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Andreas/Hall Dialogue: Responses to Comments

Steve Andreas writes:

My previous blog post contained a statement by myself, presenting exercises eliciting several very different experiences that could be described using the word “Meta,” stating that we need to be more specific about which of these experiences we refer to, and concluding that since the word “Meta” is so ambiguous, it would be better to abandon using “Meta” altogether. This was followed by a response from Michael Hall, who is the foremost proponent of using “Meta” as a way of understanding and changing experience.

There were eight comments in response to this post, which are reproduced below (in brown) for convenient reference.

Comments 1-3 are mostly thanks to both of us for the respectful discussion format we used, and encouraging others to discuss other topics in a similar way. Comments 4, 6 and 8 also urged us to continue the dialogue.

Comments 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 all agree with the distinctions I made between very different kinds of “Meta,” the resulting ambiguity, my proposal to abandon the word “Meta” in favor of more specific experiential descriptions of subjective experience, and that this would avoid ambiguity and increase precision in our instructions, and our ability to predict the results of using a given intervention:

(From comment 6) (paragraph below in brown)
“These distinctions could improve the effectiveness of the whole “Meta State” approach by identifying which of the six (or more) possibilities the “Meta State” question was intended to create and what was actually created.”

(From comment 7) (paragraph below in brown)
“So I find Steve’s suggestion to be more specific a useful one, for it brings the discussion to a more practical ground, i.e. the relevance of “meta” for change and how to more effectively lead a client.”

(From comment 8) (paragraph below in brown)
“When you tell a client to do X, their intuitions about what that means and how to carry it out inform what they actually do. If they do something else that doesn’t work, or if they don’t know HOW to do what you asked in a useful way, no amount of trying harder will get the job done. This is where very specific instructions about EXACTLY what to do and how to do it really shine.”

  1. Bruce Grimley


What a respectful and educational format. I hope NLP as a group learn from this and adopt it when discussing differences in the future. Thank you, Steve and Michael, for your discussion and with best wishes, :-)

  1. Viktoria Ter-Nikoghosyan


Thank you Steve for posting this exchange of opinions! I learned a lot! Steve’s specific examples always teach me new ways of using my NLP knowledge skills. So, grateful!

  1. Marco Fida


Thank you for posting this very interesting discussion, and thank you both for offering your positions.
I find the proposed discussion format both respectful and useful.

For a next time, I also think that organizing the discussion along answers to agreed points or questions would facilitate to compare the positions.

I also appreciate Steve’s proposal of replacing the somewhat ambiguous instruction to “go meta” with a more specific description of the experience we want to elicit. I believe this will both enrich the NLP model and facilitate to guide our clients.

  1. Kelly Gerling


That appears to be round one. 

Steve, are you going to respond, to start another iteration of the discussion??

  1. Will Murray


If I had to translate this into simple English, would I be close if I said “‘meta’ may mean many different things?” And in NLP, which relies on accurate and specific meaning appropriate to the context, making the distinction about what “meta” means in the specific context would be important.


Steve Andreas writes:

Comment 6 below offers examples of additional uses of the word “Meta” giving further support for my assertion that the word is nonspecific and ambiguous, and potentially misleading. Some of these examples overlap with the examples I presented. For instance, 3. Above, is one of many possible changes in point of view, and the examples in 5. Reflexive / Evaluate Evaluations, and 6. Organise are all descriptions or categorizations of experience at a more abstract logical level.


  1. John McWhirter


Thank you both.

I wrote this as part of an Article on Re-Modelling NLP in 2003. It is a description of six different things that are described as being “Meta.”

Summary of types of Meta

Development of Type of use of ’META’
Examples related to NLP
1. After:
Original use: Not in official use in NLP:
It could be used for identify as use of conjunction and sequence
e.g. “You are feeling anxious and now can beginning to relax”.
Some types of ‘Meta States’

2. Beyond Another older usage: Not in official use:
It could be used for things like non-sequitor e .g. “You are getting angry at him and you have to get the food ready for the children tonight”.
Some types of ‘Meta States’

3. Above “Go Meta”

“ Now float up and look down and see how you and your wife are relating”.
Some types of ‘Meta States’

4. Contain Models that contain other models or parts of models.

“NLP Meta Model”
“NLP Milton Model”
Some types of ’Meta Theories’
Some types of ‘Meta States’ e.g.

5. Reflexive / Evaluate Evaluations require changing perceptual position to complete them (See article 13)

Work of Satir leading to Meta States e.g. “What do you feel about feeling that?”
Also potentially useful are:
“What do you think about feeling that?”
“What do you want to do about feeling that?”
“What do you feel about thinking that?”
“What do you think about thinking that?”
“What do you want to do about thinking that?”
“What do you feel about doing that?”
“What do you think about doing that?”
“What do you want to do about doing that?”

6. Organise
“Meta Programmes: organise sensory and language ‘programmes’”
“Batesonian Meta Learning and Meta Theories”
Some ‘Meta’ States, e.g. depression, joyfulness
The DBM® Levels of Modelling NLP (See Article 1)

One of the benefits of modelling is to identify the different ways that both the speaker and listener in any communication use words. For example Virginia Satir’s reflexive question could elicit all six of the uses of ‘meta’ (and probably more). These distinctions could improve the effectiveness of the whole “Meta State” approach by identifying which of the six (or more) possibilities the “Meta State” question was intended to create and what was actually created.


  1. Marco Fida


It seems to me that it is now clear that “meta” can mean refer to several experiences, the point would be to agree on what might be the conventionally agreed meaning and use of it as a distinction within the NLP model.

In my understanding, “meta” has been mainly used to indicate a state from which one can reflect upon or consider his own perspective on things (present state, desired state, resources etc.) in a less involved or objective way. Because of the spatialization of timeline, it was referred to as a “meta-position.”        

Because “meta-cognition” (thinking about thinking) can apply to any content or thought, it can refer to many specific experiences, such as Satir’s “How do you feel about feeling that way?”, V/K dissociation, observer position, etc.

In other words, in all these cases what counts, or what makes change possible, is how I relate to what I am experiencing, i.e. the process vs. content difference.

So I find Steve’s suggestion to be more specific a useful one, for it brings the discussion to a more practical ground, i.e. the relevance of “meta” for change and how to more effectively lead a client.

Finally, it seems to me that while submodalities in themselves can be usefully described as subdivisions within the sensory modalities, the ability to voluntarily change them seems to me to require to “dis-identify” from one’s own thoughts and “objectify” them (meta-cognition) in order to choose a more useful way of thinking.


  1. Joy Livingwell


Interesting discussion and comments!

Artful vagueness and sensory specificity both have their place. What are you trying to accomplish? How are you trying to accomplish it?

Change work relies on the client’s intuitions. When you tell a client to do X, their intuitions about what that means and how to carry it out inform what they actually do. If they do something else that doesn’t work, or if they don’t know HOW to do what you asked in a useful way, no amount of trying harder will get the job done.

This is where very specific instructions about EXACTLY what to do and how to do it really shine. If a client’s intuitions are similar enough to those of a technique’s developer, you don’t need detailed instructions; just give general ones and the client will follow them successfully. When the client’s intuitions differ a lot from those of the technique’s developer, and from yours, exact instructions help a lot, as do instructions about what to do with various client presentations, and this is something Steve excels at.

Other times artful vagueness is just what you need to keep the client from getting bogged down in or distracted by irrelevant details. IMO Michael is particularly good at artful generalizations and large-chunk, big-picture thinking and instructions. My experience is that his instructions as given work well for a lot of people, but not everybody. YMMV.

What interests me most here is the contrast in how two great minds generate intuitions, inferences, and generalizations; what they pay attention to; and what results. Such differences can make understanding and communication difficult. They can also be highly useful, pointing to things that one person alone would not have created, and generating useful synergies. I hope the NLP field will see far more of this sort of discussion and synergy in the near future.


Steve Andreas writes:

Finally, I received another comment from a colleague privately, which I think points out additional aspects of our dialogue.

“In reading your description of Meta, I felt no need to ask meta-model questions, you answered them all. You gave sufficient examples of each category so that I could generate other lateral chunks. It was well thought out and organized. Michael’s descriptions were so vague that even if I thought I knew what he meant, which occasionally I thought I did, I was not so sure. I had a hard time getting through it. The quotes seemed random and not connected. Did he know what he meant but did not sufficiently chunk down for it to be correctly understood? I am mind-reading that you are not at all surprised by his lack of specificity.”

As Michael and I exchanged earlier drafts of my article and his response, I repeatedly asked him to be more specific and experiential, and to respond to the distinctions I made, but he continued to respond with abstractions and quotations from pioneers such as Korzybski and Bateson. Eventually, I decided to post his final draft without any further comments that might prejudice the reader.

However, now I want to point out several (“Meta”) aspects of our exchange that I think are useful and important:

1. I presented exercises that elicited specific subjective experiences, while Michael’s responses are almost entirely linguistic abstractions that don’t clearly specify subjective experiences.

2. Accordingly our “dialogue” might better be described as a pair of monologues, since Hall didn’t respond directly to any of the distinctions and conclusions that I offered. This is an example of the informal fallacy known as ignoratio elenchi, “missing the point” identified by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. It can be summarized as, “If you don’t have a good response to an argument, talk about something else.”

3. A large part of Hall’s response consists of quotations from Korzybski and Bateson. A pithy quotation can be an effective way of presenting a point, particularly if both parties in a discussion have agreed that the person quoted is an appropriate authority. I respect the efforts of the pioneers who first explored the land of “Meta” with the limited conceptual and experiential tools at their disposal. However, we have learned a great deal since their early stumbling efforts to adequately describe that landscape. The use of many quotes is another informal fallacy known as “argument from authority,” also identified by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. This can be summarized as, “It’s true because a lot of authorities said it is.”

4. Lastly, I’d like to point out that all the different comments that readers made about our dialogue are “Meta” comments, and all my different responses to them (including this self-referential sentence) are also “Meta” comments. Assuming that Michael chooses to respond, his comments will also all be “Meta.” To lump all those different detailed responses into the general category “Meta” (as I have just done) gains nothing, and loses all the distinctions, arguments and conclusions that any of us made. That is one of the inevitable results of using highly abstract general categories like “Meta.”


Additional Comments on the Use of the term “meta”

Feb. 25, 2018

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

The Greek term “meta” has to do for lots of references. Like any multi-ordinal term (see Korzybski, or the Extended Meta-Model in Communication Magic or in Magic De-Mystified), the word means different things when used at different logical levels.

It would be great if we could reduce it to 6 distinctions and limit it to only 6. In that, I can sympathize with Steve’s desire. If only it was that simple! But sometimes such reductionism does not serve us well.

The simplest use of “meta” is a reflection— thinking about what you just experienced. This is the use of “meta” in early NLP History. We had meta-positions, meta-comment, meta-tactics, meta-comments, and on and on.

Things get more complex when the system under consideration operates systemically and not merely linearly. With reflexivity, you can track the meta move to the next higher logical level easily (well, if you are trained, fairly easily) a level or two. This gives the basic and most simple meta-states like joyful learning (joy about learning), respectful anger (respect about the person with whom you are angry), etc. The gestalt that occurs when you have two or more meta-levels interacting simultaneously creates a new level of complexity. The gestalt — the experience that becomes more than and different from the sum of the parts” — now cannot be explained linearly by reductionism.

Now the states (of thinking, feeling, somatizing, etc.) merge and mix so that the resultant state (as a gestalt experience) arises as a meta-stating of multiple variables. Now we have new resultant states like courage, seeing opportunity, magnanimity, forgiveness, etc. that cannot be explained by reducing things to their parts. When I describe this very specifically, Steve calls it vague. Well, yes it is “vague” if you are searching for the answer in a reductionistic way. It is not vague if you are thinking systemically. (For more about this, see my book, Systemic Coaching, 2012).

In chemistry (Steve will love this) when you bring sodium and chlorine together, the two poisons do not create a super-poison, but table salt. Something more than the sum of the parts, something different from the sum of the parts. You can’t explain table salt in terms of the parts. Now you have to think systemically.

The recursiveness that occurs when you reflect back upon your state repeatedly layers multiple layers, but it is not a hierarchy. In systems language, it is a holarchy. This is what Robert Dilts and I have been focusing on and emphasizing for years. I think John McWhirter has moved in that direction as well.

By going meta to your experiencing and layering awareness, beliefs, values, memories, imaginations, permissions, prohibitions, and many, many other meta-level frames (I have over 100 in the book, Neuro-Semantics, 2012), a rich system of recursiveness occurs and because it is all going on simultaneously (or nearly so), this generates new and higher and more complex “states.” Hence, that is what the Meta-States Model models— the self-reflexive consciousness of we humans. I have detailed that in Meta-States (2007).



Since Michael suggested that Robert Dilts and John McWhirter might support his position, I sent them the exchange above and invited them to contribute. Dilts didn’t respond, but McWhirter did.


John McWhirter responded:

A few further reflections on the “Meta” conversation. I want to add a few points which will hopefully clarify a few common confusions around “meta,” “levels,” “recursion,” and reductionism in general.

1. It is not reductionist to “specify” and enrich our understanding. It is reductionist to take six (or more) different processes and reduce them all to one vague “Meta.” If we don’t know that there are six (or more) different ways to respond, how can we decide which is most useful and make sure that the client responds usefully?

2. My original appreciation of feeling about feeling was from the work of Virginia Satir 35 years ago, where she would change the “feeling” until she got one that she wanted to work with. I also recognized that this could also be used negatively to move away from a feeling or to avoid exploring how a specific feeling was being producing. While it can be useful to move away from a feeling and go to a different one, to a “bigger” encompassing feeling, or a higher organized feeling, it is not universally useful. Indeed 40 years ago I enjoyed greatly the Gestalt Therapy awareness exercises that directed attention “down” from the language of feeling to the feeling of the feeling (I still recommend Steve’s book “Awareness” [John O. Stevens] and was pleased to read Robert Dilts praising it in a recent posting).

3. Linear progression vs recursion: This is another common confusion, that when something is repeated that this is recursive, for example, “How do you feel about feeling this?” it is only a repetition. Recursion necessitates the inclusion of the new product back into the previous one. I played with this many years ago and found that it was useful for developing specific reactions, understandings, and feelings. Instead of progressing in the Satir way of repeating, recursion can be used to stay with the original feeling and develop it. For example, Client feeling angry,
T: “How do you feel about feeling angry?”
C: “Disappointed!”
T: “Now this feeling angry, how does it feel knowing that you will feel disappointed?”
And so on doing the same to develop through recursion rather than moving away or “up.”

4. In the example of Sodium, Chlorine, and Salt: The difficulty in predicting runs both ways, not just from the joining but also from the separating. Equally there is no new need for systems thinking, there is the same benefit from systems thinking in both examples. We benefit from making more precise distinctions at all sizes, within each size and between sizes.  I could have used “levels” here instead of “sizes” but it is not the accurate label. There are no levels operating here. The overuse of levels when describing different sized structures is another common mistake, especially with the western cultural bias that “higher” is better. Instead of “sizes” I could have used “scope” which also covers other types of extended structures and functions, but I wanted to describe the specific one here.


Steve Andreas comments:

As before, Michael’s response is full of important-sounding abstract linguistic terms—“multi-ordinal,” “reductionism,” “systemically,” “reflexivity,” “gestalt experience,” “multiple variables,” “recursiveness,” “multiple layers,” “hierarchy,” “holarchy,” “more complex ‘states,’ ” “self-reflexive consciousness”—without a hint of what subjective (VAK) experience those terms might indicate. NLP is often described as “the study of the structure of subjective experience” (not “the study of the structure of linguistic terms”) Without subjective experience, there is no structure to study, nothing to go “Meta” to.

Knowledge in any field progresses in two interrelated ways:

  1. Accumulating specific detailed data/information through observation, experimentation, quantification, etc.
  2. Organizing the specific information available into abstract hypothetical/theoretical categories, relationships, cause-effects, etc.

Additional data often suggests new or revised ways to organize it, and organizing it often suggests new or revised ways to search for more specific data/information.

Data without organization is only an incomprehensible jungle of specific facts, and grand abstract theories are just as useless if they have no link to the real world of specific observations.

“Meta” is a very large abstraction that includes many different kinds of subjective experiences, three of which I described in my original statement, and John McWhirter’s comment identified several more. Using the same word for very different experiences creates ambiguity and confusion at best, and serious misunderstandings at worst. I’m going to focus on three paragraphs of Michael’s response, to show how easy it is to go astray with such a large and ambiguous generalization.



Michael wrote:

“In chemistry (Steve will love this) when you bring sodium and chlorine together, the two poisons do not create a super-poison, but table salt. Something more than the sum of the parts, something different from the sum of the parts. Now you have to think systemically.”


Steve writes:

I do love this example, because it nicely illustrates the limitations of large generalizations, and the importance of specific detail. Both sodium and chlorine are poisons because they are very chemically reactive, causing serious burns. The category “poison” is a large generalization based on their effects, which result from opposite and (equal) reasons. The reactivity of sodium results from the fact that its atoms have only one electron in its outer shell, which is loosely held and easily lost. The reactivity of chlorine results from the fact that its atoms have one missing electron in its outer shell, which strongly attracts an additional electron. As any high school chemistry student can tell you (I have a BS in Chemistry from Caltech) it’s “elementary” to predict that the poisonous effects of each are completely nullified when they react together to form table salt. You can “explain table salt in terms of the parts” quite easily.

The words “thinking systemically” may sound erudite, but it’s only “smoke and mirrors” that hide the ignorance of how chemicals react. Basic chemistry allows you to predict that sodium will react similarly with fluorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine, and that chlorine will react similarly with lithium, potassium, rubidium, cesium and francium. There will also be differences in their reactivity, and these are also predictable, given enough knowledge of atomic mass, isotopic composition, etc.

It’s very useful to recognize that whenever someone speaks of “emergent properties that couldn’t be predicted in advance,” that is only a statement about the speaker’s ignorance. When you understand anything in great detail, you can make all kinds of predictions, and that is also true in NLP. Thinking in vague abstract categories get vague and unpredictable results; detailed thinking gets specific and predictable results. That is why the core of the Meta-Model’s ability to reveal the structure of subjective experience is the word “specifically.” “Who specifically, how specifically, what specifically, when specifically, where specifically.” We need to apply the Meta-Model to the term “Meta” in order to know what kind of experience we’re talking about.



Michael wrote:

“By going meta to your experiencing and layering awareness, beliefs, values, memories, imaginations, permissions, prohibitions, and many, many other meta-level frames (I have over 100 in the book, Neuro-Semantics, 2012)”


Steve writes:

It’s not “reductionist” to continue to learn more and more about the underlying structure of how chemicals react, and it’s not reductionist to learn more and more about the different structures that underlie the generalization “Meta.”

Michael is apparently arguing that since he has “over 100 meta-level” frames, having only the three I proposed (or the six that McWhirter proposed) is reductionist. However, “awareness, beliefs, values, memories, imaginations, permissions, prohibitions,” etc., are all differences in content. No matter how useful those frames might be (like positive intention) the structure, “I X about Y,” is identical. The difference between content and process is a key distinction in NLP; that’s what allows us to quickly change any phobia, regardless of the content, because we know that the structure is the same.



Michael wrote:

“The recursiveness that occurs when you reflect back upon your state repeatedly layers multiple layers, but it is not a hierarchy. In systems language, it is a holarchy.”


Steve writes:

If I reflect on my own experience, that is indeed recursive, because it’s a categorization of my own experience, as in “I’m angry about feeling powerless,” because the subject and the object of the sentence are the same, creating self-reference. But if I reflect on someone else’s experience, as in “I’m angry about Fred’s passivity,” that is also a “Meta” statement, but it’s not recursive, because the subject and object are not the same. “Meta” “states” are not always recursive or reflexive as Michael seems to think.

“Layers multiple layers” is a metaphor that doesn’t specify what a “layer” (or “multiple layers”) is in subjective experience, or how it is represented (VAK). Does “layers” mean translucent images superimposed? If so, do you see one image through the other, or do the two images blend into each other to form a single image? Or something else?

Take a moment to notice the image that pops into your mind spontaneously when you read the word “surgeon”. . . and “butcher.” . . .      Now notice your image of the sentence, “The surgeon was a butcher,” . . . and compare that with your image of, “The butcher was a surgeon.” . . . The first sentence describes a person as a surgeon within the larger category butcher, while the second sentence does the reverse. The order of the nesting of categories makes a huge difference. Notice how it determines which context is preserved in the combined image, and what aspect of your image is amplified. These effects are not even hinted at by the metaphor “layer.”

Finally, a sequence of nested categories (of whatever length, and whether recursive or not) does create a hierarchy of logical level classification, which I described in my original statement as a third kind of “Meta.” (imaging “person,” “human,” “mammal,” “vertebrate,” etc.) A holarchy creates a very different kind of hierarchy of scope inclusion at the same logical level, which I described in my original statement as a second kind of “Meta” (seeing “leaves,” “branches.” “trees,” “forest,” etc.).

When someone describes a system as a holarchy, in which holons interact with each other in a non-linear way that is recursive or reflexive, that is a very abstract description that could apply to an organ, an organelle, an organism, an ecology of organisms, the components in an electronic amplifier, a solar system, or any number of other systems.

The universality of that general understanding is one of the key advantages of abstraction, but it also provides a false sense of understanding that is essentially meaningless unless you know the specific details of the particular system being described.

A further source of misunderstanding is when someone uses important-sounding words without really knowing what they actually mean. For instance, read the following words, notice your (VAK) understanding. . . .

Then check out the definitions of system, holarchy, non-linear, recursion, and reflexive, and compare your understanding with what you read. . . .

You probably did pretty well with “system,” because it is a common term used to describe familiar experiences (“nervous system,” “economic system,” etc.) But how accurate was your understanding of the other terms? And do you find it easy to apply those abstract terms usefully to the change work that you do with clients?

Yet another source of error in any large generalization is the omission of counterexamples. For instance, some interactions between holons in a holarchy are not non-linear, and many are not recursive or reflexive.

As an old saying goes, “The devil is in the details,”—but so are the angels!


This blog post was sent to Michael, offering him the opportunity to respond further. He replied, “My full training schedule, and other personal events, make it impossible for me to respond further at this time.” Any future response can become a further continuation of the dialogue.

What is the Experience of “Meta”?

What is the Experience of “Meta”?
A dialogue between Steve Andreas and Michael Hall

Some time ago, I (Steve) made the following general proposal to Michael for a dialogue to exemplify a respectful exchange of views in the field:

In the past, you and I have had significantly different fundamental understandings on a number of issues that could be the basis for a public dialogue between us, such as:

1. Whether or not it is important to distinguish between two uses of “meta” to refer to large scope (“the big picture”) or general category — a topic I explored at length in my Six Blind Elephants books.

2. My description of your concept of “layering” as the reverse of nested categories in the logical levels of naïve set theory, as set forth in Elephants, pp. 114-116

3. Whether Submodalities are meta or subdivisions of scopes of experience.

Of course you may have changed your views on one or more of these issues, or you might prefer to choose others. Assuming we could agree on an interesting issue on which we have differing views, I have some fairly specific ideas about how to create a respectful dialogue to avoid misunderstandings, side issues, etc.

Privately one of us would write up a position statement on the selected issue, and the other would respond to it in writing. Then we would each edit or revise our positions until we are both satisfied that we have had an opportunity to present our position fully, respond fully to the other’s position, and that we each understand the other clearly, to avoid problems like, “Well, that’s not what I said,” or “That’s what I said, but what I really meant was—” etc. This would also be an opportunity for each of us to notice any “ad hominem” arguments or other logical fallacies, and remove them.

After we are both satisfied with the result of this process, we would jointly offer this to the public (the summit group, your and my blogs) and invite comments from others.

I think this could serve as an example of working toward clarification or resolution of important issues that currently divide or confuse the field. Please let me know if you might be interested in joining with me on this, and/or if you have other views on how we could better accomplish the goal of presenting contrasting views in a way that could provide a productive dialogue.

Michael agreed in principle, and sent me a number of different extensive position statements on the meaning of “Meta,” and I take this as an invitation to focus on this topic. I prefer to begin with a more concise statement for our dialogue, but other writing projects (and my struggle with greatly diminished energy due to Parkinson’s disease) have delayed me until now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Self-acceptance and Self-rejection

I want to begin with a quotation from my old teacher Fritz Perls, who developed Gestalt Therapy:

It is obvious that an eagle’s potential will be actualized in roaming the sky, diving down on smaller animals for food, and in building nests. It is obvious that the elephant’s potential will be actualized in size, power and clumsiness.

No eagle will want to be an elephant, no elephant to be an eagle. They “accept” themselves; they accept them-“selves.” No, they don’t even accept themselves, for this would mean possible rejection.

They take themselves for granted. No, they don’t even take themselves for granted; that would imply the possibility of otherness. They are what they are what they are.

How absurd it would be if they, like humans, had fantasies, dissatisfactions and self-deceptions! How absurd it would be if the elephant, tired of walking the earth, wanted to fly, eat rabbits and lay eggs. And the eagle wanted to have the strength and thick skin of the beast.

Leave this to the human—to try to be something he is not—to have ideals that cannot be reached, to be cursed with perfectionism so as to be safe from criticism, and to open the road to unending mental torture.

—from Fritz Perls’ autobiography, In and Out the Garbage Pail.


Discovering and Understanding Hidden Self-negation

As we interact with other people, we are always responding to each other, and some of these messages will be liking and disliking aspects of what we and others do. As long as these messages are freely given and received, with no demand to be different, and with no threat to our well-being, there is no problem. That is the same as liking some food or art better than others. The expression of our preferences is one way that we come to know each other. We may even ask for this kind of feedback information in order to know someone else better, and whatever they express—positive or negative—is accepted as useful information. As Fritz Perls used to say, “Contact is the appreciation of differences.”

This free give and take becomes transformed into something very different when someone has negated themselves in some way. This inner negation is often obscure, making it hard to realize what is going on. For instance, many people are concerned with wanting to feel that they deserve to have a good life, or they want to have “self-worth.” Others seek “acceptance,” a “secure place in the world,” or “a right to be here,” and all these goals sound positive. However, underlying these desires is thinking that they don’t deserve to be happy, or feeling a lack of self-worth, that they are not accepted and don’t have a place. These are all negations, and they can negate a relatively small scope of the self, such as intelligence, beauty, or confidence, or the much larger scope of the entire self, “You are garbage.” “I wish I had never been born.”

When babies are born, they certainly aren’t concerned with “self-worth” or being “deserving,” “accepted,” or “finding a place in the world.” Like other animals, they have needs and desires, and they are very direct and emphatic about announcing their presence, and demanding satisfaction of their needs. They don’t show the slightest doubt about their “right to be here” or “deserving to have what they want.”

Then parents and other adults send them messages, first nonverbally and then verbally, about not being worthy or deserving, not being accepted, or not having a place, and the child learns to think that they don’t belong. All these have the same structure: negation of the natural functioning of the child, a negation of part, or all, of who they are. These experiences continue as memories, which can be in any or all of the different sensory modalities. Although this could be primarily an image or a perceptual feeling, for simplicity in discussing how this works, I will assume that an internal voice negates: “You don’t deserve it.”

Then when someone seeks to counter these negations with reassurances that they do belong, are deserving, are accepted, or do have a place, that is actually an attempt to negate what is already a negation. “I’m not undeserving.” “I’m not unworthy,” etc. This sets up incongruent categorical opposites within the person: “not self-worth” and “self-worth,” “not deserving” and “deserving,” etc. For simplicity, I will use the word “reassurance” to refer to any response that affirms something that someone has already negated.

If you’ve ever tried to reassure someone, you probably discovered two things. First it’s futile, and second, if you think you succeeded, it didn’t last. Reassurance feels good in the short term, but over the long term, it doesn’t solve the problem, and it actually increases the incongruence between the negation and the negation of this negation. This happens in several different ways.

First, no matter how much reassurance someone gets, this doesn’t regain what the small child began with, and what they really want: total and unquestioning being who they are, without a hint of either non-acceptance or acceptance.

Second, reassurance from others is actually “other worth” rather than the “self-worth” that they want and seek. Since people differ in what they approve of, someone will need to do very different things in order to get reassurance from different people. That usually results in a strong involvement with others, which can extend to “chameleon” behavior, attempting to satisfy different people in different ways. And since some people are almost impossible to get approval from, this may sometimes result in extreme behaviors like “acting out” or a suicide attempt.

A somewhat different way of getting reassurance from others that they are OK is to follow a particular set of social or religious teachings, so as to get reassurance from that group of people. This is more stable, since someone is always attempting to satisfy the same standards in order to get reassurance, rather than different people with different standards. However, it can lead to less contact with other people, since matching a set of abstract standards doesn’t require attending to the responses of individual human beings.

Third, when someone seeks reassurance from others, that is inevitably conditional rather than unconditional. It is conditional upon the behaviors that the person uses to ask for reassurance, and it is also conditional upon the willingness of the other person to provide it. If someone stops asking, or if other people stop responding, they will no longer receive reassurance.

Fourth, reassurance from others is temporary, because it doesn’t eliminate the underlying negation; it only opposes it and offsets it. The internal voice will continue to negate the person’s being, lovability, acceptability, or place in the world, etc., and they will need to repeatedly seek acceptance to counteract it.

Fifth, each external reassurance that “I am worthy” will tend to elicit an opposing “No you’re not” from that internal voice, escalating in the same way as an argument between two people, increasing the incongruence. If someone has an internal voice that negates who they are, and their lives seem to confirm this by being relatively unsuccessful in their job, relationships, etc., that is very unpleasant, but at least it is congruent.

But if someone has the same internal negative voice, and they are successful in work, relationships, etc. the contrast between their internal voice and the outward success will be much greater. They may have a much better life, but at the cost of greater incongruence. The more reassurance they get from others and worldly success, the larger the incongruence between the internal message about not being worthy and the external message about being worthy. Their internal voice will contradict and nullify any amount of external success.

Seeking approval from others is like using make-up or any other artificial behavior to attract someone. The more you use, the more it contrasts with what it’s covering up, and the more you know that the other person is responding to something that is not real, rather than to who you really are. This greater incongruence causes instability, and a loss of the external success may result in someone collapsing into mid-life crisis, depression, or suicide.

Sixth, there is an interesting parallel between the voice that says someone is not deserving, and the assurance that says that they are. Both are based on the opinion of other people, not the person themselves. Whichever voice someone attends to, they become slaves to someone else’s opinion, rather than attending to their own experience.


Resolving Negation

If reassurance doesn’t work to counter negative feelings of self-worth, what can someone do? The answer to this puzzle is to make the original negation clear, and find a way to eliminate it, so that someone can return to their original state in which they neither deserve, nor not deserve, they just are.

One way to do this is to listen carefully to those internal messages of negation, and realize that those messages are about the adult who said them, not about the child who heard them, a change in scope. These messages came from adults with limitations, people who couldn’t just say directly, “I’m overwhelmed; I can’t (or won’t) provide what you need and want.” Instead, they said in effect, “The only way I can deal with what you ask for is to tell you that you don’t deserve it. That way you won’t ask for it, and I won’t have to provide it.”

A slightly different way to elicit the same realization is to first collect and list all the internal rejection messages that the client has accumulated, including the emphasis, tempo, and tonality in which each statement was made. “You’re no good.” “You’re stupid,” etc. Then ask the client to visualize themselves as a newborn infant or small child, and ask them to say each of these messages to this child, including the volume emphasis, tempo and tonality. This shifts the person’s perceptual position from being the receiver of these messages to being the sender. From this position, usually it quickly becomes obvious that this is totally inappropriate and ridiculous. Their response to the rejection messages changes from taking them seriously to hearing them as messages about the parent’s limitations and inadequacies, rather than their own.

Virginia Satir’s “family reconstruction process” provided a vivid dramatization of what a client’s parents had to deal with from their parents, and how that created their limitations. In this process, the parents’ bad treatment of the client is seen as a consequence of the parents’ limitations, and had little or nothing to do with any limitations in the client. Their previous thoughts about “not deserving,” etc., were all a result of a mistaken scope.

When you realize that your understanding was a mistake, you can easily shrug it off and move on. Of course, some people will blame themselves for making the mistake, but that is also a mistake, at a more general logical level. The same kind of process can be used to elicit this realization. “See yourself as a tiny infant or young child, and scold them for making this mistake in misunderstanding their parents.”

Another way to work with internal negation is with Connirae Andreas’ Core Transformation process, in which someone is guided to a realization of what they really want, which is an experience of being, uncluttered by “not deserving” or “deserving.”

When “not deserving” disappears, there is no longer any need for “deserving” to negate the “undeserving.” Unpleasant things and pleasant things happen to each of us, and that’s a fact. We can be sad about the unpleasant events, and grateful for the pleasant ones, and realize that we didn’t deserve (or not deserve) either one. That allows us to return to simply experiencing whatever is going on—including our responses to what is going on—free of any thought or question about deserving it or not. This is something that sages and saints have described for centuries, using various terms like “enlightenment,” “waking up from the world of illusion,” or “simple acceptance of what is.”

Many people who actively seek spiritual or mystic experience are driven by an underlying negation without realizing it, seeking bliss and oneness without first neutralizing the inner negation that keeps them from returning to their original integration and oneness. This is even more likely to be true of spiritual teachers and gurus who become invested in the status and importance of their employment, and have to uphold their role of being “enlightened,” a sure sign that they are not.

Now let’s examine “deserving” in more detail, to find out how people get into this kind of mess in the first place. The meaning of the word “deserve” is a condensed version of “I think I should have/get something because I have a right to it.” Whenever a word is a condensed and shortened form of a longer communication, it is usually packed with hidden or poorly recognized meanings that can become a trap for the unwary—both speaker and listener.

There are both pleasant and unpleasant versions of deserving, as in “She deserves a medal for what she did,” or “He deserves to be hung for that.” So “deserving” is an expression of reward and punishment, established by someone’s judgment of what ought to be.

Usually the word “deserve” is used without any additional information, “He deserves it.” That kind of statement is called a “factive,” because it is stated as a fact, not to be questioned. Even when deserving is stated as someone’s personal view, “I think he deserves it,” the reason for deserving is often omitted.

When people say that they “deserve” something, usually the implication is that someone else should give it to them without their having to do anything to receive it. Their reason is usually because they are “entitled” to it, and often this is because they are special, more important than someone else who doesn’t deserve it—a version of the “divine right of kings” and the nobles that the kings “entitled” by giving them titles.

In NLP terms “deserving” something is an outcome that is “ill-formed,” because it is not under the control of the person who has the outcome—someone else should provide it. Since we have no direct control over what someone else does, this puts the person who “deserves” at the mercy of someone else’s ability and willingness to provide what they want. When someone else doesn’t provide what someone “deserves,” they usually complain, rather than taking useful action themselves.


Appropriate Deserving

If someone has made an agreement that specifies what they are to receive by that agreement, then they do deserve to receive whatever was promised—no matter how silly or ill-advised the agreement itself might have been. Like the word “fairness,” “deserve” only applies to agreements, a limited scope, and what someone deserves is specified clearly by the agreement.

However, many people go far beyond this appropriate scope, thinking that they deserve things that have nothing to do with any agreement. They often act as if they had some kind of written agreement with God, or nature, or the universe, specifying what they should receive. For instance often people say, “A child deserves a loving home,” or “I deserve an opportunity to succeed.”

I certainly prefer a world in which everyone has an opportunity to satisfy their needs, and has a loving home and opportunities to succeed, etc., and I do my best to move the world in that direction, but that is based on my desire, not an imaginary agreement.

Some people even say that something is a “God-given right.” But if it were really “God-given,” then we would all have it, and certainly no one could possibly take it away from us! Once I observed Fritz Perls smoking in a school auditorium where he had just given a demonstration of Gestalt Therapy. A woman approached him and asked, “How come you have the right to smoke when all the signs say, “No smoking”? Perls responded, “I don’t have the right, and I don’t not have the right; I just do it.”

As far as I know, life is a gift, and it comes with no agreement or guarantee except that it ends in death—usually much sooner than we would like. Making sure that all people have opportunities to satisfy their needs is a job for us all. It is not based on any kind of “deserving.” It is based on what we want to have happen because we think will work best for all of us, and it is up to us to create and maintain the kind of personal agreements, society, and government that support that.

Excerpted from Six Blind Elephants, volume II, chapter 2, “Negation,” pp. 43-49.


BT16 Clinical Demonstration 11 – Sewing Partners Together:

Sewing Partners Together: Techniques for Moving Couples Toward Secure Functioning – Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT One hour video download $29.95.

Videotape Review/Commentary

I like to watch videotaped demonstrations of therapy any time I can, to see what I can learn. Very few therapists are willing to make complete sessions available, and usually I find them disappointing — despite very low expectations. Often my response to viewing a demonstration is to think of what I would have done differently, and sometimes this helps me develop more clarity about what does and doesn’t work to elicit personal change. Much more rarely I find a session that demonstrates a high degree of exceptional skill, sometimes mixed with gross incompetence.

What is most striking about this clinical demonstration is Stan’s ego-free, complete and gentle and warm nonverbal engagement with the couple. He is present, caring, spontaneous, and appropriately humorous. The speed of his acknowledging responses clearly indicate all the above — you can’t fake that kind of speed consciously. I wish he could “bottle” his mode of being and provide it to others, because most therapists desperately need it, and without this solid foundation of rapport, even the most appropriate interventions won’t be very effective. Most therapists give lip service to “entering the client’s world,” but few are able to actually do it well. Stan is right up there with Erving Polster in this regard.


What needs to be done?

I understand this couple’s needs to be twofold:

  1. They need to resolve the immediate distressing problem, which is their shock and grief over their foster grandson’s violent suicide, which they learned about at noon on the day before the session with Stan. Judy says, “It’s heartbreaking, very, very, and we thought he was going to make it. He came so far; he had some wonderful years. We gave him a life that he never could have had, that was hard to sustain when he became an adult. We bought him a car; he wrecked the car. We do things for him — maybe that doesn’t work — setting clearer boundaries. So he went back to his family of origin, who had abused him sexually, physically, in every way, and he got caught up in that system again, and that’s where he died.”

There are strong indications in Judy’s statement that there may be additional troublesome “unfinished business” responses that need to be clarified and resolved. There may be anger at the grandson (“How could you do this to us!”). There may be guilt (“What did we do — or not do — that caused this?”). Bruce or Judy are both therapists, so there may be shame. (“We should have been able to prevent this.”)

Bruce and Judy are also still grieving in response to the earlier murder of a young nephew 15 years ago (“We still suffer from that.”) and the earlier suicides of two other close friends of one of their sons. These old unresolved wounds may also have associated “unfinished business” aspects that need to be resolved.

  1. Judy and Bruce need to learn how to find better ways to respond to each other as a couple when dealing with this, or any other, difficult life issue — specifically, Bruce’s tendency to “close down and withdraw” in response to trouble, and Judy’s strong fear that Bruce won’t come back from this “depression.”



Stan made no intervention in regard to their grief other than acknowledging it. Ideally both the grief and the relationship would be changed. I would have focused first on the couple’s shock and grief, because it is so intense and immediate. I would have used the phobia cure method on the traumatic manner of the grandson’s death, and I would have used the resolving grief method on the grief/losses, each of which usually takes only one session or less. If there are additional responses of anger, grief, shame, etc., those would also need to be resolved, using appropriate methods. Each of these interventions would have changed the structure of the memories that elicit their distress, so that they would automatically have much more resourceful responses to each other in the present.

Stan focused on the couple’s difficult interaction in response to this and other stressful issues, specifically Bruce’s tendency to withdraw in the face of difficulty, and Judy’s need to stay connected with Bruce, and her intense fear of his withdrawal into “depression.” This focus was consistent with the title of the session, “Sewing Partners Together: Techniques for Moving Couples Toward Secure Functioning.” (I have some serious reservations about the metaphor “sewn together” because if partners are sewn together, it’s very difficult to walk, much less dance.)


Cross questioning

Stan nicely demonstrates how to ask one member of a couple about their understanding of the other’s experience. For instance, after Judy says, “Whenever he gets depressed, I get really scared,” Stan asks Bruce. “Do you know why she gets this reaction, why she gets scared?” This method provides both verbal and nonverbal evidence of how well they understand each other, because it simultaneously elicits both Judy’s experience, and Bruce’s understanding of her experience. If there is any kind of mismatch, as there so often is when a couple is in difficulties, this provides an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings.

Understanding how a present behavior is actually in response to a distressing childhood memory, rather than the present situation, is a great way to give the partner perspective, and elicit empathy, and this is particularly useful with partners who are blaming and combative.

Rather than ask “Why?” which could elicit historical analysis, it would be better to ask, “Do you know what she experiences when you get depressed and she gets really scared?” because that would elicit a specific description of her internal experience in the present, in contrast to the past history that created it.

Their responses indicate that they understand each other quite well, and care for each other, so while this is an elegant demonstration of a very useful way of questioning, this couple doesn’t really need it. Judy and Bruce’s responses indicate that they already have this kind of understanding, probably developed in their previous therapy. They mention having therapy with well-known family therapist Frank Pittman “30 years ago,” when “she was a witch and he was a wimp,” and there are other indications that they have had additional therapy since then — perhaps quite a lot.


Eliciting positive resourceful memories

Stan also skillfully demonstrates how to inquire about positive memories to elicit resourceful feelings, something that Virginia Satir was so good at. He spends over eight minutes asking how they met, what attracted them to each other, what they liked about each other, etc. This is an intervention that is particularly useful with combative or distant couples, and it was clearly enjoyable for both Judy and Bruce. But since they already had ready access to these memories, it wasn’t any kind of “breakthrough” for either of them. So again it was an elegant demonstration of a very useful skill, but one that this couple didn’t really need.


Eliciting how responses in the present relate to personal history

Stan asks both Judy and Bruce if their current responses are related to childhood experiences, and they both agree. For example, when Judy was a little girl her father would “get depressed, seriously depressed, withdraw for weeks, and there wasn’t much anybody could do. He would close down and just go about doing things on the farm; he wouldn’t talk. And then he’d come back one day.” At these times Judy’s mother would weep and tell Judy, “I don’t know what’s wrong with your father; he won’t talk to me.” Bruce had parallel experiences that elicited withdrawal from conflict.

While it is likely that Judy has troubling images of her childhood in response to Bruce’s “going away” that elicit her fear (and most therapists would assume that) it isn’t the only possibility. Judy’s response might be anxiety about a future image of being alone and helpless, rather than a past image. Or she might be fearful in response to a panicked internal voice predicting disaster, such as, “I’ll never be able to survive alone!” Or her experience might be a combination of these possibilities, or something else altogether.

Each of these responses would be the result of her childhood experiences, but each would have a different structure in the present, and require a different kind of intervention. For instance, if Judy is experiencing anxiety about the future (rather than a past memory) an intervention called “spinning feelings” will be more appropriate.

Rather than making assumptions, it would be simpler to ask Judy, “When you see Bruce “depressed,” what goes on in your mind that makes you afraid?” That would provide specific detail about what her internal experience is, and indicate what kind of intervention might be most useful.

Judy says, in regard to Bruce, “We’re joined at the hip!” suggesting “enmeshment” that would make Bruce’s absence or death particularly difficult for her to cope with. Perhaps they are already “sewn together,” contributing to the intensity of Judy’s fear. If so, that would indicate another important issue to explore in more detail and resolve.


Understanding dynamics vs. making changes

Understanding that Judy’s present fear is more in response to her history than to the current situation relieves Bruce of at least some of the responsibility for Judy’s present distress, and Judy’s understanding of Bruce’s childhood will do the same for her. Unfortunately, eliciting historical reasons for present behavior also implies that the present behavior will be hard to change. Fortunately, there is a flip side to that same implication, namely that if you change their experience of their history, that will automatically change their responses in the present.

It’s very important to make a clear distinction between understanding how something happens and intervening in order to change what happens. Many therapists make the mistake of thinking that understanding or “insight” alone is curative, but it isn’t. At best, understanding provides good information that can be used to select an appropriate change intervention. In medicine, knowledge that a fever is a result of a virus or bacterial infection may be very useful in selecting an effective treatment, but the knowledge is not a substitute for the treatment, and knowledge without treatment is of no use.

None of Stan’s many skillful interventions were directed at changing the implicit procedural memories that are the basis for this couple’s automatic and unconscious troublesome responses in the present. (Daniel Kahneman’s “system 1.”) Stan presupposed that Bruce and Judy would continue to respond with withdrawal and fear; his interventions were directed at how they could cope with each other’s troublesome responses.

To summarize, this couple’s childhood memories elicit problematic responses. Rather than attempt to change the memories that cause their difficulties, Stan attempted to change how they dealt with the troublesome symptomatic responses that resulted from the causes. Treating a symptom is only appropriate when there is no way to treat the cause.

In all fairness, treating the symptom rather than the cause is very widespread in therapy. For instance, the symptoms of anxiety (hyperarousal, tingling, fast breathing, etc.), are generally (perhaps always) caused by an internal voice predicting some kind of disaster, such as a plane crash, or being abandoned and helpless. Most therapies, and most therapists, focus on trying to change these symptoms using relaxation, deep breathing, repeated exposure, paradoxical intention, etc. At most, they try to change the content of what the internal voice says, by arguing with the voice, which is counterproductive.

However, the main cause of anxiety is not the content of the internal voice, but the fast tempo, loud volume, high pitch and strident sound of the voice. You can easily verify this in your own experience by saying an innocuous sentence like “I’m going downstairs” in a loud strident, “anxious” voice. Slowing the tempo of such a voice automatically lowers the volume, pitch and strident quality, and these changes elicit feelings of security instead of anxiety. Another way to change the nonverbal aspects of an internal voice that elicits anxiety is demonstrated in this short video.


Changing past memories in order to change present responses

There are a number of different ways to change troublesome implicit memories. Most therapists try to eliminate them with some kind of amnesia, distraction, or replacement, but it is much easier and more effective to modify them so that they are no longer troublesome. As Milton Erickson said of therapy, “Your task is that of altering, not abolishing.” Furthermore, altering always involves adding to the memory in some way, rather than subtracting. For instance, eliciting the positive intention behind someone’s harsh criticism changes its emotional impact by adding to your experience of it.

One of the most straightforward ways to change a troublesome childhood memory is to have a vivid dialogue with the younger self, in which the client imagines being with the younger self at the time of the troubling memory, and uses all their adult skills to advise and comfort the younger self in whatever way is appropriate, both verbally and nonverbally, using nonverbal visual, auditory, and kinesthetic feedback to verify when the younger self has, in fact, been comforted and reassured. One particularly useful piece is to point out that, “I am from your future, and I know you survived this,” because it is so incontrovertibly true.

In doing this, it is crucially important that the client take the active empowering role in comforting and reassuring the younger self. In contrast, in some “inner child” work the client is asked to take the role of the younger self, who is reassured by someone else. This is disempowering, since the “other” has the power, not the client, so it is ineffective at best, and infantilizing at worst. There is much more detail about this method of changing troublesome memories in this article.

A second method is somewhat more detailed and complex, and also more elegant. In this process the client is asked, “What experience could you have had earlier than that troubling event, that would have prepared you for that problem experience and made it easier to deal with?” Then the client is instructed how to create this experience in a way that is vivid and powerful in preparing them for the traumatic event. Finally the client is guided in carrying this new memory with them as they come up through time through the troublesome event — again transforming it by adding to it, in contrast to subtracting.

This new memory is carefully designed so that it changes the client’s internal responses. The choice of this experience, and the details of it, is content that emerges entirely from the client, so no content is introduced from a therapist, role-player, or other outside source. It makes no attempt to magically change the external events that happened in the traumatic memory, which would leave the power in the magic, another disempowering mistake that some therapists make. Again, there is much more detail about this method of changing troublesome memories in the article mentioned above.

Either of these two methods can transform the implicit procedural memory that used to elicit problematic behavior in the present into a response that is more resourceful and useful. When each member of a couple has more resourceful responses, the difficult symptoms no longer occur, so there is no need to develop ways to cope with them.


Eliciting responses to cope with symptoms

In contrast, Stan asks the couple to move closer and look into each other’s eyes, “for a minute,” which I think is deceptive, since he then insists that they continue to do this for the next twenty minutes or so of the session. He elicits how the couple can respond to their own, and their partner’s symptomatic behaviors, to “reach across the chasm” between them when Bruce withdraws and Judy gets scared. Stan gets mutual agreement and commitment to maintain their connection. Bruce agrees to move forward instead of withdrawing, and Judy agrees to be more active in insisting on contact if Bruce withdraws.

Although heartfelt, congruent and sincere, these are conscious-mind agreements (Kahneman’s “system 2”) that are slower, require effort, and presuppose that each partner will continue to unconsciously respond in the ways that were programmed into them by their childhood experiences. Stan’s interventions are directed at helping Judy and Bruce cope with their troublesome responses rather than changing their causes. The unconsciously generated “system 1” grief and the unresourceful coping behaviors that each of them learned in childhood haven’t been altered, and they will be much more automatic, faster and stronger, and will easily overwhelm the conscious strategies that they agreed to.

Bruce and Judy began the session with fresh, raw gaping wounds of grief, as well as several major older festering losses. They were also burdened with the problematic coping behaviors they learned as children when faced with insurmountable difficulties. All these responses — grief, withdrawal, fear, etc. — are elicited by unconscious procedural memories over which they have no conscious control — they can’t just consciously decide to respond differently. They left the session with the same injuries and limitations, poorly prepared for the task of dealing with the real life aftermath of their foster grandson’s suicide — the funeral, the others involved, and all that that entails.

Empathy and mutual understanding is a great foundation, but it is no substitute for effective interventions to change the causes of difficulties. This couple volunteered for a demonstration of how to “sew partners together,” but despite all of Stan’s many extraordinary skills, all they got was a band-aid with a smiley face on it.


Stan Tatkin’s Response

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I was most impressed with Steve Andreas’ write-up and critique of my live demonstration at last Brief Psychotherapy Conference. I found it comprehensive, informative, loving, and more than a bit flattering. However, within the critique I suspected a possible misunderstanding.

The title of my demo was Sewing Partners Together: Techniques for Moving Couples Toward Secure Functioning. The title’s puzzling message may have implied something profoundly in-depth such as working through trauma, facilitating grief work, or otherwise modifying unconscious implicit memory patterns that maintained partner distance and misunderstanding. Alas, the purpose of the demonstration was infinitely more boring though the couple was anything but. I endeavored to show four techniques for quickly gaining information when interviewing a couple: cross-tracking, cross-questioning, cross-commenting/interpreting, and going down the middle. It just so happened that the volunteering couple, the lovely Bruce and Judy, received news of their foster grandson’s suicide the day prior to our demo. The “session” with them was raw and intensely moving for both myself and the audience.

When doing live demonstrations, one must adapt to the needs of the couple and work with the constraints of the agreed upon demonstration elements. In this case, it was to remain within the scope of crossing techniques, which is what I would likely use regardless at the beginning of working with this or most any couple. Why? Because gaining accurate information is key to understanding precisely who and what sits before me. I have often said that real time is too fast due to subcortical, memory, and implicit recognition patterns found in all interactions. Therefore, the therapist, before doing anything, must find out what is going on and who are the people sitting in front of him/her, determine what they really want, and what might they be up to in this moment or the next. Narratives often lie or are distorted for a variety of reasons and so the clinician, understanding the inherent challenges in getting accurate information, must endeavor to glean information through multiple streams of data, such as somatic feedback mechanisms as observed by monitoring microexpressions and micromovements, vocal or prosody shifts and changes, color changes in the face, changes in pupil size, response timing, and changes in striated muscle areas of the face and limbs. In other words, the main task for any clinician is first the discovery of “what is this” before attempting to do anything “about it.” That’s where crossing techniques come in.

Cross-tracking is a visual means of observing the face and body of the person who is not talking and then sweeping the eyes back and forth, up and down, to survey each partner’s somatic reactions. Because the talking partner is using up resources for language and speech, their face is best observed just after they finish talking, a time when resources are freed up and the face is more likely to show emotion and signs of stress previously hidden. Cross-tracking is a extraordinary method for catching partners in the act of being themselves.

Cross-questioning (based on the Milan Group’s circular questioning method) is yet another powerful technique for gaining information quickly and effectively from partners by asking one partner about the other. Again, the therapist is using this method to observe tiny shifts and changes in the face, voice, body, and timing as compared to narrative. The non-speaking partner is observed first and then the eyes travel back and forth, up and down. All the while, the therapist is also using their own somatic responses, thoughts, fantasies, and impulses as yet another data stream for discovery and understanding. Cross-commenting/interpreting, in a similar fashion, allows the therapist to gain both explicit and implicit information for later use in the session.

Going down the middle is a method of interpreting or confront the couple down the center so as to address the couple system without implicating either individual.

Having partners sit across from each other at a relatively close distance so as to activate the near vision system (ventral visual stream and the fusiform facial area), helps facilitate interactive regulation and attention to one another’s face and eyes, is a precondition for informal trance induction. Given the constraints of the demonstration, trance induction and deeper work in the implicit realm was not the focus of this exercise. Therefore, I had no intention to do concentrated work with the partners’ grief, trauma histories, or longstanding relationship issues.

The demonstration with Bruce and Judy satisfied both the advertised intent of showing crossing techniques and at the same time, only lightly addressing the grief and trauma of their recent loss as well as their history of interpersonal misappraisals and mismanagement. If this were a real PACT session, the methods Steve so eloquently described would most certainly be used, albeit, with methods familiar to PACT therapists. Each of these techniques – not demonstrated at the event – focus on implicit, procedural memory systems and make use of induction methods to facilitate co-created alternate states of consciousness (usually parasympathetic) to promote modification of deeply held childhood beliefs and patterning. We use movement, poses (holding positions) staging, and a particularly powerful, lengthy psychodramatic procedure called Lovers Pose in which partners are put into a trance. Thereafter, we continue to explore, discover, and heal unresolved loss and trauma through “bottom-up”, strategic techniques.

I had the delightful opportunity to speak with Steve Andreas for the first time long after the conference. I believe I found a kindred spirit, someone with whom I had previously been unfamiliar. I have some catching up to do regarding his extensive work with NLP and trauma. I look forward to learning more from him.

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Two Very interesting New Kids on the Block!

I’m very pleased to tell you about two new cyber buddies, Kaj Sotala in Finland, and Adam Goldman, currently in Albania. Both are highly skilled in information technology, a perfect background for expertise in NLP.


Kaj Sotala

Kaj is one of very few people who thoroughly understands the principles of scope and category that underlie my books, Transforming Your Self and Six Blind Elephants. He also successfully applied them without assistance to his own 20-year depression and anxiety. He has gone on to explore additional applications and conclusions of these and other topics on his very readable web site, a great resource. Contact.


Adam Goldman

Adam’s work is one of the most exciting developments in the application of NLP I’ve seen in years—and I don’t say that lightly.

Here’s why: He has taken a number of familiar patterns—phobia, swish, grief resolution, etc. and created programs that he calls “Brain Hacking Automation Tools”

People can use these online programs on their own to process a variety of common problems and outcomes, such as trauma, grief, troublesome internal dialogue, etc. No hard statistics yet, but there are already a significant number of reports of success.

At the very least it’s a prototype “proof of concept”—that it’s possible to do change work using a computer program, without using visual or auditory channels for information-gathering and feedback, and without being able to use those channels to support change work interventions. Even if the overall success rate turns out to be fairly low, that could still be a wonderful economical option for many people for whom individual sessions aren’t even a remote possibility.

Adam also does Facebook chats with clients in which he periodically directs the client to use one of his Brain Hacking Automation Tools, and then report back and continue the session. Since there is an unedited verbatim written record of these sessions, it’s possible to read exactly what was said by both Adam and the client—unfortunately a rarity in the field.

He has posted a verbatim chat in which he resolves a woman’s obsessive compulsion disorder in one session, using familiar processes in a particular sequence. Though it needs to be tested with additional OCD clients, his process makes perfect sense to me, and I expect that it will generalize to other clients with that problem, filling a gap where NLP hasn’t had a dependable protocol.

As if all this wasn’t enough, he also has posted a verbatim chat demonstrating resolving fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome in an extended session over several days:

Fibro/CFS is a problem that is mysterious, has stumped doctors, and is supposedly incurable, so if the process holds up with even a few additional clients it will be a huge breakthrough that could benefit thousands.

All the information on Adam’s site is 100% free and open-sourced, meaning the code for the tools is available as well, hoping to inspire more people in the field to contribute to this development. He has no permanent address, moves around, with a very flexible schedule, available for trainings/consultations, and he welcomes feedback/contact:

His preferred mode of communication is Facebook:

Second choice is Whatsapp: +63 915 380 7634

Third choice is Skype: adam.goldman43

If all else fails, email:

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