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Thoughts on NLP


When NLP first came to my attention many years ago I was already immersed in training that offered a rather different map of the human being, albeit entirely complementary in many respects. However in terms of how my own inner world functions, the energetic map of esoteric psychology finds far more resonance with my own direct experience than the rather mechanical, cerebral, what seems to me, ‘painting by numbers’ world of NLP. This is not a criticism, just a matter of personal preference. As a tool, NLP offers a route to some of the same outcomes as ritual magic, but by a rather different route, a different ‘frame’ if you like.

Perhaps for this reason, one does not have to go far to find that there is great controversy over NLP and there has been ever since its inception, from those who’s faith is evangelical, to those who condemn it as black magic and sorcery, to those who dismiss it as nothing more than the application of the placebo effect. Perhaps there is truth in all these positions and every position in between.

Bandler and Grinder (who created NLP) even chose to use the word ‘magic’ in some of their book titles. Even the title ‘Frogs into Princes’ immediately takes the mind to the fairy tale world where magical happenings abound and, because the process of a magical working follows all the same basic steps as an NLP working I do wonder how much they might have also drawn upon ritual magic to construct their model. It’s just a different map for exactly the same territory. However, even if the parallels are purely coincidental it is not surprising because all Bandler and Grinder did was map what highly effective human beings were already doing. There is nothing new in what they came up with. The basic principles have been at the heart of every mystery/esoteric school for many thousands of years and all these esoteric teachings are actually doing is showing people how to tap in to the full potential of their own minds.

So it’s not surprising that many people do take to NLP with an evangelical zeal because it has a great deal to offer that genuinely works. It has found a new language that resonates with the current zeitgeist to make some very ancient principles accessible and relevant to the modern mind en masse. However, it is the ‘en masse’ part which causes it to run into difficulties for a number of reasons.

There is no doubt that NLP is a powerful tool, but ‘tool’ is the operative word and like all tools it can be used for good or ill. The world of business, advertising and sales is now awash with NLP being used in highly manipulative and exploitative ways. The internet also abounds with highly dubious individuals claiming to teach people how to use hypnosis and NLP to seduce, manipulate and variously exploit their fellow humans for entirely egoic and or/commercial ends. All of which serves to fuel the hysteria of the ‘black magic and sorcery’ camp. However, what the ‘black magic’ camp fail to realise is that the power to neutralise NLP’s ‘evil’ influence is right there within the tool itself! Learn how it works, learn how to spot it being used and then, even if you never use it yourself, at least you know how to stop an unscrupulous NLP shark in their tracks if you need to.

The good thing about NLP is that it’s all out there. It’s not hidden. It is not the preserve of some secret organisation, which no doubt accounts for the ‘backlash’ camp who would love to variously scare, ridicule and humiliate the masses into not even looking at a tool who’s only real ‘sin’ is that actually teaches people how to use their minds in a resourceful and, God forbid, questioning manner.

I think if NLP has a weakness it is its failure to address the energetic level of experience – that level which operates beneath the level of words and symbols, the sixth sense if you like. Human beings are unique among the animal kingdom in that they can be persuaded by words and symbols to follow energetically unstable leaders. All other pack animals ‘listen’ only to the energetic communication. The nearest reference to this in NLP is the concept of ‘congruence’ but unless one has that directly modelled and upheld it is very easy for individuals to have no idea what ‘congruence’ actually means and to therefore use the tools of NLP to shore up their walls of denial and strengthen an entirely ego oriented position. Indeed, I have come across several individuals who have done just that. The problem is that self-reports are a fairly weak indicator of energetic congruence much of the time. In this respect, muscle checking is a much more accurate indicator making it much more difficult for people to lie to themselves, which is basically what the mechanism of denial is. Therefore, though I use certain NLP techniques on myself and with clients, I never use it in isolation. My first ‘language’ is energy, not words and symbols.

A most thought provoking and ultimately hilarious exposition of the manipulative and egoic side of these so called, ‘mind control’ techniques is Neil Strauss’ book, ‘The Game: Undercover in the Secret Society of Pick up Artists’. Briefly, the author (a reporter by profession) entered the world of a self styled ‘pick up’ guru who made vast amounts of money teaching men how to use NLP and hypnosis to pick up women with the ultimate aim of having sex with them. It worked, albeit in a very ‘throw it at the wall and see if it sticks’ manner. He ended up going through a string of conquests. So successful was he that he even ended up with a following of his own much to the original ‘guru’s’ extreme displeasure. However, it only worked so long as he was content with an endless turnover of women because the ‘magic’ only lasted as long as it took the women to see through the bag of tricks and then they were gone, taking a very low opinion of him with them. Fascinatingly, in the end, he fell in love with the one woman who was completely immune to his ‘mind control’ techniques. She stopped him in his tracks. She simply would not buy any of it. From my own frame of reference, what he came up against in her was someone operating at a higher level of energetic integrity.

All of which goes to demonstrate that there is far more to real magic than a bag of tricks. It is not the tools themselves that do the magic. It is the level of consciousness, the energetic integrity, of the operator that is the most important factor and those attempting to use NLP, or any other transformational tool, for manipulative purposes, soon fall foul of this rule. Unfortunately they may still do quite a few people some damage in the process.

However, I am not a big fan of strangling the life out of an enormously useful tool with prohibitive regulations just because some people choose to use it in an unwholesome way. I absolutely believe that it should be freely available for anyone to learn along with all the other ground breaking techniques that are emergent at this time such as EFT, TFT, The Healing Codes, Touch For Health, Z Point Process, TAT – to name but a few. Anything that puts the power to change, grow and transform into the hands of all human beings and not just the few, is ok by me.

In conclusion then, for me NLP is an exceedingly useful map for the transformation of consciousness. However, since ‘the map is not the territory’, I feel one needs to study as many maps as one can to get a well rounded set of ‘tools’ in ones kit. I am a great admirer of Ken Wilber and his phenomenal work, ‘Sex, Ecology and Spirituality – the Spirit of Evolution’, presents a ground breaking and entirely integrative map of the evolution of consciousness, from matter to life to mind, and describes the common patterns that evolution takes in all of these domains. In their own way Bandler and Grinder are also harbingers of this new zeitgeist. In NLP they present us with a tool that, should we choose to use it in the way it is intended, leads us to see that all maps are actually trying to get us to the same place. They are not mutually exclusive. They are in fact, if we can just open our minds and embrace multiple points of view, mutually inclusive. This is the next big leap for human consciousness and Bandler and Grinder have made a highly significant contribution.