Posts Tagged ‘NLP’

By Steve Andreas, MA Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 51 seconds.

Cathy was a 55–year-old single client of a colleague. Her initial complaint was that, although she was very competent in her work, she repeatedly raged at her boss and at co- workers. It soon emerged that she had a history of sexual abuse from her father, and had a very difficult time separating her own experience from others. Hence, it was hard for her to know her own needs, and defend herself from the expectations and intrusions from others. She showed what is often called “co-dependence,” or “enmeshment.” My colleague had done a lot of work with her intermittently over a period of several years, and she had made a lot of progress, but they had reached a plateau.

Cathy’s sense of herself was still wobbly and unclear, and she often felt numb, as   if  she  were “just going through the motions,” and she wanted to feel “solid in my skin.” My colleague knew that one of my specialties was working with self-concept, so she asked me to do a session with Cathy while she observed.

When we first sat down, Cathy was obviously very anxious about what might happen, and her attention was intently on me, rather than on herself, and what she wanted from our session. When I asked her what she was experiencing right now, she said that she was scared. When I asked her what she was scared of, she said, “You’re so big! You’re towering over me.” (Later she said, “At that moment I felt like a child; there I was, this little person with this big giant man towering over me, and all the bad memories of my father’s abuse just rushed in!”)

I immediately got out of my chair, which was a little higher than the couch she was sitting on, and sat down on the floor, at which time her whole body visibly relaxed. (Later, she told me, “If you hadn’t sat down on the floor, I can’t imagine how that session would have gone.”)

As she told me about her outcomes for the session, she repeatedly said, “Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.” Knowing that what someone says is often literal, rather than metaphoric, I asked her to pause and take a step backward into herself. This was one of those times when I fervently wished that I was recording the session on video, because her transformation was so profound—I wish change was always so easy! We spent some time consolidating this new way of being in her body. But that moment when she stepped back into herself was the key that opened a door. In the absence of video, I offer Cathy’s report a year and a half later:

“When you said to ‘Take a step backward’—WOW, I can still feel it—I literally stepped back into my body, back inside my skin, and I felt so different. At first it kind of scared me – it was unsettling because it was so unfamiliar. I felt ‘connected,’ I felt ‘whole’ in a way I hadn’t known was possible. When I took a walk right after that session, I felt ‘in my body’ so intense-I felt my skin and  bones,  a tingling sensation all over, even the movement of my blood through my veins, and all my ‘borders,’ my ‘edges’—where my body ends, and everything outside me begins.”

“Before this, the world was kind of a ‘soupy’ place for me. I felt ‘the same as’ others. I thought everyone saw the world the same as I do, and I rarely made distinct choices—I just kind of shuffled along with the crowd. I’ve spent the majority of my life ‘a head of myself,’ in my head and in the future, rather than in my body in the present. I was making life choices based on experiences and beliefs I’d accepted as ‘law’ long ago and far away. I now know in my bones that I can choose, that I make choices every minute, and I no longer live from a place of fear. I know now when it’s appropriate to be afraid, and when it’s not. Since then I have become increasingly aware of who I am, what I want, where I stand in relation to others, and not being swayed by what others around me say or want—and this continues to grow. It’s all still amazing to me. And when I sometimes ‘get ahead of myself’ now, I notice it, and I just take a step backward—back to myself!”

It’s very important to recognize that all of Cathy’s insights were the result (not the cause) of taking the action of stepping back into herself, and her own life.


By Steve Andreas, MA Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 22 seconds.

Implication is one of the most common ways that we unconsciously make meaning out of events in everyday life. A speaker’s statement implies something that the listener infers. Erickson used implication extensively and deliberately, as shown in the following examples (some paraphrased) with the implication in parentheses:

“You don’t want to discuss your problems in that chair. You certainly don’t want to discuss them standing up. But if you move your chair to the other side of the room, that would give you a different view of the situation, wouldn’t it? (From this different position you will want to discuss your problems.)

“I certainly don’t expect that you’ll stop wetting the bed this week, or next week, or this month.” (I certainly expect that you will stop sometime.)

“Your conscious mind will probably be very confused about what I’m saying.” (Your unconscious mind will understand completely.)

Examining these examples, we can begin to generalize about the structure of implication.

There is a presumption of a categorical mental division that is usually an “either/or”–here/there, now/later, conscious/unconscious, This categorical division can exist in space, time, or events (matter and/or process). A statement that is made about one half of the either/or division (often using negation) implies that the opposite will be true of the other.

(Look back to verify that these three elements exist in each example above.) Since implication is often confused with presupposition (which Erickson also used extensively) it is useful to contrast the two. Presuppositions have been well studied by linguists, and 29 different “syntactic environments” for presuppositions in English have been identified. (See the Appendix to Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M. D. Volume I, [pp. 257-261]. However, implications have not been studied, even though Erickson made extensive use of them, so this is a very useful area to examine in much more detail.

Presuppositions Can be identified unambiguously by examining a statement in written form. The simplest way to identify presuppositions is to negate the entire state- ment, and notice what is still

For example, “I’m glad that you have the ability to change quickly and easily.” Negated, this becomes, “I’m not glad that you have the ability to change quickly and easily.” Only gladness is negated, the rest of the sentence “You have the ability to change quickly and easily” remains true.

Are usually passively accepted Are usually processed and responded to unconsciously, yet can be identified consciously and “You are presupposing that I have the ability to change quickly and easily, and I disagree.” Implications Can’t be identified unambiguously by examining a verbal

For example: “Of course, it’s difficult to change quickly and easily in your everyday life.” (It will be easy to change quickly and easily here in my office.)

Are generated by the listener inferring, using their assumptions and worldview. Are almost always processed and responded to unconsciously. Although they can be identified consciously, they can’t be challenged in the same way that presuppositions can, because they do not exist in the statement. If a client were to say, “Are you saying that I can change quickly and easily here in your office?” it is easy to reply, “No, I only said that it is difficult to change quickly and easily in your everyday life, isn’t that true?”

Summary: Implications are much subtler than presuppositions, they are generated actively by the listener’s process of inference, they are typically processed entirely unconsciously, and they can’t be challenged.

Creating and Delivering Implications (an algorithm) Outcome Identify your outcome for the client, what you want to have happen. (Example: The client will talk freely about their problem.) Opposite Think of the opposite of this outcome (not talking freely; keeping information secret, ) Either/or Category Use space, time, or events (matter/process) as a way to divide the world into two categories (here/there, now/later, conscious/unconscious). Sentence Apply the opposite of your outcome to the contextual category that is not present (there, then, other) and create a sentence that will imply the outcome that you want the client to infer. Space

“In your life outside this office, I’m sure that you would feel uncomfortable talking about private matters.” (Here in the office, you can feel comfortable talking about anything.)

“If you were talking to someone at work, there would be many things that you would not want to discuss at all.” (Here you can talk about anything.)


“In the first session with me, there were undoubtedly certain matters that you were not comfortable disclosing.” (In this session, you can feel comfortable disclosing anything.)

“In your previous therapy, you may have been unwilling to talk about certain events that were relevant to your problem.” (Now you are willing to talk about these events.)


“I want you to carefully think about which matters are not relevant to the problem, and that you would like to keep entirely to yourself.” (You can talk freely about anything that is relevant to the problem.)

“In your normal waking state, of course there are topics that you would be very reluctant to discuss with me.” (In trance, you can easily discuss any topic.)

Another way of thinking about this process is that the client’s concern, objection, or reluctance is completely acknowledged, at the same time that it is placed in a different context (place, time, or event) where it won’t interfere with your outcome. Implications can also be delivered nonverbally, which Erickson did extensively, and that is the subject of another paper.

By Robert W. Firestone, PhD Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 9 seconds.

The Fantasy Bond in Childhood and Intimate Relationships

The human experience can be conceptualized as a series of separation experiences ending with death, the ultimate separation. Each successive separation or movement through life — separating from the mother’s body at birth and later from her breast, beginning to walk, talk, and develop a sense of self, going to school, dating, marrying, and becoming a parent and grandparent—predisposes an individual to anxiety. The basic tenet of my theoretical system is the concept of the fantasy bond: the core defense against separation, and later, death anxiety. The fantasy bond refers to the forming of a fantasy of connection or fusion, originally with the mother or primary caretaker, and later with other family members and romantic partners, in order to compensate for emotional pain and separation anxiety. The illusion offers the child some relief from primal pain, but at the same time, the fantasy processes contribute to various degrees of maladaptation. How people cope with trauma and existential fear, and form defenses, will ultimately determine the course of their emotional lives. Hellmuth Kaiser’s germinal idea that the delusion of fusion represents “universal psychopathology” is analogous to the conceptualization of the fantasy bond as the primary defense mechanism in neurosis (Fierman, 1965).

My theoretical approach — Separation Theory — is a synthesis of psychoanalytic and existential theories that explains how early trauma, and later, death anxiety impacts the emotional life of the developing person. Emotional pain leads to psychological defense formation, and defenses formed early in life are confirmed and strengthened when the child becomes aware of death’s inevitability.

Even under ideal developmental conditions, children suffer a certain amount of hurt and frustration and are likely to form defenses to cope with the stress brought about by these experiences. Along with existential realities, family life does not always adequately provide for the healthy emotional nurturance of children. Many parents are immature and critical, even hostile or punitive, and reject the child, causing him or her considerable pain and distress. The child’s fantasized connection with its parent helps alleviate frustration and anxiety by providing partial gratification of his/her emotional needs. The fantasy bond does not refer to a positive bonding between child and parent; indeed, it is a substitute or compensation for the love and care that is missing in the infant’s environment. The need for and the dependence on the fantasy connection is directly proportional to the degree of trauma.

There are four important dynamics associated with the fantasy bond:

Children idealize the mother or primary caretaker and tend to deny or cover up painful abuses suffered in that relationship. Because of the child’s total helplessness and dependency, it is too threatening to attack or find fault with the parental figure. Therefore, the child incorporates negative attitudes, and attacks him- or herself, accepting the idea that he/she is unlovable, dirty, bad, a burden, Children project their parents’ negative traits, emotional mistreatment, and abusive characteristics onto the world at large, leaving the child suspicious and fearful of other individuals, and generally ill-at-ease in life. Finally, through the process of identification, children come to manifest specific, negative characteristics of their parents in their own personalities, thereby becoming a more hurtful or objectionable person.

The Self-Parenting Process

The fantasy bond, together with rudimentary self-nurturing, self-soothing behaviors, such as thumb sucking or hugging a favorite blanket, becomes part of a self-parenting process that leads to a false sense of self-sufficiency. Later in life, this can lead to addictive propensities, such as eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and other self-nurturing behaviors.

To some extent, infants and young children can develop a posture of pseudo-independence and omnipotence because they have introjected an image of the “good and powerful” parent into the self and therefore maintain the illusion that they don’t need anything from the outside. However, as mentioned earlier, they have also incorporated their parents’ rejecting attitudes and hostile views toward them and come to see themselves through unfriendly eyes. The resultant negative self-concept, expressed in the form of self-attacking voices, serves to become part of an anti-self-system — an internal enemy that persists throughout life.

Once a fantasy bond is formed, the principal goal of most people is to rely on the safety and security of this imagined connection; often they come to prefer fantasy gratification to real satisfaction and love from others. Thereafter, genuine indications of being loved and valued may, at times, arouse anxiety and lead to hostility toward the very people who offer them the greatest satisfaction.

How the Fantasy Bond Develops in Intimate Relationships

People are more likely to become romantically involved at a stage in their lives where they are breaking dependent emotional ties with their families and experiencing some sense of separateness and independence. As they reach out and risk more of themselves emotionally, they attract others. In the first stages of a love relationship, they attempt to let down their defenses and are usually more open and vulnerable. Their positive emotions are intensified, and they feel a heightened sense of joy and closeness.

While this state of being in love feels good, at the same time it can be frightening. The fear of loss or abandonment, together with the poignant sadness often evoked by positive emotions, may become difficult to tolerate, especially for those who have suffered from a lack of love in their early lives. In addition, intimate relationships can become threatening to the core defenses of one or both partners.

When people begin to feel anxious or frightened, many unconsciously retreat from feeling close, and slowly give up the most valued aspects of their relationships. They gradually substitute a fantasy of love or connection for the real relationship, much as they may have done in childhood with a parent or primary caregiver. There is an attempt to replicate the emotional environment they experienced in their childhood and they often use the following three major modes of defense:

Selection: People tend to select partners who are similar in appearance or personality to a family Distortion: Partners tend to alter or distort their perceptions of each other in a direction that more closely resembles a person in their family of origin. Provocation: If the first two methods fail to establish emotional equilibrium, partners are inclined to manipulate each other in order to replicate familiar parental responses. They may achieve this by acting incompetent, with displays of anger (shown through temper tantrums) and bullying, or through other childish, regressed behaviors. Often, the most tender and intimate moments are followed by provocations that create distance.

Symptoms of a Fantasy Bond in the Couple

Early symptoms of a fantasy bond include diminished eye contact between partners, less honesty and more duplicity, bickering, interrupting, speaking for the other, and/or talking as a unit.  And those who spent hours in conversation in the early phases of the relationship, begin to lose interest in both talking and listening. Also, spontaneity and playfulness gradually decrease. Often the partners develop a routinized, mechanical style of lovemaking and experience a reduction in the level of sexual attraction and satisfaction.

This decline in the quality of relating is not the inevitable result of familiarity, as many assume. Instead, it is due to insecurity, deadening habitual patterns, exaggerated dependency, negative projections, loss of independence, and a sense of obligation. As time goes by, one or both partners generally begin to sacrifice their individuality to become one half of a couple, which tends to diminish their basic attraction to each other. Eventually, many people are left with only a fantasy of love. They preserve this illusion of love through routines, rituals (e.g. birthdays and anniversaries), and role-playing, despite the fact that an objective observation of how they are actually treating each other may no longer resemble any reasonable definition of love.

Implications for Psychotherapy

Unless manifestations of the fantasy bond are identified and challenged, therapeutic progress will not be sustained in the relationship. Therefore, effective psychotherapy would mean that a couple’s destructive bonds are revealed and understood in the context of everyone’s fears and anxieties. Negative aspects of partners’ inward lifestyles, and distortions and projections brought to the relationship from past programming, are faced and gradually relinquished. Each person must challenge the idealization of his/her parents and his/her corresponding negative self-image. The ultimate goal of relationship therapy is to help each partner effectively cope with his/her fantasy bond and associated defenses, find satisfaction in goal-directed behavior, and increase his/her tolerance for love and intimacy.


Fierman, L. B. (Ed.). (1965). Effective Psychotherapy: The contribution of Hellmuth Kaiser. New York: Free Press.

Those seeking more detailed information can see The Enemy Within: Separation Theory and Voice Therapy. (Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, 2018), Also available as a eBook from Amazon.