NLP 101: People Are Not Broken

People are not broken

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we believe that people are not broken, and they work perfectly.

For example, a phobia is normally considered a ‘bad’ thing, someone who has an irrational phobia of envelopes is considered ‘broken’.

But the phobia works perfectly, there is never an instance when the phobia doesn’t work. If you have a phobia, it doesn’t break down one day and come back the next. The person above wouldn’t hold an envelope for 5 minutes normally, and then suddenly remember to scream!

NLP considers the processes for the phobia, and for any pattern of behaviour, to work perfectly, whether the behaviour is useful or not is another entirely different matter. If you can get a result, the process you used to get that result works, especially if you can get it consistently, regardless of whether it’s making a million dollars or making yourself ten pounds overweight.

People are Always Making The Best Choices They Have

None of the NLP presuppositions work in a vaccum, and when woven together they work wonderfully. When you couple together that people are not broken, that they are always making the best choices they have and that underlying every behaviour is a positive intention, you realize that it’s not about them being broken, wrong, or stupid, it’s about them having an improvished map of the territory where there aren’t enough good choices to make.

The Single Worst Disease Inflicting Coaching

Conversely, the opposite of this belief, where people are broken, is the single worse influence I’ve seen on coaches and coachees. If there’s any major cause of problems for the coaching relationship and for personal development at large, I’d point to this belief as the Darth Vader of them all.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched in horror as coaches I’ve seen, with the best of intentions, diagnosed problems after problems, and pondered cause after cause for the coachee. Hello! We need to focus on solutions here people!

Believing that people are broken not only instills a problem focused mindset, it also sets up the coachee for a sucky time. Imagine this scene:

Coachee: “I don’t know why, but I just can’t get myself to care much about anything, you know?”

“You’re broken.”

Coachee: “I mean, I can remember when I used to have so much passion and drive, but now it’s like I’m running on empty.”

Coach: “You’re broken.”

Coachee: “I wish I could get myself back on track, you know? Go out there and finally get things done.”

Coach: “You’re broken.”

If you were the coachee, wouldn’t you be pissed off already? I know I would! Now the real life scenario wouldn’t be as obvious, but that only makes it more henious, because implied meaning carries more weight than outright meaning. And if you believe a belief, you cannot not communicate it.

(Grrr! Can you tell this is one of my major pet peeves?)

The Single Worst Belief You Can Have

Is to believe you’re broken. This is the single belief that I always go for to break, disavow, disable, karate chop, lightsabre sweep, in my coaching participants. When people believe that they are broken, they focus on finding causes to problems instead of solutions. They look for proof to support the belief that they’re broken, never on finding proof that they’re alright.

Instead of the belief that they are a whole, capable and worthwhile human being, they struggle with the belief that there must be something inherently wrong with them, and that feeling of being less than makes them do less.

You are not broken. You are a whole, capable and worthwhile human being!

If People Were Not Broken, What Would Be Different For You?

Regardless of whether or not you liked the results you got in your life, you were capable of getting those results to happen. Even being overweight needs ability, you need to be quite persistent and committed to make it happen. Those same resources you have can be shifted to achieve other outcomes in your own life.

And even if there are results in your life you’d rather not have, there are that you do. To believe you are broken is a disabling lie that causes much of the low self-esteem and unhappiness in our culture. To acknowledge that you are not is a powerful affirmation of the talents and potentials within you.

If people were not broken, what would be different for you?

Update: Grammar mistake from ‘worse’ to ‘worst’ has been changed. Thanks for pointing it out, Gleb!

NLP 101 Series:

NLP 101: What is NLP? Part 1
NLP 101: What is NLP Special for The Super NLP Hardcore
NLP 101: What is NLP? Part 2
NLP 101: So Dark The Con Of NLP
NLP 101: How NLP Changed My Life
NLP 101: The Map Is Not The Territory
NLP 101: There Is No Failure Only Learning Experience
NLP 101: Every Behaviour Has A Positive Intention
NLP 101: The Meaning of Your Communication is The Response You Get
NLP 101: You Cannot Not Communicate
NLP 101 Thoughts: You Cannot Not Change The World
NLP 101: People Are Always Making The Best Choices They Have
NLP 101: People Are Not Broken
NLP 101: You Cannot Not Communicate: The Pygmalion Effect
NLP 101: Everyone Already Has All The Resources They Need
NLP 101: There Are No Resistant Listeners, Only Inflexible Speakers
NLP 101: Life Is A Series of Systems

Recommended Reading for NLP Starters

Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement
Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement

Great Reads for the NLP Hardcore

Phoenix: Therapeutic Patterns of Milton H. Erickson

Modeling With Nlp
Modeling With Nlp

Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change
Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change

15 Responses to “NLP 101: So Dark The Con Of NLP”

  1. Nick Kemp
    May 28 2006 at 3:34 pm #

    “Can the NLP techniques be empirically proven? Maybe not”

    Proven by who? If NLP is the study of subjective experience, the proof would inevitably be subjective? Lets also remember not so long ago science determined the world was flat!

    Just a thought…


    Nick Kemp

  2. Alvin Soon
    August 20 2006 at 2:39 pm #

    A nice thought, Nick :)

    Wow, I see you’ve attended training with the founder of provocatic therapy himself, Frank Farrelly! I’ve never seen him but I love his book.

  3. Headley
    April 20 2007 at 11:58 am #

    A battery of controlled studies in the 80s showed NLP to be ineffective, especially for the purpose of influence. There are many interventions that do work according to controlled studies, but NLP isn’t one of them. Since then the only serious studies regarding NLP have been by social psychology streams who study pseudoscientific followings. They examine NLP groups (among other new age belief fields) from the perspective of how they sell pseudoscience and misconceptions about the mind. Such tricks involve repeating the mantra – “try it for yourself” and “you have nothing to lose”. What’s the NLP response to that fact?

  4. Alvin Soon
    April 22 2007 at 10:39 pm #

    Hi Headley,

    You say facts, but which studies were done by whom?

    If I were defending NLP, that’d be the first question I’d ask. But luckily I’m not, and I wouldn’t. And because I’m Alvin, I can’t tell you the NLP response, but I can tell you the Alvin response.

    Not all of NLP works all the time. There’s stuff that I’ve found very useful and stuff that I found doesn’t work for me. I’ve never used the Parts Integration technique much, but I have used it to help people find solutions.

    And while some didn’t find much use in the Meta and Milton models, I have used them to get fine results.

    A fine caveat here: some people will sell you the idea that because NLP can achieve some fast results, that mastering the use of them should also be fast. But it took me years to use the Meta and Milton model with skill – these skills are like any other, they take time to master.

    So who would I be trying to trick to do what if I say ‘try it for yourself’ and ‘you have nothing to lose’, and if it doesn’t work for you, find something else that does?

  5. Headley
    April 30 2007 at 6:57 pm #

    Hunt (2003) puts NLP in the same category as Scientology. NLP is mentioned more in cultic studies research nowadays as a cult or new age religion. Social psychologists call NLP a granfalloon (Devilly 2005) that sells pseudoscience using word of mouth testimonials alone (that contradict empirical studies). Sharpley (1997), Lilienfeld (2003) and so on all show that NLP failed controled studies, and the theories have been labeled as pseudoscience. NLP is characterized by naivety at best and at worst fraudulence. I think thats enough research. Basically now, the only interesting thing about NLP is how people get stuck into forking out for books courses and seminars on such a pseudoscientific new age religion.

    Grant J. Devilly (2005) Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol.39 p.437
    Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jeffrey M. Lohr (eds) (2004) Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology
    Hypnotherapy: A Handbook (Psychotherapy Handbook Series) by Michael Heap (Paperback – Jun 1991)
    Hunt, Stephen J. (2003) Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction ISBN 0-7546-3410-8

  6. Alvin Soon
    May 1 2007 at 12:21 am #

    Hi Headley,

    You came back! And that’s a lot of research you came back quoting.

    I guess if all those people say it doesn’t work then I suppose it doesn’t work, except that I can say I’ve made some of it work for me and must be the slight exception to the rule.

    If it doesn’t work for you, or for anyone reading this site, I respect that and it’s fine with me, luckily for everyone involved you don’t have to fork out anything to read me then.

    If NLP hasn’t worked for you, what has?

  7. Headley
    May 7 2007 at 1:54 pm #

    Well there are quite a few well validated CBT methods. They tend to get presented in a way that gives an accurate idea of their efficacy so you know what to expect.

    Understanding social psychology also helps sift the gold from the dross. It also helps to look into the history of other dodgy methods such as Dianetics to help you see the kind of scams the pseudoscientists are trying to pull even now. Thought field therapy and other such new age pseudosciences are good to learn about – just so as to get to know some other cowpats to avoid.

    Basically just stay reasonable and avoid anything that looks like a new age religion.


  8. Tim
    July 25 2008 at 1:45 am #

    i really liked this topic.. great blog!

  9. Christine
    September 4 2008 at 11:51 am #

    Oh, CBT? Which meta-studies (see Prof Bessel van der Kolk) have shown to provide no greater benefit than placebo?

    Unfortunately a lot of NLP deserves another acronym (BS), but there is gold amongst the dross.

    CBT may be useful for understanding the mechanisms of a particular pathology (not any other aspect including etiology), but the evidence demonstrates that it is not an efficacious therapy (and that merely understanding a problem does not provide any measurable benefit).

    Alvin, I like your blog and your attitude. I think we may be soul mates :-)

    Best wishes

  10. Alvin Soon
    September 4 2008 at 6:10 pm #

    *Blush* :D

  11. marty
    February 20 2009 at 10:09 pm #

    I dont believe NLP is a scam.. I think it is valid and useful. We know that pavlos studies are valid.. stimulus response, I think Bandler developed a way of creating stimulus response circuits in humans that create useful outcomes. For example the fast phobia cure.. have controlled studies ever been done with this on genuine phobics? The idea that the mind can repattern old stimulus response circuits for new ones is radically different to currently accepted thought, but it actually works.. we learn quickly .. do you know how many people developed fears of going into the water from the film Jaws? this is classic stimulus response conditioning.. his NLP methodology was to use the presuppotion that the mind learns things quickly.. and use it to learn something new,.. he developed this to a fine art, everything he did was to elicit strong feelings and link them to other things.. whether it was a feeling of disgust or anger.. these strong resources could be used to propel humans in a more useful direction… I think Bandlers work is bordering on Genious… study it, try it for yourself


  12. Andy Bradbury
    August 29 2009 at 3:05 am #

    You were quite right, Marty. It isn’t NLP which is a scam but “Headley”, a well-known sockpuppet/sockpuppet master who was thrown off Wikipedia a whilse back along with more than 12 other sockpuppets.

    The fact is that almost all of the NLP-critical sockpuppet use the same basic list of references to support their claims. What they don’t say is that:

    (a) They have never actually read the material they are quoting. Thus, for example, “Headley” claims that Sharpley reviewed a number of “controlled studies”, though what Sharpley actually said was that “A series of controlled studies … is called for.” (Sharpley, 1984, page 247).

    (b) most of the so-called scientific evidence consists of the experiments that Sharpley reviewed. But both Sharpley and most of the experimenters had very little accurate knowledge of NLP. So little, in fact, that they were all investigating a concept that Bandler and Grinder had dropped in the late 1970s in favour of a more flexible version.

    In fact, Sharpley’s two articles are practically useless as an evaluation of genuine NLP-related claims and techniques. See for a more detailed discussion of the facts.

  13. Andy Bradbury
    September 12 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    Further more

    I’m glad to see that Headley acknowledges that “Understanding social psychology also helps sift the gold from the dross. It also helps to look into the history of other dodgy methods such as Dianetics to help you see the kind of scams the pseudoscientists are trying to pull even now.”

    Because I took my first degree in social psychology quite a few years ago, but having worked in personnel and training for much of my career I have done my best to keep myself up-to-date on the subject.

    From that perspective I can confirm that Headley’s nonsensical claims are indeed dross and show a complete ignorance of the subjects he posts about (Sharpley, Devilly, Dianetics, Scientology, NLP, social psychology, etc., etc.)

    For example, Headley cites Dr. Grant Devilly as one of his experts against NLP, yet in an e-mail discussion with me earlier in 2009, Dr. Devilly assured me that he had read up extensively on Scientology, and yet knew of NO SIMILARITIES between Scientology and NLP!

    The claim that Stephen Hunt has substantiated the claim is also valueless.

    In Hunt’s book the section on Neur-Linguistic Programming is almost a word for word copy of a similar piece by another author (David Barrett). Barrett makes no claim to any link between NLP and Scientology, and since Hunt found it necessary to copy so much of Barrett’s piece we have little reason to suppose that he knows anything about NLP other than what he read in Barrett’s book (see to see a word-by-word comparison of what both men wrote).

    Indeed, the whole basis of Headley’s claim is one phrase in Hunt’s book: “An alternative to Scientology is the Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP) …”

    Even in these few words there are at least three errors and one major ambiguity:

    Ambiguity: What does Hunt mean by “an alternative”? Flying to America is *an alternative* to rowing across the Atlantic in a dinghy, but I hardly think they were in any meaninful sense two versions of the same thing unless you chunk up to some high level of vagueness as “means of transport” or “ways of getting to America”.

    Error 1: If we’re talking about Neuro-Linguistic Programming there is no such thing as “the” Neuro Linguistic Programme

    Error 2: Given the same context there is no such thing as the “Neuro Linguistic *Programme*. Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a process, NOT a thing.

    Error 3: Nor is there any such thing as “Neuro Linguistic” anything. There is a field of study, related to psycholinguistics, called “neurolinguistics”, and there is “Neuro-Linguistic Programming”, created by Bandler and Grinder. But “Neuro Linguistic Programme”? ‘Fraid not. That’s the kind of error someone is only likely to make if they have no real knowledge of NLP – someone such as Dr. Hunt seems to be.

    In short, “Headley”, under a variety of names, has no real knowledge of NLP. He simply trolls around the web posting inaccurate information based on information he has cut and pasted from sources whose contents he seems to have only minimal understanding, if any.

  14. David Chorley
    February 2 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Well, actually its pretty pseudoscientific:

    The name is a wild claim in itself. The stuff they are promising is total nonsense. I think its disgraceful how NLPers behave. With scientologists, its ok for them to believe. However, those in charge should be subject to ridicule and scrutiny

    With NLP, it is decentralized. So those at the “top” are actually the NLP certified practitioners. They are not just believers, they are the priests. They should be scrutinized and ridiculed also. There is no evidence for any of the claims made. Neurolinguistic programming is a scam.