Why TikTokers are hypnotising themselves to see their past lives
"I anticipated a very happy past life, but it wasn’t. It didn’t really end too well for me."
When Dahlia closed her eyes she felt “the deepest state of love” and saw herself in her mother’s womb. “I felt euphoria as I remembered these moments,” she recounts. It might sound like the start of some kind of acid trip, but guided by the voice of psychotherapist Dr Brian Weiss in a video, TikToker Dahlia was undertaking past life regression. No hallucinogenics required.
Past life regression is a form of hypnosis that takes you into a deep meditative state, handing over the reins to your subconscious mind and allowing it to conjure up mental images. The spiritually-inclined believe these experiences to be clues to forgotten past lives, while others are open to the idea of mental metaphors created by the mind. The process is normally done in a one-to-one situation with a hypnotherapist, but TikTok discovered a digital alternative in the form of a viral YouTube video.
“It was an insightful and helpful video for me. I knew Dr Brian Weiss was an experienced practitioner and others would have found it helpful as well. I did not, however, expect the degree [to which] the video blew up,” says Dahlia, who shared her experience with 3.4m viewers.
Fellow content creator Trevor also went viral with a video where he explains the process in detail: “As of right now there are over nine million views [on the video], and over 28,000 comments,” he says. “The most common response I saw in the comments was other people’s experiences, so a lot of people must have looked up the video and done it themselves.”
Though this is technically hypnosis, the TikTok trend is far from the rotating spirals and “you’re back in the room” Derren Brown style theatrics we might traditionally associate with being hypnotised. Instead, it’s being used as a tool for healing, rather than entertainment. Past life regression, proponents claim, can help people confront aspects of themselves that affect their life, whether it’s a bad habit, memory of trauma, or a phobia. The idea is that in witnessing a related scenario in the past life regression, the fear can be helped by allowing the person to better understand it and find comfort through better understanding. Whether or not you believe the video has the ability to put you into a hypnotic state, there is another question — how wise is it to self-hypnotise?
Hypnotherapist Helen Craven, who performs these sessions professionally, compares past life regression on TikTok to the Ouija board craze: “I’m sure lots of people did it and just had a load of fun and it made them laugh or it made them curious, or maybe even things came up that were quite spooky. Now somebody who’s in a state where they’re going to accept that and just take it on that level, that’s fine, but I think if it’s going to leave somebody anxious or worried or bring something up that might trigger a negative reaction, then think twice.”
“If that is the case,” she says, “then you go and see a professional and say, ‘Okay I did this and now I’m constantly feeling stressed or anxious or I can’t turn the lights off at nights.’” It’s all fun and games for kids on TikTok doing past life regression, until they can’t turn the lights off when they go to sleep anymore.
Not only does TikTok tend to hide the darker side to the process (complete with sparkle filters and popular audios, presenting the hypnosis as a novelty to see if you were a famous person), but there’s no way of knowing just how well you’ll be able to handle it when doing it alone. Brian Weiss does have one of those gentle voices you’d trust with your life, to hold your drink at a party and certainly to lead you in hypnosis safely. But it’s still only present through the echo of headphones or speakers, and most importantly, it can’t reply if you need help.
Helen explains that when doing past life regression as a DIY, TikTok-inspired process, important professional techniques needed to make it feel like a safe experience can go amiss. “The mind is a very powerful thing and when we work with it with an experienced practitioner, it can be amazing and you can do all kinds of healing work, but I think working on your own, you just want to be very careful that you don't go into something that leaves you traumatised or anxious,“ she explains.
And of course, as expected when blending social media with hypnosis, the trend has its fair share of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ reply guys. The responses range from the extreme: “[There were] people telling me that I was a Satanist and that I was allowing demonic spirits to come into my life,” says TikToker Leslie, to those who understandably don’t believe the multiple people all claiming to have been Princess Diana.
There is a reasonable possible explanation for this, says Helen: “Not everyone could be the Queen of Sheba so there are various theories, but one is that there’s an archetype, which might be a famous, powerful person. That, I guess, is showing us a part of ourselves and maybe an inkling that we have been powerful in the past life, or that is maybe what our subconscious mind thinks will be helpful to us right now, to feel a bit more empowered and to not feel like a nothing.”
Dahlia says she doesn’t allow the sceptics on TikTok to have an effect on her, but instead is thankful for the freedom the platform, especially WitchTok, has given her to express her spiritual ideas like past life regression freely. “I feel that even though I say things that would have seemed outlandish a few years back, because the whole world is waking up and opening their minds up, people are more likely to be receptive to my content.”
For Leslie, who says she began her spiritual journey over quarantine, the lack of trigger warnings about past life regression on the app concerns her, after not realising how much it would affect her when she tried it: “I anticipated a very happy past life, but it wasn’t. It didn’t really end too well for me,” she explains. During her hypnosis, she experienced remembering getting her throat cut, which she appoints to why she has a phobia of things touching her neck. Whether this was a past life or simply subliminal thoughts coming to the fore , it was traumatic.
“I noticed that my anxiety was piling up a little bit so I just felt like it was important for me to tell people, ‘Hey, if you’re not in a good place, maybe you shouldn’t do this’,” says Leslie, who made a point to include a trigger warning in her TikTok with 1.5m views. Though, this trigger warning was the exception not the rule on the #pastliferegression page, which instead entices people to see if they were at Princess Diana’s death or the gifting of the Trojan Horse. “I wanted people to realise that it’s not just something that’s cool and fun. I did get a little bit more anxiety after.”
A read through the comments of the video are enough of a sample into the balance of ways to look at this TikTok trend. Between the hypnosis anecdotes and the “everyone keeps barging in my room” issues, there’s one that stands out: “I started having an anxiety attack during this .” Protect the batteries on your LED room lights, and think long and hard about it before you decide to follow Weiss’ voice through his metaphorical door. For the sake of your current life, if not your previous ones.