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Andrew T. Austin
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Tel: 07838 387580

nlp@hotmail.co.uk

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Magic, Depression and Trauma in Mental Space

Anchoring

A Rambling of Thoughts.

I'm assuming that NLP Practitioners will already be aware of how to use sliding anchors and multi-modality anchors. It's a useful set of skills to be well practiced in.

[a] person entering an NLP training [will] make two personal arrangements with themselves:

  1. that they successfully resist the tendency to translate what is being presented into mental maps that they already carry (e.g. oh! Anchoring is just like Pavlovian conditioning). The patterns that are at the heart of NLP are not like any previous x, y, z, and the person who translates into x, y and z robs him or herself of the experience of learning something new.

  2. that they test each pattern offered through personal experience for which they arrange to enter a state of congruity for the test period. To test a pattern incongruently is to waste you time.

Dr. John Grinder.

Several years ago, I nursed a man who had suffered extensive damage to his visual cortex, rendering him blind. His eyes worked fine but the areas of the brain that processed vision had been rendered useless.
Two curious features occurred with this man.

1. He did not know he was blind. A lack of recursion to the [absent] areas of the visual cortex meant that he lacked the ability for insight into his condition.

2. Throwing a ball to this man meant that he would either duck, or put his hand out to catch it.

This condition is often referred to as "blind sight".

Further forward from the main visual cortex is the visual area, V5, the area that processes motion. This is the region that allows an object suddenly moving towards you, from out to the periphery of vision, to be detected.

The other areas of vision are as follows:

V1: general scanning.
V2: stereo vision.
V3: depth and distance.
V4: colour.
V5: motion.
V6: determines objective position of object.

Damage to one specific area will impact upon that aspect of vision. NLP practitioners should think about their list of visual submodalities at this point and re-read the above list in that light. (for example, what submodalities go to make up motion? - speed and directrion are just two....)

As mentioned elsewhere, the "where" pathway (V1-V2-V3-V5-V6) is different from the "what" pathway "V1-V2-V4). Damage to the facial recognition will render the person unable to recognize faces. They will have difficulty in picking out their own children from a crowd and may walk straight past their own wife until she says, "hello dear!" enabling the person to recognize the voice, and thus identify their wife. As long as the damage is specific, voice recognition presents no problem.

The impact of damage to specific areas, will greatly affect the quality of the representations the person can produce. Oliver Sacks reports a man who suffered a damage to his V4 (colour) area:

"He was depressed once by a rainbow, which he saw only as a colourless semicircle in the sky. And he even felt his occasional migraines as 'dull' - previously they had involved brilliantly coloured geometric hallucinations, but now even these were devoid of colour. He sometimes tried to evoke colour by pressing the globes of his eyes, but the flashes and patterns elicited were equally lacking in colour. He had often dreamed in vivid colour, especially when he dreamed of landscapes and painting; now his dreams were washed out and pale, or violent and contrasty, lacking both colour and delicate tone gradations."

Oliver Sacks Anthropologist on Mars, p9.

From the studies of people with damage to different recognition areas - including those people with Capgras' syndrome, where the kinesthetic component of recognition is absent - we can see that different modalities will trigger off different areas within the brain. As most practitioners will be aware, in strategies the convincer and exit point is invariably a kinesthetic component of experience. For the Capgras' patient, he will see his mother but he won't feel that it is her - this kinesthetic processing neurological area is damaged and so cannot represent this. Therefore he will complain that although she looks right, she must be an imposter because lacking the kinesthetic part of recognition, his experience of her just isn't real enough. As a strategy his recognition process is lacking the convincer and so the left hemisphere (language) will create an explanation (confabulation/delusion) in order to conjure the necessary exit point from the loop of this flawed recognition strategy.

As someone who has a tendency to gesture wildly and rarely sit still, I soon learned that I could achieve unconscious anchors located spatially in the peripheral vision of clients - something many of the NLP trainers do fairly consistently on their trainings. Using spatial anchors allowed me to produce some interesting states in clients. Adapting this to presentations to small groups I learned that I could use anchors incongruently to produce some interesting results.

For example, in the early daze, I would mark out several locations on the floor of the stage with little sticky dots - this made it easier for me to remember what was what. In position 1, I could create mirth and general laughter. In position one I would have a specific posture and set of gestures and I would use a voice tone specific to that location.

In position 2, I would maybe create confusion. Again, this location would have a specific set of gestures, posture and tonality pattern.

In position three I could create a feeling of discomfort or something else negative. Again this position would have it own set of specific behaviours.

Having established specific spatial, visual and auditory anchors, I could begin to play. For example, in position one (mirth) I could talk about myself, in position 3 (discomfort), I could talk about counselors or psychiatry - without actually having to say anything overtly negative about the subject.

With enough different anchors established, incongruencies could be introduced to produce new states in the audience.

The audience feedback can also exert a powerful and unconscious effect on the presenter:

Not to be left out, operant conditioning has its own tired old joke. B.F. Skinner, it seems, liked to pace the platform while lecturing. One semester, the students in the first couple of rows conspired. Whenever Skinner came close to the edge, they would look real interested and write in their notebooks. Within a week, they say, Skinner fell off the platform.

"What Witches can learn from Behavioral Psychology" by Judy Harrow

An effective presenter will quickly learn about the cybernetic loops he sets up with his audience. To a greater part, his presentation ("feed forward") will affect the feedback he receives from his audience. Simultaneously, the audience's feed forward to the presenter will affect his feedback to same. During my early presentations - some of which went disastrously wrong - if the feedback I received did not match my intentions then I would quickly feedback this negativity back into the audience and practically "die" on stage. Once a "positive feedback" loop is established, things can become very uncomfortable indeed.

Whilst working in the post operative recovery rooms I noticed that some patients would awaken without any post operative pain, whilst others would suffer pain beyond that expected to be 'reasonable'. The majority of patients fell somewhere between the two extremes. The factors involved in this are multifarious - ranging from accidental hypnotic suggestion made during anaesthesia, through to individual beliefs of the patient, not forgetting the neuro-physiological effects of the surgery itself (sic).

In neurosurgery where opiates are usually avoided so that neurological deterioration is not masked, intramuscular DF118 (dihydrocodeine) is the (milder) analgesic of choice. Presentation of this drug to the patient would enormously affect the extent to which this drug was effective and protocols of use fell into two differing camps.

Some nurses would give the drug on a regular basis whether it was needed or not in the belief that "it prevents the pain from building up". Others would only give the drug when pain was evident. The beliefs of nurses with regards to assessment of other people's pain deserves an article to itself.

Utilising simple conceptual logic, I would use placebo effect to enhance the analgesic properties. Injections sting, DF118 injections really sting - but, "That's because it is a very strong pain-killer so it might make you a bit sleepy" - find me one neuro-patient who isn't exhausted. In this one line I could achieve a placebo response and a reframe of their exhaustion to being evident of the effectiveness of the analgesia. It works.

Placebo responses can be achieved with virtually any drug. As Bandler points out, it is not so much the action of the drug on the body, but rather the body's response to the drug that produces the action. If we can achieve an effective anchor to the drug, we should be able to recreate the body's physiological response to it. This provides a particular problem in psychiatry, where to paraphrase Bandler, we anchor the psychotic symptoms to the drugs - and then give them the drugs (anchored response) every day. Possibly the only area where this will not work is with antibiotics. Whilst we can use NLP/DHE technique to boost the immune system response, the direct effect of antibiotics themselves cannot be anchored owing to their mechanism of action. (Antibiotics prevent the bacteria from reproducing, whilst the bactericides (metronidazole etc) smash apart their DNA).

However, this requires a referential experience into which we can 'tap'. With an understanding of which neuropeptides are involved, I suspect that by mixing and matching differing anchors and responses we can engineer the responses we seek in our clients.

Anchoring, like phobias, depends upon there being a referential experience in the persons personal history. However, there can always be found an exception to the rule. Several years ago whilst working in the Accident and Emergency department, a young man was brought in in a critical state of anaphylaxis following a snake bite to the ankle from the increasingly rare British adder/viper snake. Emergency intervention was needed to prevent this man's rapid procession towards death. However, what was interesting was that the snake had never actually penetrated his skin - it had merely struck at his heavy leather work-boots. The casualty was able to produce a full-blown and potentially fatal allergic reaction - even though he had never experienced even any such allergy before.

Placebo 's can be powerful things - and even placebos can have negative side effects. Known as the nocebo effect.


The immune response that produces either healing or anaphylaxis is largely conditioned by anchoring - the body recognizes the invader from past experience and reacts accordingly. Individual's beliefs and experiences etc. will shape this response massively.

V. S Ramachandran suggests:

When I was a medical student in the late 1960's, I asked a visiting professor of physiology from Oxford about this conditioning process and whether the conditioned association could be put to clinical use. "If it's possible to provoke an asthmatic attack through conditioning merely by showing as plastic rose to a patient, the theoretically it ought to be possible to abort or neutralize the attack through conditioning as well. For example, say you suffer from asthma and I give you a bronchodilator such as norepinephrine (or perhaps an anti-histamine or a steroid) every time I show you a plastic sunflower. You might begin associating the sunflower image with relief from asthma. After some time you could simply carry around a plastic sunflower in your pocket and pull it out to look at it when you felt an attack coming on
For instance, we know that if you inject a person with denatured tenanus bacilli he will soon develop immunity to tetanus, but to keep the immunity "alive" the person needs booster shots every few years. But what would happen if you if you rang a bell or flashed a green light every time these booster shots were administered? Would the brain learn the association?


Ramachandran suggests that the implications for medicine are enormous; but for various reasons those in medicine don't really follow this line of reasoning. What is of interest to the NLP Practitioner is that a very large portion of medicines that are given by doctors will mimic substances that are already produced by the body. A combination of placebo effect and anchoring can produce powerful responses.

For example, during by brief stint as a research assistant I noticed that even those people given the placebo were generating significant amounts of side effects. The easiest to produce are nausea, dry mouth and headache and these need very little suggestion. Several studies have demonstrated that when a substance is given to people that has one type of effect but the people themselves are told that the substance will have an opposite effect to it's supposed action, they will frequently generate the effect they were 'unwittingly' told to. Whilst it can certainly be easy to produce these effects where the person already possesses a reference experience, the guy-who-wasn't-bitten-by-the-snake produced a powerful counter example. Seeing his response made me wonder, what life giving elixirs haven't I taken yet?