Warning: Are You Trapped in a Thought Virus?

Mr Wang recently wrote on his blog about the power of thoughts and of ‘S’:

When you ask him why he thinks he’s “bad” and “evil”, he says that he has no friends, and therefore he must be “bad” or “evil”; either that, or everyone is “bad” and “evil” for not wanting to be friends with him. S also keeps saying that the world is a very bad place and we just don’t know it yet, but we will realise it sooner or later and be affected by it (I think he’s thinking about stuff like global warming, nuclear war etc).

The scary part is how deeply, how completely, S believes what he’s saying. It’s a very striking example of how thoughts affect reality. S is deeply entrenched in his own very negative thoughts, and that’s what his reality has become right now. We’re trying, but we can’t get him out. His existence, his reality, his entire world is indeed bad, evil, hopeless and grim – and he made it that way, for himself, through the sheer power of his own thoughts.

What’s Really Keeping S Trapped?

S sounds like he’s trapped in a ‘double-bind’ belief; he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. When someone is caught in a double bind, it can be very hard to change his beliefs because he’ll use everything, even evidence to the contrary, to reinforce his beliefs.

Richard Bandler, co-founder of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), likes to tell the story of a mental patient who kept insisting that he was a living corpse. Hitting upon a bright idea, a doctor asked him; ‘do corpses bleed then?’

The patient replied; ‘of course not!’ The doctor promptly pricked him, and when the patient saw blood dripping out of his wound he exclaimed; ‘well I’ll be damned – corpses do bleed!’

How Beliefs Turn into Thought Viruses

NLP developer Robert Dilts explains double binds in his ground-breaking book Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change. In NLP we say that the map is not the territory – our beliefs about reality is not reality itself.

Healthy beliefs exist in an eco-system; they’re linked in a cycle to our internal states, values, experiences and expectations. And so they can change according to our inner states and outer environment.

The Structure of Beliefs
Adapted from a diagram in Robert Dilts’ book Sleight of Mouth.

According to Dilts, beliefs become ‘thought viruses’ when they’re cut off from this cycle. A belief, disconnected to internal and external feedback, then feeds upon itself – and change becomes difficult because it refuses to ‘listen’ to anyone but itself.

The Structure of Thought Viruses
Adapted from a diagram in Robert Dilts’ book Sleight of Mouth.

This leads to all sorts of problems because the belief becomes a circular argument and double-bind…like a Catch-22. In the classic novel ‘Catch-22’ (which is hilarious by the way), WW II airman Yossarian wants to escape the horrors of war by leaving the air force.

But he can’t, because of regulation ‘Catch-22’. Catch 22 says that if Yossarian can prove himself insane, he can be discharged. But only a sane man would ask to be discharged because no sane man would want to risk his life. So by requesting to be discharged on the grounds that he’s insane, Yossarian proves himself sane and can’t be discharged. It’s a circular argument that Yossarian can’t win.

Breaking Out of a Double Bind

Reading Mr Wang’s description of S, it’s obvious that S has caught himself in a double bind. He has no friends, therefore he’s bad and evil. Whomever doesn’t want to make friends with him is also bad and evil. Therefore, everyone is bad and evil.

So how can you help someone who is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t?

I’ll be honest with you; there aren’t any easy answers to this question. In essence, you’ll want to open up his double bind belief so it’s receptive again to feedback from his internal states, values, experiences and expectations – this makes the belief open to change.

In Dilts’ book Sleight of Mouth he reveals (more than) one way to break down limiting beliefs; applying the belief back onto itself.

For example, if I were working with S; to the belief that everyone is evil, I could say that ‘yes, the world is an evil place…because of evil beliefs like that‘.

There are even more methods, like speaking to his values, chunking his beliefs or conditioning new behaviors. But in a situation as advanced as S’s, change needs time and someone by his side who can get a more comprehensive view of his situation than the internet can give.

9 Responses to “Fast and Effective Ways for Coping with Stress”

  1. Julie Melillo
    November 9 2008 at 5:50 am #

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s easy to forget how powerful our physical reactions are! I like your approach here. Especially reminding the reader that we are not always ready for change — though we think we are! I agree that the real failure is letting fear stop us. Thanks for posting this!

  2. karen parsons
    November 9 2008 at 6:46 pm #

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for your kind words. I am glad it was helpful! “Coping with Stress” is a part of a series of articles on Stress that I have written, hopefully Life Coaches Blog will be posting the rest. So keep in touch!

    Kindest regards,


  3. Jill R.
    November 10 2008 at 6:55 am #

    This is a great article. I especially like the list of symptoms… some of which a lot of people may not recognize as a sign of stress.

    It’s also important to continue with your stress managment activities even when there are no signs or symptoms of stress. Doing this will help you become stressed less often and ward off stress before it even begins.

  4. karen parsons
    November 10 2008 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Jill,

    Absolutely, it should be a way of life! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Kindest regards,


  5. yvonne
    July 1 2009 at 10:36 pm #

    Great site!!!!! Good health is very important with the high cost of medical coverage. We need to have a healther lifestyle by taking care of our health eating and exercising. I am a cancer survivor and I know. Our health is our greatest asset. Keep up the Good Work!!!!!

  6. Rev. Dr. Bush
    January 16 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    The physical body does not differentiate between happy stress and overwhelm. Stress is stress. We need to develop coping mechanisms in our daily life to avoid the harmful, physiological effects of stress.


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