As you may have gathered from the fact that this is the second of three blogs that contain reference to a Dickens novel in the title, I’m a bit of a fan of the Victorian novelist! I first read A Christmas Carol when I was about 9 years old, and I’ve been hooked ever since. From the first page I was entranced and utterly absorbed by the great storytellers art that transported me to a snow filled landscape of ghosts, carriages, poverty and redemption.
Since that first magical encounter I have seen countless versions of the tale on stage and screen, from parodies to pantomimes, and Alistair Sim to Jim Carey. Watching it on T.V with a large glass of sherry and a box of tissues to hand is as much a Christmas tradition in our house as mince pies and indigestion.
It was however, not until I began working as a hypnotherapist some years ago, that I noticed how Dickens’ story contained many therapeutic interventions which are routinely used by hypnotherapists today to help transform the lives of their clients! Charles Dickens lived in an era where poverty and need were rife. Societies’ rich had become so immune to the sight of children starving in the streets, that they no longer noticed the bare foot urchins shivering in the shadows, let alone cared about their plight. So, like any good therapist keen to open a client’s eyes to things they would rather not see, he presented his message for social reform in a metaphorical story that would engage their senses whilst delivering a deeper meaning to their subconscious mind.
The use of analogies or metaphors in Hypnotherapy is very common. By relating something new to that which is already known, we create a metaphorical bridge that enables us to transport suggestions to the subconscious mind while spanning over critical faculties. Dickens’ took his readers on a dream like journey that opened their eyes and awakened their conscience, in a way that avoided them reverting to their usual negative assumptions about the poor. Through Scrooges visitations they were able to examine the nature of their own lives, past, present and future, and more importantly, experience the consequences of their actions if they continued on the same selfish path.
Life Coach and author Anthony Robbins coined the phrase ‘the Dickens’s Pattern’ to describe the method of stepping into our future to experience it in the ‘now’ in order to deliver maximum impact. Time projection is a very powerful technique that is used to motivate change. Scrooge put it succinctly when he said “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” The good news is that once we are well and truly motivated, it becomes relatively easy to change course, and choose a new pathway in life that will take you in a different direction.
As a hypnotherapist, I find the way I use language to communicate with my clients is extremely important, and the more engaging and emotive it is, the more likely it is to resonate on many different levels. When Dickens said “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it” the surface meaning is quite obvious, and more evocative than simply saying “Scrooge was too mean to use candles.” At a deeper level however, the use of the word “darkness” and it’s many sinister connotations, also nudges our subconscious to search for other meanings that may be more personally meaningful, such as ‘remaining ignorant and blind to what is going on around us is the easy option!’
Throughout Dickens story, he used strong characters and imagery that his readers could, and still do, identify with:”External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he; no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.” Even reading that sentence gives me Goosebumps! Scrooge has become so synonymous in our minds to all that is miserly and mean about the human spirit that his name is now a common part of our vocabulary.
Dickens’ use of metaphor and symbols is most obvious in the three spirits who haunt Scrooge on Christmas Eve.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is a personification of memory. In order for Scrooge to grow as a human being, he must remember his past and learn from it. The light that shines from this Ghost’s head symbolizes the “illumination” which can come from reflecting on one’s past, and the cap which the Ghost wears symbolizes the ability each person has to extinguish the light of memory, as many people chose to do, rather than face up to past mistakes.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is a personification of generosity. Everything about this larger than life spectre, from his opulent robes to the abundance of food on which it rests, embodies the spirit of generosity and plenty. A sprinkling of seasoning from the Ghost’s torch enhances the flavor of meals and of relationships at Christmas (something we could all do with!). The Ghost stands for generosity not only of material goods, but also of spirit. It is generosity that protects against the evils, of“Ignorance and Want.” As the spirit’s robe is drawn back Scrooge is shocked to see these two aspects of the human psyche suddenly manifest before him as vicious, terrifying, little children, who are more animal than human in appearance.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a personification of the relentless march of time towards both a fixed and an unfixed end. Resembling depictions of the Grim Reaper, this Ghost may be seen as symbolizing death, the final journeys end. This is the depiction that provides Scrooge with the ultimate motivation to change. When we reflect on the choices we make in life, the inevitability of our own demise, and how it is likely to occur, it often give us the leverage we need to make profound but difficult changes, such as stopping smoking, adopting a healthy lifestyle, or in Scrooges case, transforming himself from a miserable, cantankerous old miser, to a generous and caring human being. When Scrooge asks to “erase the writing” on his own headstone, he is not asking for immortality; rather, he is asking for the opportunity to change. The fact that your life will end is fixed; the meaning that your life will have had is up to you!
It is of course possible to find a hidden meaning behind all of the characters in the story. To me Tiny Tim represents that fragile and gentle part of our souls that is trusting and loving, always sees the best in life and others, and that flourishes when cared for, but withers and dies if neglected. Marley’s ghost I feel is our conscience, that can weigh us down in chains of regret and remind of us “what might have been” But you may of course read something different into the characters and the message they convey; that’s the wonderful thing about using metaphors, we can all read into the story what is most appropriate and meaningful to us!
Ever the consummate professional, Dickens even revealed the reason behind Scrooges neurotic hatred of Christmas: the Ghost of Christmas Past shows most of the events that negatively affected Scrooge’s character occurred during the Christmas holiday season – a classic case of a phobic response that has led him to associate Christmas with loss, loneliness and rejection. In behavioural terms we call this ‘one trial learning,’ and it is responsible for causing many of the most common phobias. A nip from a dog in childhood can lead to an irrational fear of all dogs; the anxiety and stress associated with travel can merge with the unsettling effects of air turbulence to enhance and lock those memories together, creating a fear of flying. One heart stopping, tongue tied moment during a speech can lead you to dread and ultimately avoid future events that might place you in the spotlight. Don’t worry though; at my hypnotherapy practice here in North Somerset most phobias can be quickly and successfully treated without the need to revisit them in person!
By the end of the book, Scrooges awakens on Christmas morning, delighted to discover that ‘change can happen in a trance!’ It has taken just one night for Scrooges’ miraculous transformation! And as for the real subjects of Dickens therapy, he concludes that he had “endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly,”or in other words, he hoped his little metaphorical tale had entertained and informed, planting a seed of humanity in their subconscious minds that would continue to grow and ultimately blossom!
As for me, I have endeavoured in this dry little morsel to whet your appetite for Dickens, Metaphors and Hypnotherapy, that it might tempt you to feast further!
Wishing all my clients and readers, past, present and future a wonderful, peaceful and uplifting Christmas, and a New Year full of love, laughter and good health.
Merry Christmas, and “God bless us, everyone!”