Kristin Rivas: The Life-Changing Power of Words at TEDxRainier (Transcript)

Kristin Rivas

Here is the full transcript of hypnotherapist Kristin Rivas’ TEDx Talk Presentation: The Life-Changing Power of Words at TEDxRainier conference. This event occurred on November 9, 2013 in Seattle at TEDxRainier.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: The life-changing power of words by Kristin Rivas at TEDxRainier


Could your life forever be changed in an instant through the impact of one sentence? By just one idea? Isn’t that why you’re here to have your mind blown by at least one idea worth spreading?

Reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies. It’s a story about a man named Cobb. This character played by Leonardo DiCaprio is a skilled dream invader who gets paid to extract people’s secrets while they sleep. Cobb is offered a chance to regain the life he once lived as payment for a task considered to be impossible: Inception and planting an idea in someone’s mind. Cobb says: “What is the most resilient parasite on earth? Bacteria? Virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood that sticks right in there somewhere.” A single idea from the human mind can build cities, transform the world and rewrite all the rules.

Professionally speaking, as a hypnotist, I am intimately familiar with the skill, the science, the arts on the inception of ideas. I use the power of words as suggestions to help your mind adopt an idea or a belief. What you picture or imagine as I speak and how you react to the words I use can give you the transformations you’re wanting.

Personally speaking as somebody who has been a subject, I’m intimately familiar with the desperate search for a transformation.

I’d like to tell you about a sentence that changed my life. Two sentences actually. The first sentence changed my life for the worst. In fact, the impact of just those four words haunted me so severely, their effects caused me to become a college dropout, attempt suicide and wear helmet having to use a wheelchair to get around because I became an invalid.

The second sentence changed my life for the better. The second sentence is why I’m able to stand here speaking in front of you today as a happy, healthy professional sane person. As you listen to my story, you can understand the totality of what I mean, and believe me when I say that your life can be radically changed in an instant through the power of words.

“Bethany Didn’t Make It”

When I was 18, a freshman in college visiting home one weekend, my dad woke me up from my sleep to give me the news, that dreadful life-changing sentence. My older sister Bethany, by just 15 months had been in a car accident: the driver had been drinking. The next four words my dad spoke to me slammed into my awareness with such sudden shock I became shattered in the wake of ensuing devastation. Bethany didn’t make it.

The impact of that crash and those words on my life, on my psyche it wasn’t just immediate; it was ongoing. I didn’t consciously realize it then but the idea that began to overtake my mind upon hearing of my sister’s death was this: what happened to my sister was not OK, nothing could ever make it OK. I could never be OK with it. Therefore I could never be OK. You may be able to imagine or relate in some way to how I felt.

Fast-forward it to few years later. It’s my senior year of college and I’m a newlywed. I’m folding laundry when all of a sudden everything looks blurry, I start having double vision, I hear ringing in my ears; my tongue feels swollen and numb, a mental fog comes over me, I pass out.

Later that night, I find myself in an emergency room. Doctors give me a series of tests but the results are normal. What I experienced isn’t normal. So how do you explain what just happened to me? Well, ma’am, could be due to stress, like a panic attack. I take that to mean they have no freaking clue what just happened to me.

So I go home that night and on to school the next day, hoping it had all been just a bad dream. But the same thing happens again the next day. And then two more times that week. After two weeks, my ability to concentrate and remember rapidly declines as more mental fogs with slurred speech and fainting spells become a daily occurrence. Attacks of vertigo, panic and involuntary movement mostly to my left side occur without warning. The movement ranges from slight periodic twitching like somebody with Tourette syndrome to hard jerking. It looks as if I’m being yanked by an invisible leash around the neck.

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A complete loss of muscle tone, tingling and numbness invades my limbs so strongly I experience sudden fall-downs that leave me in a heap on the floor. Repeated trips to different doctors, emergency rooms, neurologists yield no help nor explanations to me. I’m referred to the Mayo Clinic and wait for my case to be considered.

My husband and I have no clue what to do in the meantime. I’m getting kind of tired of banging my head while trying to peacefully go about my day. So we go to a Walgreens and buy a seizure helmet and a four-pronged cane.

The next day, getting ready for my classes, I carefully choose a stylish outfit to hopefully distract from my new helmet and cane. I quickly realized there is no way that I nor anybody else could pull off this look, especially when my husband adds the final touch — an envelope safety pin to my chest with my emergency contact information and what to do instructions if someone finds me. I take one look at the mirror and I’m reminded of my first day of kindergarten when my dad safety pin a note on my shirt to give to my teacher. I burst out crying and tell my husband I’m dropping out. I can’t do this anymore.

Unfortunately, the more time I spend trying to take it easy and follow doctor’s advice the worse my symptoms become. Seizures begin striking at any moment, not just any kind of seizures but violent fits I can experience while I’m wide awake or fast asleep. The seizures are resistant to medication or become stronger when any is given to me.

I find my spells occurring whenever I back up, view images of anything zooming in or out, or from a first-person perspective, and every time I enter an area with any kind of fluorescent lighting. Imagine how you would feel: losing control over your body, your life, any sense of freedom, health or security, people you meet assuming you’re unintelligent because the way you look. Because by this point I’m having a text up to nine times a day and having to use a wheelchair to get around for my own safety.

So if people aren’t ignoring me, they’ve been down, talk louder and real slow. Do you need any help, young lady? I got the door; thanks. Going to stores, too many lights, no reading or studying, memory concentration too poor, no watching TV or movies too much motion or driving or riding around in cars.

By summer of 2008, I’m finally taken on as a patient of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Tedious diagnostic testing goes on month after month, with no answers nor successful treatment. I am in need of constant care. My husband and I can’t afford to pay the bills. So we move in with his parents.

My appointments become more specialized, the time between them growing further apart and my spirit fades, my symptoms escalate.

By May of 2009, the Mayo Clinic officially diagnoses me with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and conversion disorder. The primary symptom being pseudo seizures. My doctors believe me to be suffering from traumatic grief that my body has been converting stress into psychosomatic symptoms. They recommend adding different drugs to my series of medications and that I enter into intensive psychiatric care.

Due to the frequency, length, and severity of my symptoms and the fact that I’ve seen six different mental health professionals over the course of my illness but no improvement, I’m given a 20% chance of being able to ever recover.

Fortunately, there is one alternative option left to consider: the Mayo Clinic recommends I give hypnotherapy a try. They say that hypnosis with a qualified professional can help with this kind of thing.

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So my dad gives Dr. Jon Connelly, founder of Rapid Trauma Resolution Therapy, Advanced Clinical Hypnosis a call. As they try to coordinate a date for me to see him amongst his busy schedule of training mental health professionals across the country, I hear my dad tell Dr. Connelly that he will carry me to him on his back if he needs to.

Two months later, on June 20th of 2009, I have one session with this white-haired wizard that lasts about two hours and it’s the most life-changing conversation I’ve ever had. “Kristin,” he says, “there isn’t anything wrong with you. Your brain is very complex. Something so complex is prone to occasional errors. There’s basically been reaction and timing issues from one part of your brain to another. And we as humans develop beliefs sometimes that don’t work very well for us and we can change all these things. Your mind has been reacting to things you’ve been remembering or imagining like somebody jumping at the scary part of a movie, except most the time this movie has been out of your awareness. We’re going to do a simple exercise to help your body remain calm and stay present and then we’ll try on a different way of looking at what’s happened to your sister and see how you feel afterwards. This is called the stop-putting-on-your-pants exercise.

“Do you remember where you put your pants on this morning, Kristin?” Yeah. “Well, now tell me this: where is you putting on your pants this morning right now? Where is that?” I think in my bedroom, in my mind, in my head, in my memory, in the past — I don’t know.

He says, “If any one of those answers has come up, there’s a part of you that believes them but you here right now this morning is over. And your butt’s too big to be putting on your pants inside your skull. There is no you putting on your pants in some twilight zone called the past. The past is just a term for things that are no longer happening and don’t exist. Your mind has been confusing the data that we call memory with reality. But the event is not like the record of the event much like a DVD is different than the actors filming. The best answer to where is you putting on your pants this morning right now is it doesn’t exist.” I think.

He says, “Every time you’ve thought about what happened to your sister, your body has been reacting sending stress signals, trying to get something that happened or not happened. This traumatic grief has been your mind’s way of trying to process what happened and it hasn’t been OK with it. That’s what grief is. Our reaction to a change we don’t like. I bet you’ve felt a sense of loss around your sister’s death. Well, Kristin, I’d like you to try on the thought that we can’t lose the future and none of us are guaranteed or entitled to it. I’d like to invite you to trade in those feelings of loss around your sister with a piece about her transformation that we call death, and continue to sense the love you both have for each other.

“So here’s a way of looking at yourself and your sister that may be of help,” he offered me. “Who you are cannot be defined by your body. I know you have a foot but that you’re not a foot. If anything ever happened to your foot, the next time I saw you I wouldn’t say, hey Kristin, I’m glad most of you could make it here today. Our bodies, our beliefs, our behaviors, our relationships to others all change. It doesn’t make sense to define ourselves on these things. I bet if you really think about it, you know what it’s like when you’re just being yourself —  those times when you’re seeing something beautiful or you’re with a loved one or doing something you love, and you say, oh, I feel like I can be myself when — let’s think that those things don’t make us who we are but that they resonate with their own way of being, the essence of who we are.

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“Kristin, I don’t know all the answers about what happens after we die but I do know that science says we’re all made of energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. I know that our five-senses fool us sometimes and we have to take things on faith, like a child asking his parents where did the Sun go on a cloudy and a rainy day.”

“Bethany is OK; you’re OK. It’s OK to be OK now”

And here it is the second life-changing sentence that brought all of this home for me: Kristin, the accident, her pain, it doesn’t exist. Bethany is OK; you’re OK. It’s OK to be OK now. I’m overwhelmed. I feel this aha occurring for the part of me that’s been having nightmares, reliving my sister’s death, night after night trying to prevent it from ever happening, the part that’s always asked: where is she? Every time I’ve thought about her — all my shock, my anger, the pains of traumatic grief seem to melt away and I open my eyes and I feel lighter. And I notice immediately that I can see and think more clearly. Somehow I know I’m OK.

Dr. Connelly opens up the door to the waiting room and I lock eyes with my dad who starts crying. Somehow he knows I’m OK too. I run around Dr. Connelly’s office backwards and I’m — free Tuesday. I went on to train with Dr. Connelly, another world-renowned leading hypnotist, moved across the country, building my own practice, paying my healing forward, hypnotizing hundreds of men, women and children for better health and well-being to this day.

Now I’m not here to suggest that hypnosis is the answer for everyone for everything or that you could expect my kinds of results with just anyone that calls him, herself a hypnotist. I am lucky I found such a highly skilled professional that helped me in just one session. I’m a highly responsive subject. Many people with conversion disorder seem to be.

A 2003 randomized controlled clinical trial by the Psychiatric Centre in Overkampweg, the Netherlands, found that properly conducted hypnotherapy for patients with conversion disorder results in maintained improvement over significant time. You’ll find more research suggesting effective hypnotherapy is given by qualified experienced professionals, especially in addition to other treatments for many issues.

What I would like to suggest is that we don’t need more research to tell us if life-changing aha moments are real. We know that negative experiences can leave traumatic effects.

But what about the words from friends, families, teachers, scripture or song lyrics that hit us just right? Those times when the light bulb inside our mind just clicks on and everything seems to easily come into place: when ideas are born and lessons are learned, easy, singing in a bathtub, eureka! An apple falling on our head, waha gravity! These are the possibilities of brain plasticity and the mysteries of the unconscious mind. In all its processing power we have yet to explore.

I believe we need more research to tell us when, how and why these aha moments occur in people like me, then we can better understand the science, the skill, the art on the inception of positive epiphanies. What would the world be like if we all knew we could get these instant radical life-changing transformations to happen simply through the power of ideas being presented to our minds through the natural use of words on our bodies. If one idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules impacting both our history and our future, I have a dream. Never give up. Be the change you wish to see.

What idea could transform your life? Why couldn’t that happen? If you knew that change didn’t have to be slow, long, hard or painful, that it could be easy, enjoyable, and soon what would you get taken care of and who could you find to help you do it? What idea could transform your world?

Thank you.

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