by Donald Pelles, Ph.D., Certified Hypnotherapist
The original program of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was to provide therapists ways to use language to correct the over-generalizations, distortions, and deletions in their clients’ models of the world, their neurology, so as to expand their choices in living lives free of pain, anxiety, fears, and suffering. Connirae Andreas’s development of Wholeness Work over the past decade has shown us a way to resolve the “contractions,” the “knots” in our neurology, in more direct and effective ways, enabling us to “awaken and live with ease.”
NLP in the Beginning
Richard Bandler and John Grinder (we should also credit the co-developers, Leslie Cameron and Judith DeLozier) began the development of what became NLP – Neuro-Linguistic Programming - around 1972, by “modeling” Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Psychology and Virginia Satir, the famous family therapist (and later, Psychiatrist and Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson).
The idea was to study what these renowned psychotherapists were actually doing in bringing about healing changes in those they worked with, to distill their therapeutic patterns of communication and intervention, and present these in a form that any therapist who studied them sufficiently could apply to achieve similar results with clients.
The initial production was The Structure of Magic I – A book About Therapy and Language (Richard Bandler and John Grinder, Science and Behavior Books, 1975).
This book is designed to give you an explicit set of tools which will help you to become a more effective therapist.
The overall effect of this knowledge will be to give you a clear, explicit strategy for your work in therapy.
Model of the World
The starting theoretical concept of NLP was, and is, that each of us operates, not from reality itself, but from our own unique model of the world:
… there is an irreducible difference between the world and our experience of it. We as human beings do not operate directly on the world. Each of us creates a representation of the world we live in – that is, we create a model which we use to generate our perceptions, thinking, behavior. Our model, our representation of the world, determines to a large degree what our experience of the world will be, how we will perceive the world, what choices we will see available to us as we live in the world.
Our model is a map of reality; it is not reality itself:
… important characteristics of maps should be noted. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness…
A. Korzybski, Science & Sanity, 4th Ed., 1958 (quoted on p. 7)
Thus the often-quoted NLP pre-supposition, “The map is not the territory.”
That being said, however, a map can be accurate or not; it may serve us well or poorly If I am driving from Baltimore to New York, but I-95 is not on my map (or shown in my GPS), I will find myself on a roundabout route or taking back roads to get to New York. I may even become totally lost and not get there at all.
… when people come to us … they typically come with pain, feeling themselves paralyzed, experiencing no choices or freedom of action in their lives. What we have found is not that the world is too limited or that there are no choices, but that these people block themselves from seeing those options and possibilities that are open them since they are not available in their models of their world.
Flaws in the Model
Our models cannot possibly represent the fullness of reality itself, and that would not work very well, even if they could. Without a map, a symbolic representation, the way from Baltimore to New work would be a bewildering array of trees, hills, valleys, creeks and rivers, buildings, and unmarked pavement. To be useful, a map, a model of the world, must omit a lot – all the aspects that are not pertinent or useful – and must distort (symbolize, for instance) what is actually there so that it becomes understandable, and also must put things into categories – it must generalize. Otherwise we could make no sense of what would be an overwhelming jumble of sensory data that we can perceive (which itself is only a small part of reality itself!).
But these very mechanisms that we use to navigate reality can lead to flaws in our model that lead us astray and limit our choices:
The most pervasive paradox of the human condition … is that the processes which allow us to survive, grow, change, and experience joy are the same processes which allow us to maintain an impoverished model of the world – our ability to manipulate symbols, that is, to create models. … We can identify three general mechanisms by which we do this: Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion.
We over-generalize; we make generalizations that are not valid. Being startled or scratched by a cat leads to a fear of all cats, a belief that cats are dangerous. From one or two bad relationships, a person comes to believe that they can never have a good relationship. An 8-year-old’s embarrassment at not knowing the answer when called upon becomes a lifelong fear of speaking in groups. We come to believe we are no good because of a parent’s ill-considered remark. We make up rules for ourselves and others, consciously or otherwise, that we apply rigidly and out of context.
We block ourselves from hearing messages of caring from others. We recognize only our mistakes and forget the times we have been successful. We so not see the writing on the wall. I once made a left turn, failing to see a car coming right at me in the other lane, causing a bad traffic accident.
Deletion reduces the world to proportions which we feel capable of handling. The reduction may be useful in some contexts and yet be the source of pain for us in others.
We hear remarks as critical that were not meant to be. We feel the craving for a cigarette or a drink as life-and-death. We mistake our desire for something to happen for certainty that it will – wishful thinking.
The initial program of NLP was to apply linguistic means to guide clients to improve, to “correct,” their models of reality (Grinder was a Linguistics professor). The therapist uses particular language to challenge the generalizations, deletions, and distortions in the client’s verbalizations, the “Surface Structure,” to help them recover the full meaning, the “Deep Structure,” of what they are saying and thereby change that aspect of their model of reality.
Client: I’m scared:
Therapist: Of what?
Client: Of people.
Therapist: Who, specifically (scares you)?
Therapist: I want you to try saying this and see whether you feel it fits for you: “My father scares me.” [one possibility]
Bandler and Grinder called this the Meta-Model. The Meta-Model lays out criteria for sentences to be “well-formed,” to be acceptable to us as therapists..
By applying these well-formedness conditions to the client’s Surface Structures, the therapist has an explicit strategy for inducing change in the client’s model. Using these grammatical conditions appropriate for therapy, therapists enrich their [the client’s] model independently of the particular form of therapy they do.
This was the beginning program of NLP, and many therapists and NLP practitioners continue to employ it today – the “L for Linguistic” in NLP (the N is for “Neurology” – the client’s model as represented in the brain and neurons).
NLP continues to develop
Throughout the 70s, the 80s, and continuing to the present, NLP has continued to develop. We can look on all or most of these methods, some of them linguistic and some not, as ways to help someone improve their model of reality.
Bandler and Grinder’s The Structure of Magic II (1976) introduced the “Milton Model”, modeling the language of Milton Erickson. This was the reverse of the Meta-Model – the language patterns were intended to confuse and persuade – hypnotic language – in order to bring about change. Both volumes also discussed the importance and use of non-verbal communication.
Language patterns, languaging, and non-verbal communication have continued to be important topics in NLP.
Bandler and Grinder’s Frogs into Princes (1979) introduced working with submodalities – the different facets of the five sensory modalities: sight, feeling, hearing, taste, and smell (for vision, some submodalities would be brightness, color, size, location, and distance).
Our brains code a lot of things using submodalities, so a number of NLP methods manipulate submodalities to bring about changes in perception and behavior (the model). For instance, I help clients to control pain using submodalities:
me: Go inside where the pain is and tell me what color it is.
me: Good. What would be a better color, a more comfortable color?
client: light blue
me: Alright. Now slowly allow the red to change, to purple … to violet … to blue … and let it fade to just that right shade of light blue.
client: (after a while) nods
me: Now spread that light blue all around that area … [long pause] … and when you’re ready, tell me how it feels.
85-90% of the time the pain will be gone or much diminished (if not, I may have them do it in the auditory modality). The brain has coded the pain as “red,” and by manipulating the color submodality we can change the coding and the experience of pain itself.
Many NLP procedures work all or in part by manipulating submodalities, including working with grief, with shame, with guilt, with perceptions of past events or how we envision the future.
Timelines: Our neurology codes time visually – each of us experiences the past as a line or curve (say) behind us or off to the left, the future as a line or curve on the right or in front (there are other possibilities). Richard Bandler, as well as Steve and Connirae Andreas, developed ways of eliciting and utilizing these individual timelines to help change perceptions of, feelings about, and reactions to events in the past or expectations of the future. We can also manipulate the location and form of the timelines themselves, to bring about sometimes profound shifts in experience and abilities. (See Heart of the Mind: engaging your inner power to change with neurolinguistic programming, Connirae Andreas and Steve Andreas, Real People Press, 1989, Chapter 19.)
Parts: The idea of parts, different aspects of ourselves, our psyches, is an old one in psychology and psychotherapy, going back (at least) to Freud’s “id,” “ego,” and “superego.” I might say, “A part of me wants to eat lots of ice cream, while another part wants to be slim and fit.” These parts are perceived as somehow separate from the whole, having their own desires, cravings, directions, and goals. One idea is that these parts have “split off,” as ways of coping or dealing with particular events, difficulties, or traumas at particular times in our lives, but they continue to operate unconsciously in those same ways, while the rest of us continues to develop and evolve. These parts, real or imagined, are part of the models we create, and they may generate feelings and behaviors that do not serve us well in the present. A number of NLP methods have been developed to work with and in some cases, re-integrate these parts into the whole, including Six Step Reframe, Visual Squash (see Heart of the Mind), and Core Transformation.
Connirae Andreas, Ph.D., developed this paradigm in 1989 (Core Transformation: Reaching the Wellspring Within, Connirae Andreas and Tamara Andreas, Real People Press, 1994). Core Transformation is a multi-step procedure that draws upon several earlier NLP methods, including Parts, Six-Step-Reframe, and Timeline. It works on both the conscious and unconscious levels. (“How long was I under?” a recent client asked. Although there is no hypnotic “induction,” the process itself often leads to a deep altered state.)
A Part that is experienced as a problem, an impediment, a block, is transformed through evoking its Core State, a high-level existential or spiritual state of being, that represents the highest intention behind the way the Part initially shows itself. (We can also work with positive parts, such as creativity, or “the Part that wants to be slim and fit.”)
For example, a Part that drives a client’s smoking habit may initially want “to relax,” while the chain of higher intentions include “calm,” “happiness,” and finally, “peace.” Peace, what the Part really wants, would be the Part’s Core State, which the Core Transformation process then utilizes as a powerful resource to transform the Part and ultimately the person. Having “peace” as their ongoing core state of being in the world can bring about profound changes in the client’s feeling, thinking, and behavior – their neurology, their model – that go way beyond just stopping smoking.
Furthermore, the Part itself, a previously split-off, alienated aspect, is re-integrated into the Whole, correcting (we could even say, “healing”) the model in ways that go far beyond the generalizations, distortions, and deletions of the Meta-Model.
Nearly twenty years after she developed Core Transformation, Connirae Andreas began working on Wholeness, initially for her own healing. She began teaching it to others in the fall of 2011.
The simplest way to describe Wholeness Work is that it’s about dissolving inner separation and coming to undivided experience.
Coming to Wholeness: How to Awaken and Live with Ease, Connirae Andreas, Real People Press, 2018
Wholeness is different from anything I have experienced, in that it works more directly on the neurology (our model of the world), based on sensory experiencing. We feel our
emotions as sensations, in our bodies and sometimes in the space around us. We are “choked up,” “heartbroken,” feeling “punched in the gut,” and these are actual sensations, not mere metaphors. These are manifestations of “contractions in consciousness” that we have accumulated in various ways since we were born (or before).
Wholeness introduces the concept of Awareness, not just as a mental state, but as a field that is all around and throughout each of us:
So we know that Awareness is in and through the body. … If something were to bump into your knee, there’d be an automatic noticing of that, … because Awareness is already there. … The same thing is true of the space around us. … And right now if someone off to your right were to call out “Hey,” you’d hear it, right? … The sound would just naturally and automatically be received. … So that’s this sense of space all around – this capacity to notice, this Awareness that’s all around. … The important thing is … to include my full capacity to notice, that’s present throughout my body and through the space all around; it’s easy, effortless, and there’s no edge to it..
Each of is born with a vast, undifferentiated field of Awareness, and as we develop, we accumulate “contractions” from many different sources: frustrations, traumas, misunderstandings, hurt, injuries, etc. Each of us has our own, unique, field of Awareness, which can be equated with the whole of our neurology.
In working with Wholeness, we begin with a feeling or emotion related to an experience, and ask, “Where do you feel it?” asking for a particular location in the body (or elsewhere). From that point on, the work is all in the realm of sensory experience and the perception of it (the ‘I’, the perceiver), which itself is sensory experience.
Distortions of reality and limiting beliefs are held in place by these small separate ‘I’s.
Through this process the “contractions of consciousness” are integrated back into the full field of Awareness, the Whole.
When we dissolve the ‘I’s, our limiting beliefs also dissolve!
We are operating directly on the neurology – not through linguistic or submodality manipulations – to “correct” the model of reality, the map, enabling us to “awaken and live with ease.”
With Wholeness, NLP has come full circle.