Danger of NLP, just because you can do something does not mean you should

Danger of NLP training, just because you can do something does not mean you shouldUnderstanding the power of NLP

Plus the danger of NLP Training

David was really enjoying his NLP training, but little did he know the negative impact this was to have on his life.

He had flown to America, to train with one of the big names in NLP. In one particular exercise he was asked to use his imagination to consider two contrasting situations.

Firstly to imagine the worst things that could happen in his life. David pictured:

  • His wife leaving him.
  • His children getting into trouble.
  • His business failing and going broke.

……this affected him on an emotional level.

Secondly to imagine everything being the best it could be. David pictured:

  • Loving relationship.
  • Happy and fulfilled children.
  • Great Business and wealth.

……which was nice.

Sadly, within a year his business became bankrupt and he went broke. The following year his wife left him. Then his oldest son got into trouble. You could argue that these things would have happened anyway……or was it that this powerful technique had worked, but just not as expected?


Most NLP trainers understand that this technique is built upon ‘Towards’ and ‘Away From’ filters called Meta-programs.

For the first part of the exercise mentioned above, the intention was to think of all the worse things that could happen – the idea being that this would be an ‘Away From’ driver. In other words you would not want these situations happening to you, so you’d do anything for them not to happen.

The second part of that exercise was to focus on the best life you could have – the idea being that this would pull you towards a positive future, i.e. a ‘Towards’ driver.

It is great technique, but let’s dive a little deeper into understanding what could possibly go wrong……

The strongest emotion will always win

IMPORTANT: The strongest emotion will always win.

Let’s say we’ve made up a numerical scale of emotional strength with a series of values running from 1 to 10. 1 being a weak emotion and 10 being the strongest emotion you could have. Note that I’m not saying a positive or negative emotion; it’s just based on strength.

Let’s say in David’s example that the ‘Away From’ driver created an emotional value of 8 on our scale and that the ‘Towards’ driver created an emotion value of 6.

  • Which one is going to have the strongest effect on the person?

Yes, the driver with the highest value – in this case for all those ‘worst things’ that could happen

  • Which emotion will have the biggest impact?

Yes, all the things going wrong.

  • Which images in the mind then become the strongest in the mind?

Yes, what we want to move ‘Away From’.

Now that we’ve begun to understand this simple concept, we can start to understand the effect this had on David. The strongest emotion will always succeed in our neurology. It makes a lot of sense.

How do we make sure that we are not messing with someone’s head?

You may consider it to be very easy to read the steps of a technique from a book or by watching a video. Be cautious as this does not necessary mean that you will fully grasp and understand the complexities that often make up a technique. It is so important to respect the powerful tools NLP has to offer and to be aware that training delivered by a reputable NLP training provider will be the best learning experience.

It’s no surprise then that David did seek more in-depth NLP training to realise precisely what had happened. Consequently, he has since turned his life around.

I have given you a taste of just a few basic examples from the wide range of NLP Meta-programs. Our NLP training courses explain so much more about our patterns of behaviour and how these are based on many categories into which we organise our experience. For now, however, it’s important that you appreciate the fundamental message in this article: NLP is a powerful tool – respect the techniques and use them safely.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions about using NLP. I’m always happy to help.

Would you like to take a safe and transforming NLP Course? then click here

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  1. John Earland says:

    This is a great blog John and certainly a lesson to be mindful about when practicing NLP at any time.

    1. Hi John thank you, yes just because you can do something does not mean you should. I also think it is important to use NLP because it is great stuff.

  2. Steven Walker says:

    Hmmm – First of all; I always say “do timeline with someone who know what they are doing – it is powerful stuff”

    BUT – First of all; a lot of NLP is about being able to stand back and see experiences from another perspective. So bad stuff happens; second position it; reframe it; look for another take on it . . . so I think perhaps this chap’s expectations were that NLP was something “done to him” – rather than a tool for him to use. Hopefully he has had his “Ah Ha!” moment on that one.

    Secondly; I’d want to know a LOT more about the context of the example; did he choose these negatives because they were already unfolding around him at that moment? Or; was it one of those “mind reading tricks” where the presentation is really so vague that someone in the audience is bound to jump up and yell “yes that’s me”. Say to someone; “Oh, some really negatives things are going to happen – and guess what; if you go back 12 months later; something negative DID happen . . . That is called “Insurance”

    The power of NLP is simple; “it’s how my brain works” – What we feel about that is down to us.

    So to this guy I would say; long ago; when I was young enough to be “somebody’s kid” I broke my right arm twice; a few years apart.

    On both occassions I was doing something dumb; first sliding – rather than climbing – down a tree; secondly riding my bike round a huge busy roundabout when; with benefit of hindsight I probably should have used the underpass.

    I would put up my (now slightly crocked) right arm to both cases; and say I would accept total 100% responsibility for both events. I very much doubt I would have believed it was the result of some subconcious curse; even if it had been delivered complete with black cat and broom riding witch.

    Stuff happens to kids; we call it “character forming.” And as to what his wife chose to do . . . phew; that’s a whole other subject; but it is my general observation that women tend to go off and do whatever it is they were going to do and there is NOTHING you can do to change that . . . which, in the end, is probably how it is supposed to be.

    So again; no point having a guilt trip about that one either . . .

    As to “Business” . . . I tell people; “to have a successful business; you have to do three things, very well, all at the same time – 1: you have to do the business. Most people go into business because they are very good at doing the doing; being a plumber, or a painter, or whatever . . . BUT – 2: you have administer the business; do the books; count the beans; you have to know how to look down a day book and get a rough instinct for how it’s going. Finally; 3; you have to sell the business; bang on doors; drum up new customers.”

    And you have to do those three things; very well; all at once; every day.

    Now; he is one guy; who else has he got to help him do those three things? If his wife was the book keeper and his kid is the chief salesman . . . . then the third item; the business going down the pan; was an absolute certainty !!

    Context Context Context . . . . and an understanding; NLP is not magic fairy dust we sprinkle over things; it is not some sort of box of tablets dished out by the doctor. Nor is it a gypsy curse with or without a black cat.

    NLP is how my brain works . . . and it seems this guys brain has some travelling to do. I am sure he will have fun on his new journey.


    1. Hi Steven, Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I agree with what you said and context is so important.

  3. Hmm….there’s a few things that are running through my mind as I read this. First, what was the presenting problem that they ‘exercise’ was being used for? Secondly, to what extent was the relationship process between the ‘explorer’ and ‘subject’ established prior to the ‘exercise’? Lastly, what was the supposed outcome that was being sought after in the ‘exercise’? Those are the immediate warning bells in my head.

    NLP simply as procedure or the application of process troubles me and is not what the original guides – Perls, Satir, Erickson, Bateson – and the likes of Dilts, DeLozier and Gilligan envisioned when seeking to help others connect to their internal resources and restore inner balance.

    1. Hi Paul, You are correct and I agree.

      This story was told to me and raised the same concerns in myself. I have not included the name of the trainer in the article as I think that would be unfair. Without the proper preparation as you outline NLP can have unintended outcomes.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts

  4. David Shephard says:

    Hi John,

    I could well be the David in your story. That is pretty much what happened to me. I did the process you mentioned on an audio tape programme. It wasn’t until I learnt about towards/away from motivation on my Master Practitioner Training in 1993 that I suddenly realised how well I had created exactly what I didn’t want!

    Best Wishes


    1. HI David, It could be thank you for sharing. And I know your passion for NLP and contribution to the field of NLP. It also shows that there is only feedback as you have gone on (from my perspective) to be very successful in life and business.

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