How to hypnotise a nation

Government intervention – where does it stop when it comes to psychological control?

STAGE HYPNOSIS, such as you may have seen performed by the likes of Derren Brown and Paul McKenna, and hypnotherapy are not the same thing, but do share some common techniques.

For example, they both bypass the conscious to access the subconscious. In stage hypnosis the purpose of that is to entertain; in hypnotherapy its purpose is to heal.

The technique is effective in bypassing not just an individual’s subconscious but also the collective consciousness, which is why the concept of hypnotising an entire group of people, or even a whole nation, is not just the stuff of science fiction. 

So, how could that happen?

The subconscious vs the conscious

The subconscious is the inner sentry on the watchtower of your mind, constantly scanning the horizon for any threat and always quick to prioritise your safety over your happiness at the first sign of trouble.

When your subconscious decides you are at psychological or physical risk, it will trigger emotional and physical responses to alert you to the danger it perceives you’re facing. 

Your subconscious is also your dominant emotional centre. It is irrational and illogical because it is emotional, and emotion is more powerful than rationalisation and logic. That’s why a panic attack is all-consuming and defies any sort of rationalisation.

Your subconscious generalises. What this means is that it will apply your experience of one thing to every similar thing. 

Perhaps most importantly, your subconscious mind has no concept of time. What happened 30 years ago feels like yesterday (or even five minutes ago) to your subconscious. So, the old saying that time’s a great healer holds no sway with your subconscious mind.

In the pandemic we have a very recent example of how our conscious mind can be bypassed relatively easily and quickly. 

If, as I do, we define hypnosis as ‘subconscious dominance’ – the point at which the subconscious and not the logical conscious is in charge – then it’s not hard to see the process of mass hypnosis in action, even in the pandemic’s early stages.  

The pandemic represents unresolved trauma – an unexpected or unwanted event which, left unaddressed, has a massive psychological impact because it creates the belief that ‘I am not safe’.

And because the subconscious doesn’t understand the concept of time, this innate sense of being in danger becomes a constant companion, infecting that individual’s life until it is addressed and resolved.

Once the subconscious mind is activated it becomes a fertile ground in which to seed belief and action through subliminal messaging and commands, because these are much more likely to elicit a required response from someone who is living in their subconscious rather than conscious mind.

In stage hypnosis activating the subconscious mind with emotion would be unethical. Instead, we use what’s known as a ‘pattern interrupt’, which is the use of unexpected or surprising responses or behaviours to trigger confusion. 

For example, we’re conditioned to respond to a handshake. But if someone responds to our offer of a handshake in a surprising or extraordinary way, we become temporarily disconcerted or bewildered.

In that window of pattern interrupt a command from a trained hypnotist – think Derren Brown’s ‘sleep’ command – can be given.

In March 2020 we entered a state of full nationwide subconscious activation and dominance and experienced the ultimate pattern interrupt, immediately followed by an incessant slew of commands:  STAY SAFE, SOCIAL DISTANCE, DON’T KILL GRANNY, STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES, etc.

The government spent a lot of money ensuring these commands were heard. Billions of pounds, in fact – on PPE, bounce back loans, furlough, and eye-wateringly expensive advertising campaigns that cost more than the combined Government ad spend for the previous two years.

Cognitive dissonance has never been more prevalent than the last two years. The phrase ‘social distancing’ is in itself is a form cognitive dissonance in which ‘social’ equates to safety and ‘distance’ equates to danger. 

Trauma bonds

Trauma bonds are in many ways the ultimate hypnosis. Stockholm Syndrome – in which hostages begin to empathise with their captors – are the ultimate example of trauma bonds.

This is, in effect, the relationship we had with our government: for two years we were effectively the victim of a mass trauma bond – hostages in our own homes or subjected to restrictions from which we were constantly promised – and then denied – respite and release.


There has been noticeable evidence of the use of modified hypnosis and NLP techniques by the government in its interactions with the public. These include:

Fractionation: encouraging the subject to do the same thing repetitively. The magic number in achieving compliance through fractionation, as in so many things, is 3. The fact we’ve had three lockdowns may well be pure coincidence, but even if it is it will have had some effect in conditioning the national psyche.

Create a ‘Yes’ set: The eliciting of agreement – and therefore compliance – in stages. Often this starts with something small and easy to accept (for example, ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’) but gradually increases in manageable steps.

Three weeks of lockdown becomes six weeks, which becomes six months. Christmas is cancelled. 

And the more you say yes, the more likely you are to say yes again.

Confusion: The conscious mind responds to uncertainty by ‘going offline’ in search of an appropriate response to something it has never experienced before. And when the conscious mind is no longer present, the subconscious steps in.

In the early days of the pandemic no-one was entirely sure what was allowed and what wasn’t, and confusion reigned.

Repetition: The same messaging and news is repeated over and over and over again. How many days did we wake up to headlines about Covid-related deaths and infections?

Create an illusion of choice: Usually where the option you prefer is either marginally less obnoxious than the alternative or delivers the same desired outcome. 

Social Proof: Celebrities are used to endorse or advocate the behaviour the ‘manipulator’ requires, leveraging the trust we have in them. 

Scarcity: By suggesting a shortage we create immediate demand. Look at the petrol crisis last autumn as an example.

The scrupulousness of the current Government is under huge scrutiny at the moment, specifically about its accountability and moral rectitude at a time of huge global crisis during which it wielded powers never before seen in peacetime.

We may have been prepared to be manipulated over the pandemic. But maybe what we really need to ask ourselves is that knowing what we now do, where do we draw the line when it comes to psychological control?

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Zoë Clews has been practising hypnotherapy for the past seventeen years and in that time has become one of London’s most recommended hypnotists. She started Zoë Clews & Associates thirteen years ago and has since built the company into a highly-regarded practice. 

Photo of highway in Stevenage, with Covid-19 traffic information by Pawel Pajor from Adobe Stock