Research Catches Up With NLP

NLP has been in existence for more than 30 years. One of it’s signature techniques is the Visual Kinesthetic (VK) dissociation process that is used to distance oneself from stressful experiences.

‘Real’ psychologists can be a bit ‘sniffy’ about NLP processes citing the lack of scientific research in this field. They might find some reassurance from the article Analyse Emotions From a Distance.

The article reviews a study from Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan which suggests that the best way to cope with distressing situations is to analyse feelings from a psychologically distanced perspective.

It is an invaluable human ability to think about what we do, but reviewing our mistakes over and over, re-experiencing the same negative emotions the we felt the first time around, tends to keep us stuck in negativity. It can be very helpful to take a sort of mental time out, to sit back and review the situation from a distance

This effect revolves around a fundamental distinction in NLP.

When we are remembering (or imagining) a situation are we ‘fully in’ the situation seeing it from our own eyes, feeling the feelings and hearing the sounds as if they were happening to us right now? If so then we are ‘associated’ into that experience.

Or are we seeing the experience as an onlooker as if we are watching ourselves on TV, as if the experience was happening to someone else. If so then we are ‘dissociated’ from the experience.

Try a little thought experiment: Take a few moments to remember a mildly unpleasant experience. As you remember it are you seeing the experience through your own eyes (associated) or seeing yourself have that experience (dissociated).

How unpleasant is that memory?

Now lets change things.

If you were associated (seeing it through your own eyes) then imagine that you are watching the scene as if you were a bystander seeing that experience happen to someone else somewhere over there.

If you were already dissociated (seeing yourself in that experience) then imagine seeing the experience from a more distant viewpoint.

Now how unpleasant is that memory?

Many people find the more dissociated from memory they are the less unpleasant it feels. That’s the anecdotal evidence, now back to the study.

In a study involving 141 participants three different methods were tried to deal the memory of a stressful experience: association, distraction and dissociation.

In the ‘immersed-analysis’ [associated] group. Participants were told, “Go back to the time and place of the experience, and relive the situation as if it were happening to you all over again ..”

In the distance-analysis [dissociated] group. Participants were told, “Go back to the time and place of the experience … take a few steps back and move away from your experience … watch the experience unfold as if were happening all over again to the distant you ..”

The distracted group were just given distracting mental tasks to perform while remembering the experience.

In the short term, just after the task, participants who had used the distraction and the dissociation methods had lower levels of depression. When tested a few days or weeks later, those that had used the dissociation methods continued to show lower levels of depression. Suggesting that dissociation is helpful way of processing a distressing memory in the short term and that the relief persists over time. This won’t come as any surprise to the NLPers out there.

The article concludes:

“In future research, Kross plans to investigate whether self distancing is helpful in coping with other types of emotion, including anxiety, and the best ways fo teaching people how to engage in self-distanced analysis as they proceed with their lives, not just when they are asked to recall negative experiences in a laboratory setting.”

He might like to pick up a good NLP book or better still attend one of our NLP Practitioner Trainings where we could show him all sorts of effective ways to use association and disassociation.

Cross-posted from IntegrityNLP

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