loss as to how to start with this client so I decided to ask her my favorite question 'What do you feel when I say "you will never have another cigarette as long as you live''?

Her answer was 'anger'. She felt angry at the idea that she would not be able to smoke again. She felt that she was being prevented from doing something that special to her.

I had never come across this particular response before. But it was an emotion and whenever an emotion surfaces I always do a metaphor replacement therapy on it. In this case I got her to visualize the anger, she saw it as a black triangle, made of squishy sponge, light and soft. You could squeeze the water out of it, but it would always fill up again.

I got her to imagine making the triangle a little smaller, and then a little smaller still. It stopped being able to hold water, and then she tore it in half and put the bits in the bin.

I asked what she felt about smoking now, and she said 'I think I can stop smoking now'!

I find the power of that simple question quite extraordinary. And just as extraordinary is the fact that smokers have these rather bizarre beliefs that stop them stopping.

I love doing smokers, no two are ever the same.

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smoking control

Smoking Control hypnosis

Some hypnotists don't like working with smokers because they think that smokers are all the same. They  treat every smoker with the same routines. I don't.

I find smokers endlessly fascinating: every smoker is unique. They each have a unique reason for smoking and a unique reason for keeping on smoking. When you find the reason you have found the solution.

I dealt with a smoker today who wasn't able to give up. She was a middle aged lady who could stop but always started again whenever she got stressed. I spent some time talking to her about why she smokes and particularly why she always starts again and she really had no idea. She had spent many hours thinking about it but never came up with an answer.

Smoking Control

But when I started probing when she started smoking, a pattern started to emerge. She started at school, with a few sneaked cigarettes with the other girls. She did not start smoking properly until she was eighteen. After leaving home, she got a job and a flat, and was having a lovely time away from the controls of her parents. She then shared that her dad hated smoking, and always had, and her mother thought it was unlady-like.

What I think  was actually happening was that she was flouting her parents' rule, showing independence and even rebellion. She was having a great time doing it. Unknown to her, she was actually anchoring that feeling of independence to smoking. So later in life, whenever she felt things getting on top of her, when she felt put down and out of control, she reached for a cigarette. Smoking unconsciously reminded of those times and that feeling. The feeling therefore got reinforced thousands of times.

Smoking control pattern

When she gives up, she is fine for days or weeks or even months. But then some situation comes along that makes her long to be in control again, to assert her independence, and the cravings for a cigarette start again. I think that her mind was dwelling on the missing feeling, and that was anchored onto smoking, so she found excuses to smoke.

Once the origin of the pattern had been established it was easy to target it with metaphors and suggestions. 

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smoking to relax

Smoking to relax

I had another interesting client today. This was another smoker who just can not give up. His story was that he was smoking to relax. He doesn't smoke a lot, five to fifteen a day, but must have his cigarette at various times of the day. He smokes on the walk between the train and his work, then at break times, at lunchtime and on the walk back to the train. But he does not smoke in the house. The reason he gave was that smoking was his time to himself. I have heard this many times and never paid much attention to it.

Smoking to relax?

However I couldn't find any reason why this man was smoking.  I will not go on with hypnosis until I know why they smoke, or I get a way into their world that I can use. This man said that he gave up once for a week, when he went on a camping holiday in Scotland on his own. He stopped for the whole week and never gave it a thought until he returned home. And immediately lit up again. He also said that he gave up when he came to this country for a job interview and spent three days in a hotel preparing and actually forgot that he smoked. He does not normally smoke as a response to stress at work, and if he is really busy will forget to smoke all day. Not smoking on a plane for ten hours doesn't bother him either.

I have a theory that you always have to examine the other side of the coin, what people are not doing, as well as what they are doing. I asked him what it was that he needed time to himself for. He said he had responsibility for his family and always worried about them. I pointed out that this could not be true when he started smoking. We pursued this idea of what it was that he was trying to avoid. I asked how he got on with his parents and siblings. He said he never got on with his dad. Then I dug into that and discovered that his father had divorced from his mother when the client was thirteen years old. He also said that he was afraid of his father. And that put the whole thing into perspective.

Reason for smoking

As a boy he felt he had to defend his mother in her time of need, and look after her, but he was not prepared for it at that age. He also knew that he could not in fact deal with his father and protect her, so he had he classic childhood trap. He had to do something but was prevented from doing it. This set up a life long anxiety. The only time he got away from it was when he had a smoke. It started with being with his friends as a teenager, and carried on. The reason he gave up in Scotland was because he was totally on his own and no one was relying on him for anything. So he had no anxiety, and no need for time out, so no need to smoke.

Knowing this I knew how to tackle his smoking - remove the source of the anxiety.

I did that and he is now a non-smoker for life.

I felt that this case has given me an important insight into the motivation of a lot of smokers.

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hard case smoker

The hard case smoker

Last weekend I had the kind of client we all dread. The hard case smoker: Someone who didn't believe that he could give up, ever. He had tried everything. He was only coming to hypnosis because it was the last thing on the list of all the things he had tried that didn’t work. Now he wanted to be able to  show that he done everything possible and nobody could get him to stop smoking.

He started smoking at 15. As a teenager, he was rebellious and resentful at home. He didn’t get on with his dad. He reckoned that as the youngest child his parents had expended all their energies on the older kids and he was of no interest to them. Smoking started when he joined the rugby team. He loved being part of the team, of feeling he belonged and was part of a group. He left home and joined the army. The Army made him feel included, somebody, a tough guy, always loved the camaraderie, the inclusiveness.

He later returned home and from the moment his father picked him up from the airport they began to reconcile. As time went on they became closer, and then his father got throat cancer and died suddenly. He was devastated by this. It was in 1982 but he still feels it keenly.

He is scared of dying and convinced that he cannot stop smoking and that the smoking will kill him, but he is powerless to stop.

Finding a metaphor for the hard case smoker

 I ask my clients a question to establish their feelings about smoking. I say what comes to mind when I say ‘You will never have another cigarette as long as you live’?  When I asked him what he felt he said "dubious".

I asked what smoking looked like and he said a group: him and all the group smoking. Then I decided to develop this and got him to describe the feeling he got with the group. He said the feeling was of being at peace, happy, not wanting it to end. I asked what colour that feeling was and he said red, and square. I asked if he was inside that square. He said, Yes, with all the group. Then I asked if he could drop his cigarettes and get everyone else do that too. He said he could. What has changed? He said nothing.

So I developed that in metaphor. I got him to imagine that they all dropped all the tobacco and lighters and stuff and there was everything on the floor, ash, ashtrays, cigs etc. I asked if he could sweep it up and throw it out of the red square. He said no. So I used incrementalism and got him to put one shovel-full out and if that was OK. He said that would be OK. And then another shovel, and then more shovels, and then all the group were helping and cheering on and he was a leader and the most popular guy in the red square. He eventually cleared out all the smoking stuff and still had all his friends with him in the red square room.

Anchoring the hard case smoker

What was particularly interested about this process is that he had gone into trance with no induction. I notice that when I get a client to focus on a feeling, and follow that feeling they normally go into trance. As long as I do nothing to break the spell, they will stay in trace and not even notice. In NLP this is called revivification. NLP asks the client to think about a memory and get into the memory so as to anchor the feeling. Then when you fire the anchor the client goes into the feeling, in effect goes into trance. This method just starts with the feeling. 

To finish the session I  got this client to go on a journey where he met his dad. His father released him from the smoking and told him that he could live a long and healthy life. I finished off with my standard stop smoking direct suggestions.

It remains to be seen if this client has in fact stopped for ever, but at the end of the session he said ‘It is weird, but I feel different. When I left that square room it had changed color!’

 

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cycle of addiction

Cycle of addiction 

Cycle of addiction

The cycle of addiction explains why people cannot stop smoking. But it does not explain why smokers who abstained for many years suddenly start again. I had a client today who has got me re-thinking  everything I know about smoking. 

This client smokes 25 to 30 a day now but was able to give up for a year. He started again about twelve months ago after a breakup with his long term girlfriend. He came to see me because a few weeks ago he broke up with the latest girlfriend as well and had started smoking really heavily.

I suppose the simple answer is to learn to keep his relationships going. That is not likely to happen, but it got me thinking about why this would start him smoking again. It is well known that stressful events trigger smoking in current smokers, and often make ex-smokers start again.

Cycle of learned behavior

The basic psychology of learned behaviour is CUE-RESPONSE-REWARD. The person gets stressed, lights up, and then feels better. That is the cycle. The addiction comes when the cycle changes to CUE-ANTICIPATION OF REWARD-RESPONSE. The smoker gets a stress cue, immediately thinks of the reward, wants the reward, and then lights up to get the reward. If the smoker does not get the reward, that is, if the smoker does not immediately light up, then the lack of expected reward turns into a craving aimed at making the person do the response. If the smoker does not get the response the result is either anger or depression.

Most smoking therapies focus on the CUE: teaching the client how to ignore the cue. Some focus on the RESPONSE: change how the smoker behaves, suggesting other things to do instead. Some focus on the REWARD: changing the effect of smoking into a bad taste instead of the reward.

But the smoking problem is really in two parts: stopping smoking, and not starting it again. The time between these two points can vary from five minutes to five years.

Is stopping smoking actually a two step process?

But this analysis got me thinking. If the smoking is the response to cue, then you have to look at the cues. The cues are well known: time of day, finishing a task, having a break, getting away from a stressful situation, eating, drinking, after sex, and so on. These are the cues for the current smoker. They are not the cues for the past smoker. The ex-smoker goes through all of these without smoking. So what is different that makes an ex-smoker into a start-again-smoker?

My clients tell me that it is almost always some sort of stressful life event. Every smoker gives up before having the next one. Most smokers don't want a next one, so they are in effect forced into it in order to deal with their stress (which may be purely internal). The required level of stress for some people is trivial, and for others it is high. For successful ex-smokers the required level is very high, so high that they don't start again ever. For others there is some level of stress they cannot deal with, some level that will trigger the smoking behaviour again.

If that is the case then would it not be better to teach the client how to deal with life event stress as part of the therapy?

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smoking crutch

Smoking Crutch

My client yesterday reminded me that over the years I have come to recognize various categories of smokers. This man I would classify as using smoking as a crutch. I wonder if other therapists would agree?

This smoker was very defensive about his smoking. On a scale of one to ten he only managed a seven on wanting to give up. One a scale of one to ten about how much he believed he could give up he said ' a two and a nine'. He was clearly conflicted about wanting to stop.

Smoking to avoid thinking

I asked how he felt on a plane when he couldn't smoke for three hours. He said he won't go on a plane because he would have to be hours without a cigarette, and couldn't accept that. It was an issue with his wife: she wanted to go abroad on holiday and he had never agreed. He told me that he used to wake up in the middle of the night, just so that he could have a smoke.

Every night, he makes sixty roll ups for the next day. That way he will have one ready instantly all day. He cannot imagine voluntarily being without tobacco in the house. If he had no tobacco, even if he had some smokes to hand, he would have to go and get some. Even it meant an hour's drive or more. He says that he smokes when he has nothing to do, or when he isn't sure what to do next.

I spent a long time trying to find out what he was getting from smoking. But he wouldn't or couldn't go into his reasons. He was very hard to get into, although a very pleasant man. He would rather talk about his opinions or experiences than delve into his own emotions. His father  had been very distant. I asked him if he ever got a hug as a child and he couldn't answer.

Smoking Crutch

He appears to be the type who smokes for something to do. I think that he needs to always feel that he has something to do to stop his mind coming up with some awful feeling. I think he has a deep childhood issue with having to do things in order to get love. But I could be wrong.

I think that smoking is something he does because it guarantees him that whenever that feeling of doubt comes up, his feeling of self worth, he knows he can avoid facing it, because his cigarettes are there to give him an instant distraction.

Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I have spent several hours thinking about this man and his behavior. I am getting more and more convinced that smoking is not simply an addiction. For this man it has been a psychological crutch for him all his life.

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