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THE NATURE OF AUTO-SUGGESTION1.
BY ERNEST JONES.
From time to time in the course of the past fifty years or more a fresh wave of interest has been aroused in the subject of auto-suggestion. These waves fall into four or five fairly well-marked periods, but it is not proposed to give any historical description of them here. On reviewing the literature produced by these different periods one does not, I am afraid, get the impression that the last half-century has seen any serious addition to our knowledge of the subject, which remains much as it was in the days of Baragnona, seventy years ago, who discussed it under the name of automagnétisation.
That being so, it would be tempting to seek elsewhere than in scientific curiosity for the source of the interest that periodically continues to be taken in the subject, and one might in this connection throw out the following suggestions. Assuming that there really is a phenomenon of auto-suggestion, and that its therapeutic value can compare with that of the usual suggestion treatment, then it is clear that the use of it presents two features that are bound to make a wide appeal. In the first place, the idea caters to the universal desire for ‘free will’ and flatters the narcissistic sense of omnipotence by according with its favourite conception of the ego as a self-sufficing and self-acting agent, independent of the outer world and able to gratify all its wishes by the incantation of magic verbal formulae3. In the second place, it specifically delivers the patient from the most dreaded form of outer dependence, namely the sexual transference which psycho-analysis has shown to underlie what must for the sake of convenience be termed hetero-suggestion“. The motives just indicated probably apply to the physician as well as to the patient, for in treating numbers of patients en masse by 'auto-suggestion' he can gratify the hypnotist's sense of power without needing to become aware of the accompanying personal (and sexual) dependence of the patients. The medical dread of this transference relationship is well known, and I surmise that we may also attribute to it the fact that so many hypnotists have during the past forty years insisted on their preference of “suggestion in the waking state” to hypnotism proper; one need only instance the names of Bernheim, Bramwell, Forel, Van Renterghem and Vogt.
1 Read before the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society, March 22, 1923. 2 Étude du magnétisme animal, 1853, pp. 198 et seq.
3 On the narcissistic importance of words see Ferenczi, Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, 1916, pp. 194 et seq.
4 I cannot refrain from remarking here on the very imperfect acquaintance with psychoanalytic writings displayed by McDougall in his statement that this theory of transference is “based merely on the fact that some subjects show signs of erotic excitement when in hypnosis, and on the Freudian prejudice, etc.” (“A Note on Suggestion,” Journal of Neurology and Psychopathology, vol. 1. p. 4.)
Leaving aside these questions of popular fashion and motive, we may turn to consideration of some of the still unsolved problems relating to auto-suggestion. In proposing discussion of these problems I am further moved by the consideration that so far they have received no attention from the standpoint of psycho-analysis.
The first problem of all is of course whether there is such a thing at all as auto-suggestion, i.e. whether there is any endopsychic process showing the characteristics that distinguish what we ordinarily call suggestion. When I raised this question in opening the discussion on auto-suggestion at a recent meeting of this Society my remark was evidently taken in jest, but I noted that both the reader of the paper (Dr William Brown) and all the other speakers confined what they had to say to the subject of hetero-suggestion, so that my question cannot be regarded as unjustified; incidentally, McDougall has expressed a similar scepticism
It is impossible to proceed, therefore, without first coming to some understanding about what are the essential characteristics of suggestion in general. Here, unfortunately, there is a lack of agreement in some important particulars?, and it is easy to see that the view adopted by a given author in these respects determines his attitude towards the problem of auto-suggestion. The difference of opinion mainly exists over which should be regarded as the most important and characteristic of the processes comprising suggestion. It is generally agreed that these can be grouped under three headings. In the first place there is the emotional rapport existing between the subject and the operator, the state determined by Durand (de Gros)3 hypotaxia and by myself 4
Op. cit. p. 9. ? See Bernard Hart, “The Methods of Psychotherapy,” Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. (Psych. Sect.), vol. XIII.
Philips (a nom de guerre), Cours théorique et pratique de Braidisme, 1860, p. 29.
"The Action of Suggestion in Psychotherapy,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1910, Vol. v. p. 219. Reprinted in my Papers on Psycho-Analysis, Third Ed., 1923, Chapter xix.
affective suggestion. This is indubitably the stage that precedes any other process, and on its existence the later processes depend. Secondly, there is the acceptance of the idea suggested, the process termed by Durando ideoplasty and by myself? verbal suggestion. Thirdly, there is the ultimate effect realised by this idea after it has been incorporated into the personality.
I will now quote four of the most notable definitions that have been given of suggestion, and it will be seen that they fall into two groups, according as the main importance is attached to the second or third of these processes respectively. Bernheim3 gave the broad definition of suggestion as “l'acte par lequel une idée est introduite dans le cerveau et acceptée par lui.” McDougallo, with evidently the same point of view, has rendered this more precise in the statement that “Suggestion is a process of communication resulting in the acceptance with conviction of the communicated proposition independently of the subject's appreciation of any logically adequate grounds for its acceptance.” In contrast with this attitude stands Janet's5 conception of suggestion as the “développements complets et automatiques d'une idée qui se font en dehors de la volonté et de la perception personnelle du sujet.” Similarly Th. Lipps6 regards suggestion as “die Hervorrufung einer psychischen Wirkung, die normaler Weise nicht aus der Weckung einer Vorstellung sich ergibt, durch Weckung dieser Vorstellung” (“the evocation, by arousing an idea, of a psychical effect which normally would not result from the arousing of such an idea"), and he further? insists that "nicht die Weckung der Vorstellungen, sondern diese weitergehende psychische Wirkung ist das Charakteristische der Suggestion. Diese psychische Wirkung ist das eigentlich Suggerirte” (“it is not the arousing of the ideas, but this further psychical effect, that is the characteristic of suggestion. This psychical effect is what is really “suggested””). There can be little doubt that the emphasis laid here by Janet and Lipps on the further effects or action (Wirkung) of the suggested idea represents a definite advance on the intellectualistic conceptions of Bernheim and McDougall. Even if the latter would maintain that they too have in mind a psychical effect of the idea introduced, it is plain that their definition refers chiefly to one effect only, namely, disturbed judgement, and does not take into sufficient account the other abnormal effects, such as hallucinatory sensations, influence on bodily processes, etc.
1 Philips, op. cit. p. 44.
2 Loc. cit. The only exception to this is with Moll's Stumme Hypnose in which not a word is spoken, and this affords one of the many interesting transitions between heteroand auto-suggestion.
3 Hypnotisme, Suggestion, Psychothérapie, 1903 édition, p. 24.
6 “Suggestion und Hypnose,” Sitzungsbericht der bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, 1897 (1898), S. 394. It is a matter for regret that this essay, doubtless because of its relative inaccessibility, is not more widely known, for it contains the most searching discussion of the subject yet provided by any psychologist.
? Idem, op. cit. S. 392.
Lipps made two further steps in the nearer definition of the psychical action or effect (Wirkung) in question. In the first place, he points outi that what is remarkable in connection with suggestion is not the actual nature of the effects, which can all be produced by other means, but the way in which they are produced. It is the conditions under which the effects follow an idea that are peculiar to suggestion, for these effects would not follow the idea under other conditions. The characteristic of these conditions he sees in a special combination of intact psychical energy with diminished psychical excitability? By the latter phrase he means an inhibition of the counter-ideas which normally would oppose the action of the suggested ones. This inhibition is, of course, related to the contrasting freedom with which ideas are accepted from the operator, and is thus the secondary result of the state of rapport mentioned above. He therefore includes these two additional conclusions in his final definition of suggestion, which is3: “Die Hervorrufung einer über das blosse Dasein einer Vorstellung hinausgehenden psychischen Wirkung in einem Individuum, durch Weckung einer Vorstellung seitens einer Person oder eines von dem Individuum verschiedenen Objectes, sofern diese psychische Wirkung durch eine in ausserordentlichem Masse stattfindende Hemmung oder Lähmung der über die nächste reproducirende Wirkung der Suggestion hinausgehenden Vorstellungsbewegung bedingt ist.” ("The evocation in an individual, through an idea being aroused by another person or an object distinct from the individual, of a psychical effect that goes beyond the mere existence of this idea, provided always that this psychical effect is conditioned by an extraordinary inhibition or paralysis of the ideational movement which passes beyond the proximate reproductive effect of the suggestion.”) He explicitly included autosuggestion in this definition in a way which will presently be noted.
The actual phenomenology of the effects of suggestion are too well known to need recounting here. Concerning their nature Lipps has shown in detail that all of them, even the eliciting of hallucinatory sensations, represent the normal logical consequences of the suggested ideas, differing only from the usual consequences of the same idea in that, through the inhibition of the criticising ideas customarily operative, they are allowed to proceed to their logical termination without hindrance. We may therefore conclude that the characteristic of suggestion lies in the free development of the effects of communicated ideas, the forces usually hindering this development being neutralised by the presence of the rapport, or concentration on the idea of the operator. It is generally agreed that this rapport consists of an emotional bond; as is well known, psycho-analysts consider the bond to be sexual in nature and due to the re-animation of an infantile attachment to a parent.
1 “Zur Psychologie der Suggestion,” Zeitschr. f. Hypnotismus, 1897, Band vii. S. 95. ? Idem, “Suggestion und Hypnose,” op. cit. S. 520. • Idem, “Zur Psychologie der Suggestion,” op. cit. S. 117.
Our formulation of the three processes thus runs in order: rapport; inhibition of all mental processes except those suggested; free development of the latter. We are now able to reduce the difference of opinion noted above to differences in the view held of the way in which the rapport operates; all are agreed that it is in this that the operative force resides. From this point of view the two schools of thought may be contrasted somewhat as follows: according to one, the main thing is the remarkable influence exerted by the operator, or hypnotist; granted this and the rest follows, the ideas developing to their logical conclusion by the sheer force imparted to them. According to the other school, the main thing is the subject's peculiar attitude towards the operator; it is this which neutralises any critical ideas inimical to his. Psycho-analysts may certainly be classed as belonging to the latter school. Some thirteen years ago, for instance, I wrotel: “We can no longer regard the subject as a helpless automaton in the hands of a strong-willed operator; it is nearer the truth to regard the operator as allowing himself to play a part, and by no means an indispensable one, in a drama constructed and acted in the depths of the subject's mind.”
From what has been said, it is not astonishing that the two views just described lead to contrasting attitudes towards the subject of autosuggestion. Those who expound the former of the two views tend to decry the importance of auto-suggestion or else to deny its existence altogether, to depreciate its practical value, and to attribute most of its phenomena, whether therapeutic or pathogenic, to some more or less disguised form of hetero-suggestion. In this group of authors may be mentioned Baragnon?, Camus and Pagniez3, McDougall, and Grasset5;
1 Op. cit. p. 220. 4 Loc. cit.
2 Loc. cit. 3 Isolement et Psychothérapie, 1904, p. 57.
L'Hypnotisme et la Suggestion, 1904, p. 131.