Smoking behaviour

Finding patterns in smoking behaviour

Smokers do not know why they smoke

I had an interesting smoking client today. This man has given up several times but always starts again. He started smoking three weeks ago, after having given up for four months using Champix. Previously he had given up for a year and half , also with Champix.

I kept asking him why he smoked, and what he got from smoking. He said he did not know. I kept pressing him and he said "I'm not the kind of person who analyses things deeply." He did not know why he started smoking again. I asked him how he felt when he give up smoking. He told me that he felt stronger and more active but it stopped him sleeping well. The information about sleeping made me suspect that in fact he had "black and white thinking".
I showed him the dysthymia grid I use. This shows all the signs and symptoms of dysthymia. And he began smiling as he recognized himself there.

Indicators of dysthymia

We talked about dysthymia and it gradually unfolded that he had had it all his life. I explained to him that it was partly genetic and partly environment. I said you will probably find that some members of your extended family are angry, alcoholics, loners and so on. He immediately said "Yes, my grandfather was a drinker. And my father is a worrier".
We went back to talking about why he smoked and what he felt just before he smoked. He could not identify any particular feeling, or situation, which prompted him to smoke. He said "I just like to go outside and have a break now and then".

And that was the clue to why he smoked. He actually had a fairly mild form of dysthymia. He had expectations of how things should go. When he had done what you thought was right at work, and things still went wrong, he got irritated. This is classic dysthymia behavior. In his case he dealt with the irritation by stepping outside and having a smoke. He admitted he often didn't actually want the smoke. He would like one up, smoke half of it, and throw it away. And pace up and down for a while. But he couldn't give up.
He was smoking as a way of dealing with his frustration. As long as he did not understand the source of his frustration he would continue to start smoking again whatever the level of frustration got high enough.

It's not about stopping smoking, it's about stopping starting.

He had already stopped smoking many times. His problem isn't stopping smoking. He knows how to do that. His problem is stopping starting again. So we spent some time discussing how he was going to deal with his frustration. He said  that instead of going out for a smoke he would take my suggestion and go out for a walk around the block.
I therefore put him into hypnosis and used my standard stop smoking routine. But I added in some extra suggestions about monitoring his own level of frustration and using this is a trigger to get more exercise.

I think it very interesting that so many smokers never give a thought to why they smoke, or when they smoke, or look for patterns in it. The pattern is usually fairly obvious once you look for it.

David Mason

Therapist at Wellington Hypnosis
David Mason is an experienced and university qualified hypnotherapist with 15 years of clinical practice. He has a PhD and a Masters degree in psychology.
He is highly regarded in the hypnotherapy community. He is Vice President of the New Zealand Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (NZAPH).
He is regularly consulted for advice by other hypnotherapists around the world. He is known for the quality of his published scripts. He presents at international conferences and has published on hypnosis and advanced hypnotherapy.
He lives in Wellington New Zealand with his wife Trish and a cat called Parsnip.
David Mason
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