THE NATURE OF AUTOSUGGESTION
The Children's Clinic
Thought Is A Force
Thought Is A Force
Autosuggestion is not a pseudo-religion like Christian Science or "New
Thought." It is a scientific method based on the discoveries of
psychology. The traditional psychology was regarded by the layman, not
without some cause, as a dull and seemingly useless classification of
our conscious faculties. But within the past twenty-five years the
science has undergone a great change. A revolution has taken place in
it which seems likely to provoke a revolution equally profound in the
wider limits of our common life. From a preoccupation with the
conscious it has turned to the Unconscious (or subconscious), to the
vast area of mental activity which exists outside the circle of our
awareness. In doing so it has grasped at the very roots of life
itself, has groped down to the depths where the "life-force," the elan
vital, touches our individual being. What this may entail in the
future we can only dimly guess. Just as the discovery of America
altered the balance of the Old World, shifting it westward to the
shores of the Atlantic, so the discovery and investigation of the
Unconscious seems destined to shift the balance of human life.
Obviously, this is no place to embark on the discussion of a subject of
such extreme complexity. The investigation of the Unconscious is a
science in itself, in which different schools of thought are seeking to
disengage a basis of fact from conflicting and daily changing theories.
But there is a certain body of fact, experimentally proven, on which
the authorities agree, and of this we quote a few features which
directly interest us as students of autosuggestion.
The Unconscious is the storehouse of memory, where every impression we
receive from earliest infancy to the last hour of life is recorded with
the minutest accuracy. These memories, however, are not inert and
quiescent, like the marks on the vulcanite records of a gramophone;
they are vitally active, each one forming a thread in the texture of
our personality. The sum of all these impressions is the man himself,
the ego, the form through which the general life is individualised.
The outer man is but a mask; the real self dwells behind the veil of
The Unconscious is also a power-house. It is dominated by feeling, and
feeling is the force which impels our lives. It provides the energy
for conscious thought and action, and for the performance of the vital
processes of the body.
Finally the Unconscious plays the part of supervisor over our physical
processes. Digestion, assimilation, the circulation of the blood, the
action of the lungs, the kidneys and all the vital organs are
controlled by its agency. Our organism is not a clockwork machine
which once wound up will run of itself. Its processes in all their
complexity are supervised by mind. It is not the intellect, however,
which does this work, but the Unconscious. The intellect still stands
aghast before the problem of the human body, lost like Pascal in the
profundities of analysis, each discovery only revealing new depths of
mystery. But the Unconscious seems to be familiar with it in every
It may be added that the Unconscious never sleeps; during the sleep of
the conscious it seems to be more vigilant than during our waking hours.
In comparison with these, the powers of the conscious mind seem almost
insignificant. Derived from the Unconscious during the process of
evolution, the conscious is, as it were, the antechamber where the
crude energies of the Unconscious are selected and adapted for action
on the world outside us. In the past we have unduly exaggerated the
importance of the conscious intellect. To claim for it the discoveries
of civilisation is to confuse the instrument with the agent, to
attribute sight to the field-glass instead of to the eye behind it.
The value of the conscious mind must not be underrated, however. It is
a machine of the greatest value, the seat of reason, the social
instincts and moral concepts. But it is a machine and not the
engine, nor yet the engineer. It provides neither material nor power.
These are furnished by the Unconscious.
These two strata of mental life are in perpetual interaction one with
the other. Just as everything conscious has its preliminary step in
the Unconscious, so every conscious thought passes down into the lower
stratum and there becomes an element in our being, partaking of the
Unconscious energy, and playing its part in supervising and determining
our mental and bodily states. If it is a healthful thought we are so
much the better; if it is a diseased one we are so much the worse. It
is this transformation of a thought into an element of our life that we
call Autosuggestion. Since this is a normal part of the mind's action
we shall have no difficulty in finding evidence of it in our daily
Walking down the street in a gloomy frame of mind you meet a buoyant,
cheery acquaintance. The mere sight of his genial smile acts on you
like a tonic, and when you have chatted with him for a few minutes your
gloom has disappeared, giving place to cheerfulness and confidence.
What has effected this change?--Nothing other than the idea in your own
mind. As you watched his face, listened to his good-natured voice,
noticed the play of his smile, your conscious mind was occupied by the
idea of cheerfulness. This idea on being transferred to the
Unconscious became a reality, so that without any logical grounds you
Few people, especially young people, are unacquainted with the effects
produced by hearing or reading ghost-stories. You have spent the
evening, let us say, at a friend's house, listening to terrifying tales
of apparitions. At a late hour you leave the fireside circle to make
your way home. The states of fear imaged before your mind have
realised themselves in your Unconscious. You tread gingerly in the
dark places, hurry past the churchyard and feel a distinct relief when
the lights of home come into view. It is the old road you have so
often traversed with perfect equanimity, but its cheerful associations
are overlooked and the commonest objects tinged with the colour of your
subjective states. Autosuggestion cannot change a post into a spectre,
but if you are very impressionable it will so distort your sensory
impressions that common sounds seem charged with supernatural
significance and every-day objects take on terrifying shapes.
In each of the above examples the idea of a mental state--cheerfulness
or fear--was presented to the mind. The idea on reaching the
Unconscious became a reality; that is to say, you actually became
cheerful or frightened.
The same process is much easier to recognise where the resultant is not
a mental but a bodily state.
One often meets people who take a delight in describing with a wealth
of detail the disorders with which they or their friends are afflicted.
A sensitive person is condemned by social usage to listen to a
harrowing account of some grave malady. As detail succeeds detail the
listener feels a chilly discomfort stealing over him. He turns pale,
breaks into a cold perspiration, and is aware of an unpleasant
sensation at the pit of the stomach. Sometimes, generally where the
listener is a child, actual vomiting or a fainting fit may ensue.
These effects are undeniably physical; to produce them the organic
processes must have been sensibly disturbed. Yet their cause lies
entirely in the idea of illness, which, ruthlessly impressed upon the
mind, realises itself in the Unconscious.
This effect may be so precise as to reproduce the actual symptoms of
the disease described. Medical students engaged in the study of some
particular malady frequently develop its characteristic symptoms.
Everyone is acquainted with the experience known as "stage fright."
The victim may be a normal person, healthy both in mind and body. He
may possess in private life a good voice, a mind fertile in ideas and a
gift of fluent expression. He may know quite surely that his audience
is friendly and sympathetic to the ideas he wishes to unfold. But let
him mount the steps of a platform. Immediately his knees begin to
tremble and his heart to palpitate; his mind becomes a blank or a
chaos, his tongue and lips refuse to frame coherent sounds, and after a
few stammerings he is forced to make a ludicrous withdrawal. The cause
of this baffling experience lay in the thoughts which occupied the
subject's mind before his public appearance. He was afraid of making
himself ridiculous. He expected to feel uncomfortable, feared that he
would forget his speech or be unable to express himself. These
negative ideas, penetrating to the Unconscious, realised themselves and
precisely what he feared took place.
If you live in a town you have probably seen people who, in carelessly
crossing the street, find themselves in danger of being run down by a
vehicle. In this position they sometimes stand for an appreciable time
"rooted," as we say, "to the spot." This is because the danger seems
so close that they imagine themselves powerless to elude it. As soon
as this idea gives place to that of escape they get out of the way as
fast as they can. If their first idea persisted, however, the actual
powerlessness resulting from it would likewise persist, and unless the
vehicle stopped or turned aside they would infallibly be run over.
One occasionally meets people suffering from a nervous complaint known
as St. Vitus' Dance. They have a disconcerting habit of contorting
their faces, screwing round their necks or twitching their shoulders.
It is a well known fact that those who come into close contact with
them, living in the same house or working in the same office, are
liable to contract the same habit, often performing the action without
themselves being aware of it. This is due to the operation of the same
law. The idea of the habit, being repeatedly presented to their minds,
realises itself, and they begin to perform a similar movement in their
Examples of this law present themselves at every turn. Have you ever
asked yourself why some people faint at the sight of blood, or why most
of us turn giddy when we look down from a great height?
If we turn to the sufferers from neurosis we find some who have lost
their powers of speech or of vision; some, like the blacksmith we saw
in Coue's clinic, who have lost the use of their limbs; others
suffering from a functional disturbance of one of the vital organs.
The cause in each case is nothing more tangible than an idea which has
become realised in the Unconscious mind.
These instances show clearly enough that the thoughts we think do
actually become realities in the Unconscious. But is this a universal
law, operating in every life, or merely something contingent and
occasional? Sometimes irrelevant cheerfulness seems only to make
despondency more deep. Certain types of individual are only irritated
by the performance of a stage comedy. Physicians listen to the
circumstantial accounts of their patients' ailments without being in
the least upset. These facts seem at first sight at variance with the
rule. But they are only apparent exceptions which serve to test and
verify it. The physical or mental effect invariably corresponds with
the idea present in the mind, but this need not be identical with the
thought communicated from without. Sometimes a judgment interposes
itself, or it may be that the idea calls up an associated idea which
possesses greater vitality and therefore dislodges it. A gloomy person
who meets a cheerful acquaintance may mentally contrast himself with
the latter, setting his own troubles beside the other's good fortune,
his own grounds for sadness beside the other's grounds for
satisfaction. Thus the idea of his own unhappiness is strengthened and
sinking into the Unconscious makes still deeper the despondency he
experienced before. In the same way the doctor, listening to the
symptoms of a patient, does not allow these distressful ideas to dwell
in his conscious mind. His thought passes on immediately to the
remedy, to the idea of the help he must give. Not only does he
manifest this helpfulness in reasoned action, but also, by Unconscious
realisation, in his very bearing and manner. Or his mind may be
concentrated on the scientific bearings of the case, so that he will
involuntarily treat the patient as a specimen on which to pursue his
researches. The steeplejack experiences no giddiness or fear in
scaling a church spire because the thought of danger is immediately
replaced by the knowledge of his own clear head and sure foot.
This brings us to a point which is of great practical importance in the
performance of curative autosuggestion. No idea presented to the mind
can realise itself unless the mind accepts it.
Most of the errors made hitherto in this field have been due to the
neglect of this fundamental fact. If a patient is suffering from
severe toothache it is not of the slightest use to say to him: "You
have no pain." The statement is so grossly opposed to the fact that
"acceptation" is impossible. The patient will reject the suggestion,
affirm the fact of his suffering, and so, by allowing his conscious
mind to dwell on it, probably make it more intense.
We are now in a position to formulate the basic law of autosuggestion
Every idea which enters the conscious mind, if it is accepted by the
Unconscious, is transformed by it into a reality and forms henceforth a
permanent element in our life.
This is the process called "Spontaneous Autosuggestion." It is a law
by which the mind of man has always worked, and by which all our minds
are working daily.
The reader will see from the examples cited and from others which he
will constantly meet that the thoughts we think determine not only our
mental states, our sentiments and emotions, but the delicate actions
and adjustments of our physical bodies. Trembling, palpitation,
stammering, blushing--not to speak of the pathological states which
occur in neurosis--are due to modifications and changes in the
blood-flow, in muscular action and in the working of the vital organs.
These changes are not voluntary and conscious ones, they are determined
by the Unconscious and come to us often with a shock of surprise.
It must be evident that if we fill our conscious minds with ideas of
health, joy, goodness, efficiency, and can ensure their acceptation by
the Unconscious, these ideas too will become realities, capable of
lifting us on to a new plane of being. The difficulty which has
hitherto so frequently brought these hopes to naught is that of
ensuring acceptation. This will be treated in the next chapter.
To sum up, the whole process of Autosuggestion consists of two steps:
(1) The acceptation of an idea. (2) Its transformation into a reality.
Both these operations are performed by the Unconscious. Whether the
idea is originated in the mind of the subject or is presented from
without by the agency of another person is a matter of indifference.
In both cases it undergoes the same process: it is submitted to the
Unconscious, accepted or rejected, and so either realised or ignored.
Thus the distinction between Autosuggestion and Heterosuggestion is
seen to be both arbitrary and superficial. In essentials all
suggestion is Autosuggestion. The only distinction we need make is
between Spontaneous Autosuggestion, which takes place independently of
our will and choice, and Induced Autosuggestion, in which we
consciously select the ideas we wish to realise and purposely convey
them to the Unconscious.
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