Building a New Self

We have been exploring the impact and the interaction of both process and content variables in making a quality of your self-concept durable and responsive to feedback. We have also explored the importance of integrating counterexamples, and how to transform counterexamples into examples. With what you have learned, you could ask someone about any important quality of their self-concept, ask them questions to find out how they already do it, and then teach them a variety of additional skills so that their self-concept functions much better than it already does. Making this kind of change will reverberate throughout their life, affecting many specific behaviors and responses.
            Now it’s time to demonstrate how to use all this information to do something even more useful and generative, namely to create a whole new positive quality of self-concept when a person has no representation of this quality.
            When someone thinks of themselves as having a certain quality, such as being lovable, that indicates that they have a positive self-concept with regard to that quality. Since they have this basis for inner knowing, they don’t need others to tell them, and when others express their recognition of it, they can fully appreciate the additional confirmation.
            When someone says, “I’m unlovable,” that indicates that they think of themselves as not lovable, a negative self-concept with regard to that quality, something that we will explore in considerable detail later. If we were to try to build a positive self-concept for that quality, it would be very difficult, because this would conflict with the negative self-concept that is already there. And if we did succeed in building a new positive quality, that would create ambivalence and uncertainty. Some people are already ambivalent in this way. Sometimes they feel lovable, sometimes they don’t, and often they are just unsure.
            When someone says, “I don’t think of myself as lovable,” we need more information to know what their inner experience is. They could be saying that they have a negative self-concept. Or they could mean what the words literally say–simply that they don’t have a positive self-concept (or a negative one) with regard to that quality. They presumably know what the word “lovable” means, but they have not assembled experiences (either positive or negative) that provide any information about whether they are lovable or not. For convenience I will call this absence of a database a “null set.”
            Since they don’t know if they are lovable or not, they typically often ask others for confirmation. But even when they get this support from others, it doesn’t last very long, because they don’t have a way to store this information. Hearing the external confirmation is like receiving water in a sieve–it goes right through and disappears. So they are likely to ask again soon, and are often described by others as “insecure,” “needy,” or “dependent.”
            In this case it is appropriate to simply assemble experiences into a desired quality of positive self-concept, a method that was first described years ago. (See the book, Heart of the Mind, Ch. 3). Since often someone already has an ambiguous or negative representation of the quality, the opportunities for using this pattern are somewhat limited. However, for teaching purposes it is useful to start with the simplest case, in which there is no negation or ambivalence to deal with, and we can simply use what we have learned to build a new quality of self-concept.   Soon we will go on to learn how to transform an ambivalent or negative quality of self-concept into a positive one.
            The verbatim transcript that follows is of a demonstration from an NLP Master Practitioner Training conducted in 1992, and is available on DVD    (Building Self Concept, Steve Andreas). At that time I was still in the process of modeling self-concept, so I knew much less than you do now. I had made a brief introductory presentation much like the foregoing, and when I asked for a volunteer for a demonstration of this process, Peter raised his hand.

Demonstration
           And what is it that you’d like to–? (build)
            Peter: Well, “lovable” really hit a chord.
            OK, you don’t think of yourself as lovable.
            Peter: Not particularly.
            think of you as lovable, so come on up. (Peter comes to the front of the room.)   OK, now when I said that, what did you do inside?
            Peter: (shaking his head and shrugging) I sort of went, “Nope.”
            OK. Now, if you go “Nope”–give me some more. (to the group) See, I’m testing to make sure it’s not one of these (negatives).
            Peter: Well, it sort of hits a– I get a sense that it hits a blank.
            “A blank.” OK. That sounds good. Because if it’s one of these (null sets), then it’s like there’s just nothing there. It’s not that there is a negation. And as I experience you, I don’t– I wouldn’t think that you think of yourself as unlovable.
            Peter: Not really, no. It’s more– I don’t think of myself as unlovable; I don’t think of myself as lovable.
            Yeah. That’s good. (to the group) That’s what we want. Does it make sense that I’m testing a little bit here? Because I want to make sure it’s one of these (null sets). What happens if you just go ahead and build one of these (positives) and you don’t weaken one of these (negatives)?. . . Think about it. Now . . . I’m serious. This is an important point. If someone has a negative belief–If he thought he was unlovable, and I build a belief in here that he is lovable, now what? . . . Now you’ve got a parts problem. Most people have enough conflict as it is; let’s not build in more. (to Peter) Think of something that you do believe is true of yourself.
            Peter: (nodding) I think I’m intelligent.
            Intelligent. Good. And you’re pretty sure of that, right?
            Peter: (nodding) Yeah. (laughter)
            Yeah. (joking) Now we didn’t say, “arrogant,” we said, “intelligent.” (more laughter) OK. Now, what I’d like to know is, what is your evidence? How do you represent this sense of yourself as being intelligent?
            Peter: Hmmm. . . . Umm, (laughs) I’m not really sure. Um, it’s sort of like it’s so built into me? . . . (gesturing toward his left ear) I have a voice that tells me that “I’m smart.”
            OK. So there’s a little voice over here. Now, what is its evidence? See, a voice is just a voice, right? So there’s a voice on your left that says “I’m smart.” OK. And that’s fine; I’m not disagreeing with that. I just want to know what is its evidence? How does it know that that’s the case?
            Peter: Other people have told me.
            Well, I don’t trust other people. Do you?
            Peter: (nodding) Yes.
            You do? So all I have to do is tell you that you’re lovable, and from now on–
            Peter: I guess if I hear it enough.
            “Enough.” OK. And so–
            Peter: Yeah. Now that kind of fits. Because that’s what you were saying–like I’m always wanting my wife to tell me how much she loves me. And her experience is that that’s really excessive. (laughter)
            Yeah. (laughter) (to the group) This is what we want. This is what we want. We’ve got it both ways, because the two major tests have just been fulfilled. The one is that he tends to go for confirmation from others, and the other is that if I tell him he’s lovable it’s like it doesn’t compute. It’s like, “Well, uh, it’s like there’s a blank.” And that’s what we want. OK, great. (to Peter) Now, in terms of “I’m smart,” do you have an auditory memory of lots of different people saying that, in a lot of different contexts? Is that the evidence?
            Peter: (nodding) Yeah, and um, I’ve done a lot of things that I got external confirmation.
            OK. So, as you hear these–let’s just take one–can you think of a particular one, where someone says, “You said something intelligently,” or something like that? Or whatever?
            Peter: (nodding)
            An auditory remembered– So what kind of thing might it say?
            Peter: I remember my father saying, “I can’t imagine where you got all this intelligence from.”
            Oh, that’s nice. Do you hear it? It’s presupposed. “I can’t imagine where you got all this intelligence from.” There is also an implied comparison, isn’t there–that he’s not that smart. Peter is saying that his father told him that he was smarter than his father.
            Peter: That created lots of strange stuff inside me, because I had always believed he was a lot smarter than me. So that was a real–(Peter looks amazed).
            When he said that. Got it, OK. (to the group) I’m just going to jot this down, because I want to remember it. Sometimes you get a good one like this, and it’s just wonderful for teaching. “I can’t imagine where you got all this intelligence from.” That’s a good one. I wish more parents did that. What would most parents say? . . . Keeping the same form of the sentence, and just changing a few things? What would most parents say? “How’d you get to be so stupid, obstinate.” “I don’t know where you got all that stupidity from.” OK, well, let’s not dwell on that. (to Peter) And are there others? Can you hear other voices in there? And what I hear from you is that it’s important whose voice it is. Is that right?
Peter: (nodding) Yeah.
            If this were just a man in the street, would it matter as much? Would it be as compelling?
            Peter: It wouldn’t be as compelling; it would still–it would still compute.
            OK. So it would still be part of it. OK. Good.
            Peter: The more intelligent the person is who’s noticing, the more impact it has.
            Sure. So the source is important. OK. How many voices in there do you have, do you think? You said you had a bunch of them, remembered, people–
            Peter: (shaking his head) I don’t know, but a number came to mind of fifty.
            Fifty. OK. This is a thorough person, right?
            Peter: I guess so.
            OK. Good. All right. Now, anything else in terms of the evidence? There’s this voice that gives you the message, and there’s the evidence behind that, of all these different people, saying this kind of thing. Anything else?
            Peter: Umhm. There’s– When you first asked the question I didn’t have anything–any pictures particularly. It was more an auditory thing. As you’re asking me now, I can remember pictures of when I went and accepted my degrees, and I have certificates hanging on walls that let me know–
            And if you hear your father’s voice saying this sentence, “I don’t know where you got all that intelligence from,” is there some picture along with that?
            Peter: (shaking his head) Um, no. Just the picture of him–I mean, just him saying–I can remember the situation in which he said that.
            Well, yeah, but do you have that– Is this a voice crying in the wilderness or do you have some picture along with it of when he said it? (Peter is English, so it makes sense that his representation is primarily auditory, but I am checking to see if the visual is also present, which is usually more prominent for Americans.)
            Peter: (nodding) I think the auditory is much more important than the visual.
            OK. Fine. Good. Now I’m going to ask you another question, which may seem a little strange. “Are there any counterexamples in there?” Are there any– ?
            Peter: (smiling broadly and shaking his head) No. In a way yes, and in a way, no. I mean I know that I sometimes do things that are kind of stupid, but (shaking his head) that doesn’t change the belief. For some reason it doesn’t have an impact.

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