“I remember a hypnosis that we did was like, it was me talking to my 12 year old self,” said Marissa Mayer.
“…I literally had to have the room to myself to cry and punch a pillow because I was so…like 12 year old Marissa was running the show.”
Last April I interviewed Marissa Mayer about a post she made on Facebook explaining that thanks to a 3-day intensive hypnosis treatment by Tony Maree Torrey, she was a year clean from pulling her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes out – a nervous “tick” she had for 10 years.
~ ~ Getting There is Half the Battle.
A family friend, Torrey worked with Mayer’s mom for years until she changed her career to become a “peak performance specialist,” Torrey titled herself on a phone call interview this April. Over a course of 15 years, she’s obtained certifications in a wide assortment of alternative trainings, from life coaching to clinical hypnotherapy to NeurOptimal (see bottom of article for full list and links). Though untraditional, many are led by hypnotists – one of whom seems questionable – with thousands of followers.
Mayer’s mom suggested she fly her out from New York to stay with Torrey in Marina Del Rey, California for three days and be treated in her home office.
“The intention was for me to stay there for three days so that she would give me 100 percent of her time, I would give her 100 percent of my time, and we intensely work to figure out deeply rooted issues that I’ve been repressing for years and years and years,” said Mayer.
“That didn’t really happen because I am very stubborn,” she laughed.
Excuse after excuse, Mayer gave many reasons as to why she couldn’t be with Torrey the whole time. Each instance this happened, Torrey explained to her that she was acting out of fear of uncovering the unknown, and that relinquishing control would be difficult for her.
“Which was hard to hear, but that’s exactly what I was doing. So, regardless, we got through it. I showed up and we did it,” said Mayer.
~ ~ What Was it Like?
Along with using a combination of different healing modalities to treat Mayer, Torrey used a technology called NeurOptimal, a type of neurofeedback. NeurOptimal uses sensors on the head and ears to track one’s brain waves while a screen provides visual stimulation, and music is played in headphones (that according to Mayer, is not all calming music).
“She would put earphones in my ears and then kind of hook me up with things that stick to my head. And what they were doing, all these wires and everything – it was crazy *laughs* sounds really crazy – but she…it’s tracking my brain waves basically, and I could see it on a monitor that was right next to me.”
With no effort from Mayer, NeurOptimal alerted her nervous system where there’s a problem so her nervous system could fix it. Effort, however, was needed from Mayer in the next phase when they began to use dialogue.
“That’s when we would talk and she would ask me questions, and then eventually I would be hypnotized without even realizing, honestly, it was crazy,” said Mayer.
For a few hours at a time each day, Torrey had Mayer wired to NeurOptimal, but only about a half hour was hypnosis. When hypnotized, Mayer describes it as if Torrey was talking to her subconscious to uncover issues that she normally wouldn’t be able to access.
“She would preface it with ‘I’m going to hypnotize you now’ and sometimes she wouldn’t.”
I laughed, “Surprise!”
Mayer laughed too, “I know, right? But… have you ever been hypnotized?
“No… that sounds so cool to me!” I said.
“It is amazing! And it’s so the opposite of what you see in mainstream media…it’s not like, ‘Okay, one, two, three, you’re a chicken.’ Like, no, it’s not anything like that. It happened very gradually,” said Mayer.
While clinical hypnotherapy is unlike the mainstream media, Torrey’s first experience with it seems similar. Originally hailing from Australia, Torrey’s first taste of hypnotherapy was as a child with her father. He would hypnotize her to suspend between two chairs, one at her heels and another at the tip of the head, to amuse guests. Torrey explains the difference between her father’s dinner party tricks to her hypnotherapy.
“In a therapeutic setting – so I want to make it clear there can be differences between therapeutic hypnosis and other approaches to hypnosis – the intention is to put someone in a state of relaxed focus and essentially kind of open up the pathways or the doorway between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. And that allows a communication to happen. So she [Mayer] had this thing kind of running the show on a subconscious, automated level, but she had a conscious intention to do something different,” said Torrey.
Have you ever wanted to do something but for some reason, can’t get yourself to do it? According to Torrey, that is a sign that in our psyche that there is a deep rooted program created through patterns of repetition, authority figures, and intense emotions in opposition of what we want to do. These patterns typically are formed as children when we are in a “suggestible” brain wave state, which happens to be the same state one goes into during hypnosis. While in this childlike hypnotized place, Torrey becomes the authority figure who can debunk harmful messages the patient has been taught, that may or may not have been placed there by well meaning people carrying on the mistakes of their parents or other authorities. Then she gives them space to express emotions and grievances they could not voice at the time the message was formed. Afterward, she disproves these messages by reading and recording a script of helpful or supportive ideas that the client listens to many times, forming the repetition phase of creating a new pattern. And that’s exactly the approach she took to help Mayer.
Mayer explained Torrey’s hypnosis started out with closing her eyes and a visualization. In that process, she would not realize that she had slipped into hypnosis.
“It’s not like I forget everything that happened. It’s not like it’s not me. It’s just a way to uncover a deeper part of me. Does that make sense?” asked Mayer.
“It sounds like a meditation…” I said.
“Very. It’s very similar. To be honest, I don’t even know what the difference is…”
One of the visualizations was to focus on a spot on the wall and “let everything else you know become blurry,” Mayer said. Then Torrey would ask her to close her eyes and still see that spot.
“And that was a way of training my brain to understand that you can control what you see and you can control what you feel, essentially.”
Back and forth, Mayer repeated that visualization, and then Torrey would take it a step further and have her pick three different spots this time. From there, she’d have her notice any sounds and past memories she could hear, see or feel.
“And then, at that point, my body is kind of numb. That’s what I distinguish as the difference between meditation and hypnosis. I don’t feel my body when I’m hypnotized. I feel very…still and not really present to be honest.”
~ ~ Other Tools that Helped
Besides the in-person treatment and hypnosis recordings for Mayer to practice, Torrey provided her with other tools. One such tool was a philosophy called “The Six Human Needs,” a simplification of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs developed by life and business strategist, Tony Robbins (featured in the movie Shallow Hal and who, this April, made headlines for bashing the #MeToo movement). Two of those needs, consistency and variety, helped Mayer change her perspective.
“That really helped me because I’m a control freak, my nature. I have always craved that. And so she [Torrey] was like ‘Yeah, you want control. You…want your room to be neat and tidy and ‘perfect,’ but you also crave a little bit of variety.’”
This philosophy taught her to let go of her need for control and perfection, and that failure is not a measure of whether or not things go exactly as planned or exactly as done in a prior time.
Another tool Torrey gave Mayer was how to accept and talk to her feelings – all of them, not just happiness.
“One of the huge things that completely shifted and will forever shift my way of thinking is that I now value every type of feeling that I have. If I’m really angry and upset I let myself be angry and upset. And I know it’s so simple but that was life-changing for me. And then from there, she taught me how to talk to those feelings. To actually make them a being. She was like, ‘give those feelings a color, a texture, a physical appearance, and talk to them.’ Literally ask them what’s going on. Like what are you feeling? Why are you feeling this way?”
Asking herself those questions out loud has taught her to acknowledge each feeling she has instead of ignoring them.
“If I don’t acknowledge them, which sometimes happens, sure, that’s how deep repression happens. And that’s how I was for so long, and it’s exhausting. Like trying to put on a happy face and just ignoring all this shit. And it’s just the littlest things and it’s amazing how quickly they go away cause all they want to be is acknowledged most of the time, and then they go away.”
~ ~ What Caused it?
Unsure of the exact cause of pulling out her hair, she first thought it stemmed from her parents divorce, but the timeline doesn’t match. That event happened when she was 7 and the hair pulling began at age 12, so what triggered it?
“All that I know and all I remember is that 12 years old for me is when it started. All my memories go back to there. And I remember in hypnosis, 12 years old was something deeply rooted in me, something was wrong.
“I remember a hypnosis that we did was like, it was me talking to my 12 year old self. It was after that day that I stopped ripping my hair out. I mean, that I stop-stopped ripping my hair out. So really all I know is that it was a battle with 12 year old Marissa. Literally.
“That was the time that I had the most blockades in my time with Tony. To the point where I had to have the room to myself to cry and punch a pillow because I was so…like 12 year old Marissa was running the show
“She was running the show, she was really upset with something and I don’t know what it was. I think what it was, was just what we were just talking about. That she just wanted to be acknowledged. There were a lot of things going on in that time of my life that just wanted to be acknowledged. And that’s what it was.”
Torrey explains the treatment as going into “regression” and dialoguing with Mayer’s younger self at an emotional distance.
Photo of Tony Maree Torrey by Samantha Higgins.
“We keep an emotional distance from it so you’re not reimprinting a past trauma or anything like that, it’s a very safe experience. But you get to kind of have this conversation and change it,” said Torrey.
“You kind of almost explain to that young part of yourself, with the facilitation of the hypnotherapist, that things are going to change from now on, and the adult, the one that knows what they really want, is the one that’s going to start running the show.”
Prior to this treatment, for 10 years Mayer had been in and out of therapy, but her hair pulling never came up in sessions. Not once did her therapists bring it up. Also, until that point, Mayer had normalized the behavior so she believed, “it’s just this thing that I do.”
“We found out that I was identifying with this part of myself and that I was almost prideful with it because whenever I would do this, people would know that I’m struggling,” said Mayer.
“When we figured that out, she was like, ‘okay, we have to make you uncomfortable with this.’”
While hypnotized, Torrey had her picture herself as her boyfriend and parents and feel the pain they felt every time she pulled out her hair.
“That was the first time that I had ever taken that on because before then, I was just like, ‘this isn’t you, you shouldn’t care about this, this is my choice,’” explained Mayer.
Mayer advises others dealing with this issue to be honest with yourself, confront it, and then ask for help. Asking for help was the hardest part for her because she had normalized it within herself and believed her hair pulling was something no one else did. She was shocked by the amount of messages she received in response to her Facebook post about recovering.
Before interviewing Mayer, I researched “pulling hair out” as a mind obstacle and found “trichotillomania” (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh). WebMD describes it as an “impulse control disorder” where people can feel relieved, satisfied or pleased after the act, use it to cope with stress, and often deny the issue. While the cause isn’t known, “It may be related to abnormalities in brain pathways that link areas involved in emotional regulation, movement, habit formation, and impulse control.” The usual treatment for it is “habit reversal training” where they replace the bad habit with a healthy one. Based on this description, it sounds like Torrey was the ideal healer to help Mayer since NeurOptimal tracked her brain waves, and though they didn’t use a habit reversal training, they reached the source of the habit and “reverse engineered it.” Also, for some people, pulling out hair can be an unconscious act while for others, it’s intentional, explains Mayo Clinic. For Mayer, it was both.
“I remember starting – which was at 12 years old – in line at Newhall Elementary outside going on a field trip, and I ripped out a huge chunk of hair and saw it on the ground. And was like…that’s…weird….why did I just do that. And I didn’t think anything else of it.
“From then on, I remember waking up one morning and a whole layer of the back of my head was gone, and I didn’t remember why,” said Mayer.
From hair salon to hair salon, her mom would ask stylists if they’d seen a case like Mayer’s before and their best guess was she was doing it in her sleep. Overtime, they realized it wasn’t just when she was asleep.
“I had no idea and then it evolved into something that I realized I was doing because one, people would tell me and two, because there would be a shit ton of hair falling down. Like when I’m studying. I remember studying a lot for school and being stressed out and realizing there’s hair all over my book and being like ‘oh fuck.’ So it would go in and out a lot.”
Sometimes, genetics can play a role in trichotillomania if a close family member also has it. On her father’s side, there is a history of depression. In the largest study on schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, ADHD and bipolar disorder published in Lancet in 2013, researchers found that genetically, mind obstacles come as package. For example, if your grandmother has schizophrenia, your mom might get bipolar and you might get depression. Once someone in the family has a mind obstacle, depending on environmental factors or traumatic events, the genes can express itself in different disorders. Although the study did not cover “trichotillomania,” it seems to make sense that the issue might have expressed itself in that way from her father’s depression genes. A friend talked to Mayer about a book that discusses how DNA plays a role with mind obstacles in another way as well.
“She said it’s the scientific backing explaining that something that you may be dealing with now could be because it’s genetically passed down, but even deeper, it’s because your mom may have experienced this one thing at 12 years old that was specific to her family and her situation and that event is part of your DNA,” said Mayer.
“So important because you can then not blame yourself and understand where it’s coming from, because for me that’s so important. Understanding why is sometimes all that I need.”
View her full site here and schedule a free consultation with Torrey here. Though her site is geared toward her main audience of clients, wealthy business people, she is flexible with budgets and offers a scholarship once a month.
**Update as of August 18, 2018:
Marissa Mayer did start pulling out her hair again a bit before August, though is seeking Torrey’s help and using what Torrey taught her to heal again. Everyday is a practice.
Tony Maree Torrey’s Certifications:
1. Life Coach, Executive Coach, and Relationship Coach
from The Centre for Coach Training in Portland, Oregon (Now called New Vibe)
Sending you positive vibes,
The Strange is Beautiful
Words and featured image by Shannen Roberts.
Shannen is a Peruvian-American writer, musician and yogi.
Learn more about her here.
Marissa Mayer interview transcribed by Georgia St. Jones, Janie Johnson and Shannen Roberts.
Georgia St. Jones is a California broke girl using music, art, and literature as a way to be universal and staff contributor for The Strange is Beautiful.
Follow her here: Instagram, SoundCloud.
See her latest posts here.