What NLP Shows Us: How To Avoid Chronicity

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by Richard Bolstad
(find the full post at Transformations.net.nz)

ABNLP ResilienceThe thinking styles that obstruct change and recovery after a traumatic event are of course ones that were learned earlier in a person’s life. The simplest way to deal with them is to show the person how they are operating and have them practice an alternative. It’s not very glamorous compared to ten years of psychotherapy, but it’s a lot cheaper. Andy Austin lists several of these “patterns of chronicity” and here we have adapted his categories as a reminder.

The Big “What If…” Question. “Yes, but, what if… which means…(an impossible to manage scenario)?” The positive intention of negative “What if?” questions is to attempt to anticipate and find solutions to future challenges, but by running it on impossible scenarios, the person is locked in panic. Happy people don’t spend all day asking “What if I die horribly?”

The Big “Why…?” Question. “Why did this happen to me?” The positive intention of past-related “Why?” questions is to find new meanings, but the person rejects each possible future-oriented meaning and keeps searching as if trying to find a meaning which can change the traumatic event or recreate the past.

The Big Maybe Response. When asked to scale their current experience of an emotion, or give any report on their internal experience, the person says they are not sure, or prefaces their answer with “Maybe”. The positive intention of “Maybe” responses is to avoid mistakes such as false hope, but by refusing to commit to any specific data, the person can never measure change and can never experience success.

Testing for Existence of The Problem Rather Than Testing for Change. Even though 99% improvement might be made, if the person with chronicity is able to locate just 1% of the problem existing, this will generally be seen as representative of 100% of the problem existing. The positive intention of “Can I still do it?” responses is to detect and respond to danger effectively, but by failing to notice improvement the person continuously reinstalls the entire problem.

Negative Nominalisations. The person talks about their traumatic responses as if they were “things” rather than actions. “I have Trauma”, “I have PTSD”, “I have a Wounded Inner Child”, “I have a Clinical Depression.”. The positive intention of Negative Nominalisations is to explain what is happening by labelling it, but the result is that the processes being discussed seem permanent, damaged and even become personified as malevolent, and so are unable to be simply changed.

Being “At Effect” rather than “Being At Cause”. By being “at effect” the person experiences emotional problems happening to them, rather than being something that happens by them. A person “at effect” will seek treatment rather than seek change. Questions such as “Will this work for me?” or statements such as “It didn’t work for me.” And “It worked for a day and then the problem came back.” Presuppose that the problem and the NLP process are 100% responsible and the person themselves is 0% responsible for their own results. The positive intention of “At Effect” responses is to explain what is happening without being at fault, but by not allowing for the possibility of their responses affecting their internal experience, the person makes it impossible to change their experience.

Three Stage Abreaction Process. The person has a “nocebo” (I will not please; the opposite of placebo) response to NLP processes where they have an “uncontrollable” negative response to all interventions designed to actually help them change, although they permit interventions which maintain their problem. A small percentage of all medical clients in clinical research trials will complain that they get headaches etc due to an inert “pill”. This nocebo response also occurs with psychological interventions. “Abreaction” is a term from Freud’s work, referring to the re-anchoring of an old traumatic response. The positive intention of “Abreaction” responses may be to protect the person from feared results of the change process, but it blocks all change. It is of course perfectly possible to explain that abreaction-nocebo responses are simply accidental anchored responses and of little psychological significance (a view closer to Carl Jung’s view of them).

Stage 1. Signal (Implied Threat of Emotion) e.g. “This is making me feel ill.”
Stage 2. Increased Amplitude of Signal (direct Threat of Emotion) e.g. “Now I really feel sick. Your process is harming me. Stop or I will start screaming!”
Stage 3. Abreaction (what Andy Austin calls Punishment of the Practitioner) e.g. vomiting, convulsing, running out of the room screaming, uncontrollable crying.

Just pointing out these patterns and encouraging clients to create more useful foci for their attention is the solution to these patterns. The search for a special magic that will make the patterns go away is part of the problem. Like any new behavior, developing more resilient patterns of responding to challenges takes time and attention. The Key Questions process  is useful for helping a person consciously create a new more effective guiding question for the context they want to change.

At the 2017 Australian Conference Richard will be sharing *NEW* NLP tools and techniques to help create and build resilience.



Based in New Zealand, Richard Bolstad is a Master Trainer of NLP, Author and Psychotherapist. His central interest is in linking NLP to wider issues of spiritual devleopmet and conflict resolution. In addition to training NLP, Richard teaches Hypnosis, Transforming Communication and Taoist Healing Techniques.

Richard is a speaker at the ABNLP 2017 Australian NLP Conference taking place in Sydney, 25-26 February.