Thursday, August 16, 2007

Verbal Impact

Since Michael was kind enough to give me an excellent update on his experience at the NGH conference (I am not kidding, Michael, it feels as if I had been there myself), as well as his permission to blog it, I thought you would enjoy this as well. Pretty interesting stuff and much for us to think about.

Something really interesting happened Sunday morning at a session called "Verbal Impact". The basic premise was that the old saw about sticks and stones is wrong, that words can really hurt. I've always believed that words themselves are neutral -- that the power they have is the power we give them when we hear them rather than anything intrinsic to the word itself -- so I wasn't fully buying the premise, but I know the presenter, Gloria Constantas, so I went to sit in the front row and offer her a friendly face and moral support. Very early on she needed a volunteer and she picked me for a quick demonstration.

Gloria had me hold my arm out to the side and instructed me to resist when she pressed down on it. No problem. She had the audience start calling out, "You're weak!" and, not too surprisingly (it was 8:00am on Sunday, and I was still a little hypnopompic), she was able to push my arm down quite easily. Having the crowd call out, "You're strong!" reversed the affect and I had no trouble resisting Gloria.

Here's where it gets really strange (or belief-challenging for me). Gloria gave me a folded piece of paper and had me hold it against my chest over the heart. I had no idea what was on the paper if anything. With the audience silent she did the arm test again and my arm was weak. She took that back, unfolded it, and revealed that it contained one word: FEAR. We repeated the test with a different piece of paper, and this time my arm resisted. The word? LOVE.

Being something of a pragmatist, I can easily imagine my subconscious assuming that the second paper would be designed to produce the opposite effect from the first and responding accordingly. But I had no way of knowing, consciously or not, what was on that first piece of paper. At most my inner mind had a 50/50 chance of guessing based on the pattern of the verbal test -- and that would be a deduction, a function of the conscious mind rather than the subconscious. Or maybe because Gloria knew, I was really responding to unconscious signals from her or from her confidence in what the result would be? Very interesting ... but it still leaves open the possibility that the word alone, without my knowing what it was, had power. That was spooky.
It is funny, I have never really believed that "words can never hurt me." Being a sensitive type, I have spent much time trying not to hurt over someone else's "words" to me and try to be careful about the "words" I use to communicate. And I think it is probably the "words" that attract me to hypnosis and their ability to help someone change their mind. But, this experience that Michael had blows me away, and not just the whole word being used but not shared. The whole thing about his arm and the movements related to positive and negative words is astounding. I had head of a similar experiment where audience members were asked to think negative thoughts about the subject (as this is in experiment terms, I think it is fine usage of the word "subject"). He was asked to hold out as arm and try to resist the experimenter's pushing it down, as Michael did. The arm went down quickly. Then the audience was asked to think positive thoughts about the subject, and the arm stayed strong against physical resistance. Powerful, indeed.

If anyone else would like to share conference experiences, I would love to hear from you as well. If you do not want to post them to the blog, email me at


Anonymous said...

Gloria's session turned out to be one of the highlights of the conference for me.

BTW, Gloria's website is at and I strongly recommend a look.

-Michael Raugh, C.H.

Philolog said...

Thank you so much for the feedback! I also have a blog on blogger, called
Gloria Constantas