So, I was driving my van, and I noticed I was getting tense every time I had to make a left turn. Thinking back, I realized why. . .
I used to drive my girlfriend’s car, and it had a tricky turn signal. Whenever you used the left turn signal, if you didn’t massage it just the right way, it made a horrible, loud buzzing sound. Somehow, she could always do it right — but I couldn’t get it. It made me tense.
And this is the way that responses sometimes get conditioned, and habits form. My mind had associated turning left with a negative feeling. Had I not learned NLP, I might not have ever figured out where that feeling came from.
We Understand By Relating
I’ve noticed a phenomenon when teaching NLP classes. As you are doing demos, working on people’s issues, students watching the demos relate to what’s going on. In other words, the student’s own associations get triggered (it’s true of therapists, and instructors, as well). If a demo subject is reliving some negative experience, others may be reminded of their past, similar, negative experiences.
Often, this works to everyone’s advantage. If you watch the process of someone being healed, and you follow along with the healing process, you may experience healing yourself. In fact, this is the way healing metaphors work. The stories trigger problem situations in the listeners mind’s, and when the stories deliver solutions, the listeners relate to the solutions too!
With just the right delivery, the listeners are led through the healing process — often, without even realizing it! That’s why, when patients would visit Milton Erickson, they would sometimes not realize their problem had disappeared, until months later.
Looking For Mr. Badbar
But at first, when the issues are triggered, people may experience some negative emotions.
Often, when folks experience negative emotions, they search for a reason. They look around the room for something on which to blame their unhappiness. They may complain about other students, the temperature of the room, the teaching style, the hum of an air-conditioner, or whatever.
People’s perceptions are filtered through their mood. If there is unhappiness in your body, you will sense things that fit with that feeling. If you are content, you will perceive things that match that feeling.
You know this is true in your experience, right? If you’re in an unhappy mood, a significant other might bother you, when otherwise they wouldn’t. A job might irritate you, when normally it would be fine. In other words, how you perceive, and respond to the world is a combination of what’s really going on, and your mood.
How Does Knowing This Help Us?
Well, over the years, I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously. I know that at least part of what is going on in my mind at any moment, is influenced by how I happen to be feeling. This helps keep me from making decisions based on a momentary mood. And it keeps me from blaming, because I realize my viewpoint might be colored by a negative emotion,
For instance, I’ve figured out that being mean, or making a cruel comment is extremely rarely a good choice. It only seems like a good choice when I’m hurt, or angry at someone. In retrospect, I regret it. So now, even if I feel like being mean, I recognize that the urge is likely driven by a particular state of mind and is not some universal truth.
To be a little more specific, when I feel like being mean, I dissociate, and mentally travel through time. I visit a past experience when I realized I had been mean, and that it had been wrong to be so. I take that knowledge back to the present and use it to temper my actions in the moment.
We Are Often Partially Regressed
The turn-signal situation is a model of how people work, in general. I was getting tense, out of proportion to the actual situation. I was doing so because of a conditioned response that had been programmed by past events. One way of looking at it is that I was acting as if the past situation was still true. In other words, part of my mind was regressed to an earlier time.
And that’s the way it is. Regression is not some rare, esoteric thing. It’s going on regularly, in all of us, to one degree or another. Most of the time, it works out pretty well. In some cases (like me with the turn signals), it isn’t well suited for the current situation. And in a few cases, it seriously messes with people’s lives.
But that’s OK. There are simple techniques to work with issues that are caused by unresourceful responses from the past. The affect bridge (and other techniques) can trace feelings back to their causes, and there are lots of timeline, re-imprinting and hybrid regression therapy techniques to deal with them once you find them. It’s not hard.
We Think It’s Real
But most folks don’t realize much their reality is being colored by their mood. Instead, we believe the anger, or glee, or impatience is solely caused by what’s going on ‘in the now’, and our interpretations are based on our objective minds. But to one degree or another, it just ain’t so!