What Should We Do With Inner Critics?

By Duff McDuffee on November 2nd, 2010 1

Many personal development books and blogs talk about banishing, firing, destroying, maiming, or otherwise seriously injuring one’s inner critics. Inner critical voices seem to be obstacles to creating “awesome” things, to being authentic, or even to just being happy. What happens when we try to get rid of an inner critical voice? Can we embrace this unwanted experience without letting it run our behavior?

I know a kid who sometimes blames his hand for doing things. For instance if he knocks a cup filled with water over he’ll say, “it’s not my fault—my hand did it!” Getting rid of a critical voice is like cutting off your hand because it does stuff you don’t like. Want to quit smoking cigarettes? Cut off your offending hands!

It’s even worse with parts of our inner experience though, because we can’t cut them off. We can only silence an inner voice by ignoring the information that is causing it to speak up in the first place. In other words, whenever we silence an inner experience, we become less intelligent. This kind of temporary peace is purchased at a high price. In the outer world, ignoring problems until they go away generally isn’t such a good strategy either.

One day you drive to work and there is an loud and annoying scraping sound coming from your car. This is the sound of your car’s inner critic! You could silence this critic by turning on your car stereo until you can’t hear it anymore, but eventually whatever is making the sound is probably going to cause more problems until you pop the hood and check it out.

Stopping the Inner War

“We can bomb the world to pieces. But we can’t bomb it into peace.”
~Michael Franti

Inner critics have a thankless job. There are always bits of information we’d rather not know about, but somebody’s gotta let us know about them. Whether it’s indigestion after eating a fast food meal, back pain from sitting in an office chair all day for years, or a nasty inner voice that tells us about every little grammatical error when working on a difficult paper, unwanted experience is a part of life. In fact, it’s so important to realize this that Buddha made it his first noble truth—life is full of sh suffering.

But here’s the thing—if we deal with life as it is, without deluding ourselves, we can have a whole less suffering. If we are aware that the car is making weird noises and we actually just stop and look and maybe call a tow truck, perhaps we can fix the problem before it destroys the engine. If we feel the back pain and figure out what it’s cause is, we can perhaps heal it and prevent future back pain before it becomes irreversible. And if we ask what the positive intention of the inner critical voice is, perhaps we can integrate the information that this part of us is bringing to our attention, improving the quality of our creative projects. We can even strive to become more sensitive and aware so that we can adjust course much earlier before things even become a problem.

mahakalaIn Tibetan Buddhism, there are references to a spirit world full of various dieties and supernatural beings. The various dieties of Tibet are not all love and light however. For instance, sometimes nice guy Avalokiteshvara—the bodhisattva of compassion—gets all pissed off at how ignorant and deluded we are and shows up as Mahakala. His left hand holds a cup made from a skull and is filled with the blood of his enemies (and people think Buddhism is all about being peaceful!). Keep in mind that this is still the bodhisattva of compassion though. He only turns wrathful if there is no other way you will listen.

The same is true of our inner critics. If you don’t deal with your car’s inner critic, it may turn wrathful too, exploding with a bang in a fit of rage, so to speak. If you don’t regularly give the attention your body needs, your back pain may increase until it’s so unbearable you simply must deal with it. If you don’t listen to those inner voices and integrate the positive intention and information they hold, they can get sometimes get downright abusive. In other words, it’s better to deal with problems when they’re small and relatively nice than when they become overwhelmingly painful. The good news is if we really do deal with the intensely painful problems of our life with courage and compassion, our suffering decreases.

Mahakala doesn’t really want to kill us, but to give us a wake up call. Our inner critical voices don’t really want us to die or feel like crap, they want to make us more aware of something we’ve been leaving out. The way of communicating this information may not always be something we like, but we can always find a positive intention if we look for it.

“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes we criticize ourselves in order to preempt criticism from others. We might instead repress our inner critics and then freak out when we receive the same kinds of criticism from outer critics. These strategies usually doesn’t work all that well. The strategy that does seem to work is to see criticism as important information and to look for the positive intent behind the sometimes harsh initial message.

Resources for Working Successfully with Inner and Outer Critics

Within the field of NLP—the system of communication and change I’m most familiar with—there are several explicit strategies and techniques for dealing with inner critics. Sometimes people criticize my articles for not providing as many positive solutions as they would like, so I figured I’d integrate that information here and make some specific suggestions as to resources for working with inner and outer critics.

Chapter six of Heart of the Mind details one such strategy which is called Responding Resourcefully to Criticism. You can also read a transcript and description of the process from Steve Andreas in this article NLP Strategy for Responding to Criticism. (Note: I work for Steve and Connirae Andreas but do not receive commissions for sales, nor was I paid to write this or any article for Beyond Growth.) This particular strategy uses the technique of double-dissociation (seeing yourself seeing yourself) in order to create emotional distance so you can get a more objective view and integrate feedback more easily.

Steve Andreas also has a 2-volume eBook entitled Help with Negative Self-Talk that contains many unique and useful ways of working to get to know troublesome inner dialogue and voices. Some of them I like more than others, but having lots of options can help us to become more flexible and resourceful in our responses.

From what I understand, Steve himself doesn’t much care for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but I have found it immensely useful for working with the kinds of negative self-talk that goes with depression. CBT is also the primary recommended therapy for depression based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature (although some think CBT may be overrated due to publication bias). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy is a what I recommend for CBT self-help as it has lots of practical techniques for breaking up black and white kinds of thinking.

My favorite technique is Core Transformation. In this method, you ask for the positive outcome, and then the outcome of the outcome etc. of an inner part in a recursive process until you get to a core state of Being like Peace, Love, Oneness, OKness, or Joy. There is also special attention placed on noticing any objections and welcoming all parts of one’s self, making this process the most deep and complete therapeutic technique I’ve ever come across. Not to toot my own horn too much or anything, but I do private sessions of Core Transformation on the phone or through Skype and am working on becoming a trainer soon. You can contact me at andrewmcduffee [at] if you want more information about that (obviously replace the [at] with an @—I wrote it this way to dodge email-harvesting spam webcrawlers). I’ve actually done a lot of Core Transformation with my own reactions to critical feedback I’ve received right here in the comments of this blog. Some people may notice that my articles are less harsh than they used to be, something which I attribute largely to working with Core Transformation with my anger and reactivity to criticism. I’m also much less reactive internally to receiving harsh criticism than I once was, due to the results of Core Transformation.

The most important thing to me regardless of the technique employed is that we welcome and integrate the information contained in criticism, while lessening the destructive impact of how it’s delivered. The sooner we do that, the less likely the situation will get worse or the message will become more harsh and demanding, and the less suffering we will experience as a result. Integrating our inner critics, we also become smarter. Perhaps inner critics are not actually obstacles to peace, joy, love, authenticity, and creative expression, but doorways into greater wholeness and well-being when treated with compassion and understanding.



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50 responses to “What Should We Do With Inner Critics?”

  1. viv66 says:

    I think for me it is important to distinguish between the voices(yeah, I know) in my head. There are ones like the inner critic you speak of that are quite reasonable and they speak sense. There are also ones that are full of hate and bile and self destructive semi-truths.
    I listen to them all but if the voice takes on a mean tone, it's not something I think its healthy for me to listen to, let alone obey.
    Deep in my psyche are many layers, many voices. Not all of them are mine; some are imposters, drawn from trauma.
    As you say integrating the critic before it becomes abrasive and vitriolic is key but also allowing ourselves the time to seek silence so that it is possible to listen to what is actually being said. We miss so much through the noise and incessant busy-ness of life.
    Good thoughts here.
    My recent post Warning!

  2. SteveAZ says:

    I agree that the most important thing is to integrate the information and lessening the destructive impact. I remember having a dream when I was younger, that has proved invaluable to me in my life. Your post reminded me of it.

    In the dream I was forced to traverse a shallow river that was about waist deep. The current was strong but I was able to handle it. Only problem is as I traversed it back in forth, there were these garbage bags filled with who knows what, slowly floating to the ground. I knew intuitively that if they hit the ground, they would explode and cause chaos in my life, but on the other hand, if I simply touched them, they would fall to the ground harmlessly and do absolutely nothing to me or my surroundings…

  3. SteveAZ says:

    So I spend the entire dream making an effort to just simply touch these garbage bags before they hit the ground. It wasn't always easy, the ones I couldn't get to or simply ignored hit the ground with a tremendous explosion and rattled me for quite a while before I was able to gain my composure and continue. Not to mention they also made it more difficult to get to the other ones garbage bags falling to earth by creating even more chaos.

    That dream has been very symbolic of my life, either I acknowledge the critical part of myself, my inner demons, etc, or just ignore them and allow them to reek havoc in my life.

  4. rsqst says:

    Interesting. I was just chatting with Alan Chapman about Core Transformation. Is the book a good place to get started, or do you recommend a live session? I've tried some things like voice dialogue in a community setting (minus the Big Mind/Big Heart overlay, which I'm reserving judgement on), to some success, but it's really dependent on having a good facilitator to ask the "right" questions; there are in that context wrong questions. How does that compare to CT?

    • CT is much less dependent on a skilled facilitator than voice dialogue/Big Mind. If you already have some experience with meditation and doing inner work, you might find it pretty easy to do yourself.

      Facilitation can be nice to "hold the space" and walk you through the process of course, but Connirae has done an excellent job of making the technique explicit and breaking down the steps into manageable chunks in her book.

      The eventual goal in my opinion is to teach others to be able to do this process on their own. That said, I certainly enjoy facilitating sessions.

    • I should add that the most important thing is to be persistent and really go for the Core State. If you aren't reaching one, you're probably missing a subtle objecting part. For instance I wasn't hitting the Core State at first because I had a part of me that objected to this and all inner processes with the thought, "Am I just making this stuff up or am I really talking to parts of my unconscious?" After getting to know that part with Core Transformation, I was not only able to reach core states, but all sorts of other inner processes opened up to me in a new way that I couldn't make work before.

      • rsqst says:

        I did an experiment once during a visualization that cut out the need for a facilitator doing voice dialogue. I visualized Augustine (of all people!) as the facilitator doing voice dialogue on me.

        I guess the risk of self-deception is greater in this case than in normal voice dialogue, but if I can access those genuinely "core states", maybe it could work.

        Anyway, the Core Transformation book is ordered. Can't wait to dive in. Thanks for your post.

        • You mean St. Augustine?
          I'd imagine he'd be an excellent facilitator. 😉

          Many people think that self-deception is higher if you don't have an outside person facilitating, but I'm not so sure. As long as you really go for it and attempt to welcome everything in your awareness and are sufficiently self-critical, I think it's possible to be even more comprehensive in your investigations. Also take note of anything anyone gets frustrated with you about and use that as a behavior/part to work with and you'll be just fine. I also trust that there are always more things I haven't found and that will present themselves in due time.

          In any case, best of luck! Feel free to stay in touch too–I love discussing this process with people who are using it.

        • Also, when you do CT try to take it on it's own merits instead of viewing it through the lens of Voice Dialogue. The concept of "parts" is significantly different in CT. The most difficult client I've ever worked with was difficult because he kept seeing parts as in voice dialogue which tends to reify them too much IMHO.

          • rsqst says:

            I think that's a vital point. The reification or solidification of voices and a developing relationship with them does seem to be core to VD (…unfortunate abbreviation there), for better or worse. I can see merit, in CT, in not setting up little altars to each of my personality traits so that I can cling to them for the rest of my life.
            My recent post Architecti et usus meditatio- Vitruvian Echoes in Contemplative Practice

          • (Ha–I was thinking the same thing about the abbreviation for Voice Dialogue.)

            Yea, I think Voice Dialogue is pretty useful in some ways, but ultimately it doesn't get to the bottom of things in the same way as CT for me. But then again, I don't think one technique must rule them all–there is room for multiple ways of exploring and healing the psyche.

  5. 32000days says:

    I think the idea of making peace and even establishing friendship with the inner critic is such an important one.

    Instead of banishing, destroying, or otherwise acting violently against it, we can learn what the inner critic (or other misguided part) has to say to us. Operating under the NLP presupposition that "every behavior has a positive intent", we can assume that a given part (even an obnoxious "inner critic") wants the best for us as a whole person, even if its existing methods aren't ecological for the whole person.

    I was reminded of the statement that if we treat an inner part as an "enemy within" and strive mightily to overcome it, we're simply faced with a "loser within". (I searched briefly for the source of that quote… turns out it's from Core Transformation – go figure…) The defeated "enemy" doesn't just disappear or fade out, it hangs around, resentful and annoyed at having been suppressed.

    And even if we were to "win" the war and really kill these parts off, what's the ultimate cost of running scorched earth campaigns on parts of ourselves? Will other parts hide out, knowing that messengers who bring bad news are shot? I'm not an MD, but this appears to my intuition to be a great recipe for stress-induced or psychosomatic illness. High blood pressure if nothing else…

    Whether it's Christians attacking their "Satanic" ideation, Buddhists railing against their "cravings" or "defilements of mind", or modern personal development enthusiasts shoving all "negative thoughts" or "limiting beliefs" out of their heads, there's a certain desperation and denial associated with the process of attacking or suppressing "bad parts".

    The approach based on acknowledgement ("This part has something to teach me.") and curiosity ("I wonder what it wants me to know.") of these parts of one's mind feels a lot more gentle and ultimately a lot more fruitful as well.
    My recent post Stop procrastinating now – and make rapid progress on your most important goals

  6. viv66 says:

    True enough about the voices. The one that actually upsets me the most is the one that closely resembles my mother's, and in some ways, this is the one that I feel quite strongly has the least authenticity for my life. This voice is the one that is always telling me to not put myself forward, to be a shrinking violet, to always let others go first(I don't mean through doorways) and is generally the one that tells me how little real value I am. But as I have grown as a person and stepped forward with care and compassion into a world that actually has a place for me, I have noticed that this voice scarcely speaks any more. It's function was to make sure that I avoid acting from purely selfish motives.
    Most people avoid silence and stilness; one colleague I work with occasionally is one of those Christians whose choice of worship style avoids any silence and a lot of noise and movement and activity and has been horrified by the concept of Quaker worship(more my choice) where one sits for an hour in silence and waits to hear what comes forth.

    My recent post Warning!

    • viv66 says:

      If you wait till the still small voice becomes a roar, then the chances are its message is so urgent it may well be too late.
      My recent post Warning!

    • Nasty inner voices are often internalized parents. Having an imaginary dialogue with your imaginary parents can be a useful thing, especially if you ask for the positive intent behind what they are saying and/or add context from their past history to explain their behavior. Steve Andreas has a lot of useful tips for how to do these sorts of things that I've found helpful.

      • viv66 says:

        I discovered that in understanding why my mother hated the concept of one person standing out from another(in terms of excellence etc)(down to her being one of 8 kids, amid a family best termed a tribe, and resources including attention being limited) was the best way for that voice to slowly become stilled on its own accord. And also a kind of ancestral pattern of people being thwarted in their desires/ambitions by parents/guardians, going back possibly centuries is something I am trying to work through in my own life. The family tree is full of people who nearly made it(whatever IT might be) but turned back/were turned back because of family pressure of one sort or another. This little twig has gone a lot further than expected!
        Native Americans have a saying when they are in ceremony: For all my relations. It bears thought.
        My recent post Warning!

        • Thank you for sharing this personal example. I have also found in myself and in others that once the understanding takes place, the voice dies down of its own accord. Sometimes this can take place in just one therapy session for a voice that has been tormenting a person for a long time.

  7. tdhurst says:

    I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
    My recent post Scribe SEO Promo – one week only

  8. plsdontbend says:

    I liken the inner voices not as demons or angels, but really as aspects of ourselves that reminds us that things like "stealing" is not a good idea. I have found that ignoring these feelings (or better yet, pushing them to possitive) is likened to a swing on the swing set: if you push it forward it swings back with the same level of intention (physics), so the greater the push possitive, the greater return. Why is this important? We don't need to vilify the voice of wisdom that is neither possitive nor negative, just informative. If we choose to ignore it, we live with the consequences of not listening, and to the degree we don't is the degree we usually end up suffering/having to clean up after.____Do we have distructive internal voices? Yes. And like another poster above said, this is why there is therapy to learn what to listen to and take action on. One thing

  9. Mary says:

    I try this again, I wasn’t signed on…grr. I find the business of trying to pc our voices in our head/gut that helps us make good choices (mostly), to be like controlling waves of water to the shore…good luck and it makes little difference. I will agree to the degree we try to control the “good voices” over “non constructive” voices, ends up being a bit like trying to make a swing stay in the middle after you have pulled (or pushed it) in one direction, it will go in the oposite direction with the same velocity that you push/pulled; this is physics. Determining what voices to listen to sometimes take trial and error/therapy. We all make mistakes, we all fall down, that’s what life is for. When it becomes truly distructive (hurting self/other) is when we need to modify it with professional help.

    My concern is really with the “thoughts are actions” movement, that has led us to believe that every sniffle, ache and disease is due to wrong thinking. This end conclusion taken black/white ends in disaster to anyone with chronic pain/illness/debilitation leading to death. We then saddle them with admonishment of them for their condition based on the notion that “they brought it on themselves”, which leaves no room for empathy, understanding or compassion.

  10. Inner critics are helpful so long as they are accurate, of course there are some who have inner critics that are big ol' lying jerks that have no perspective… but I think there are some really excellent points made in this post.

    I'm going to go off on a little tangent now and speculate on the relation of mahakala to kali… I'm wasn't familiar with mahakala previously, but I find the similarities to Kali's necklace of skulls and association with black to be interesting.
    My recent post Why I love Netflix this week

    • I agree that some inner critics lack perspective and even tell mean little lies. However, I've found that these inner critics are still a part of YOU and the best way to deal with them for good is to look for the positive intent behind what they are saying and/or use your imagination to hear the message in a different way.

  11. NellaLou says:

    Upon reading your post this came to mind.

    "We can learn to see the mind as a committee: the fact that unworthy impulses are proposed by members of the committee doesn’t mean that we are unworthy. We don’t have to assume responsibility for everything that gets brought to the committee floor. Our responsibility lies instead in our power to adopt or veto the motion."

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu from The Road to Nirvana Is Paved with Skillful Intentions

    Whatever committee we are on we will most likely not agree with everyone. And some we may unnecessarily give more credence to just because of their loudness, charisma etc. But we are the chairperson as well.

  12. AznHisoka says:

    Great article. I think you're right. Those inner critics are there for a reason – to give attention and shine the light on areas we need to focus our lives on. We shouldn't repress them, but rather look at them, and make appropriate changes to our lives. How many times have people tried to ignore the voice in their head that says their marriage isn't working, or they're sick of their job with negative results?
    My recent post Colon Cleanse – Day 1

    • Sometimes when we listen to those inner voices with friendliness and seeking to understand surprising results can happen too. Paying attention to a voice that says one's marriage isn't working may either lead to divorce or to a better current marriage. But if we don't listen, it's like the scraping sound coming from the car, and is bound to get worse until dealt with.

  13. Chris Edgar says:

    How dare you toot your own horn, you New Wage fraudster! 🙂 But seriously, I'm glad to hear you tell us about the work you do and I know how deeply you care about it. I've found the same thing to be true when it comes to the inner critic, even if it doesn't seem to have any specific, constructive message about my life. Sometimes what it offers me instead is just a physical (and maybe painful) sensation, that I can choose to allow without resistance, and making that choice helps me deal with that sensation when it arises out "in the real world."

  14. Evan says:

    If we fight ourselves we lose even if we win. Personally I think CBT often falls into the trap of criticising the critic (not always).

    What should we do with our inner critics? Love them – they are parts of ourselves and as you point out intend what is best for us.

    One significant qualification. For those who have attempted suicide or other forms of self-destruction. For these people it is important to get to the positive core of the critics desire (safety through control of themselves and their situation perhaps) before making any attempt at integration. These people will often feel that the critic intends harm and they have good evidence for this. This isn't to disagree with the process at all – I am entirely in agreement with it. Just to add a bit to its proper application.

    I'm glad you are getting more at home with your anger Duff.

    • Another person mentioned the same thing about CBT. I think I know what you guys mean, even though my experience with CBT was more about accepting the inner critical voices while disallowing the cognitive distortions of those voices. I think any technique can have ideological versions that end up aggressively pushing away other parts of ourselves. I have no doubt that even my preferred techniques can be used as ideological weapons if we aren't careful.

      Agreed re: suicidal ideation. Intelligent processes do exactly like what you mention. I've had more than one inner part that wanted violence towards self or others as a first outcome but once I got to deeper outcomes clearly wanted something very positive, and touching into the depths transformed the initial violent desire. Until one can do such a process, it is usually better to have other inner parts keep violent desires in check.

  15. […] I’ve been thinking about fear. Some interesting blog posts here and here and here got me thinking a lot about the subject, and I revisited an earlier article of […]

  16. anonymous says:

    In meditation we learn not to suppress the inner voices or dialogue, they just calm down and eventually fade away. This is a very important thing to learn. Instead of listening to the inner critic or fan or partner, learn to live and breathe and behave without thinking all the time. Usually out thoughts are extensions of our immediate insight into things. Then we begin to think and have inner dialogue. Instead of acting spontaneously with our insight, we drag the process through the murky inside world of verbiage. 🙂
    This "Core Transformation seems to be just another money making self-help scheme. I hope others do not spend their hard earned money on it. You can learn to meditate for free, and the results will be much more satisfying. 🙂

    • 32000days says:

      I don't think it has to be either / or.

      I agree with you, anonymous, that learning to meditate has enormous benefits. And I would encourage others to do so.

      I've also used out the CT method on myself and others, and it delivers a different kind of benefit.

      It doesn't have to cost a lot of money to try this out – the book costs in the range of $10-15.

      Obviously, therapists using Core Transformation will charge for using their expertise in live sessions, in much the same manner as a coach, psychologist, or social worker will do. And trainers will charge for training in the method. I'm sure this seems reasonable, doesn't it – unless you think that people ought to practice their profession and share their training for free?
      My recent post How to deal with fear – a counterintuitive strategy

      • One can currently get a used copy of Core Transformation for $4.07 on Amazon. I picked up a copy for about $6 and did the process over 200 times without spending a single penny more. Even the weekend workshops are pretty much the cheapest workshops I've ever seen for the amount of instruction, and the license agreement for trainers is also one of the cheapest of its kind. If this were purely a money-making scheme, Connirae has done a poor job of it! 🙂

        Philosophy is also free, but somehow I ended up spending over $50,000 getting a BA in philosophy which I will paying off for the rest of my life. 🙂

        Meditation courses also run on "green energy" as one teacher of mine put it. In other words, dharma centers have rent to pay too and usually charge a fee for room and board or ask for dana to pay for others' room and board (which is effectively the same) as well as dana for the teacher.

        As far as meditation goes, you are describing accurately the method of shamatha or calm-abiding also known as concentration practice, wherein one surrenders all mental activity and learns to rest in a state of being beyond thoughts. I think this is a very valuable and important method. One can learn for free, but it is usually advised to seek a competent instructor and sangha to support one's individual efforts, and long retreat time can also be of great benefit. However, shamatha is just one form of meditation. Vipassana for instance does not have the same instruction to let thoughts fade away, but analyzes all sensory impressions from the 6 sense doors (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, mind) for the three characteristics (impermanence, suffering, no-self).

        Then there are other techniques like Tonglen, the cultivation of the Brahma Viharas or 4 immesurables of compassion, equanimity, sympathetic joy, and loving kindness. In these meditations, you consciously generate states of mind and even cultivate certain thoughts.

        I consider Core Transformation to be a cross between metta meditation for parts of one's self, a deep inquiry into the nature of desire, a solutions-focused brief therapy technique, and a way to experience the nature of mind/dharmakaya.

    • There are also mantra meditations and mandala visualizations, deity meditations, prostrations and on and on. One technique does not necessarily make others obsolete. Nowadays there are also many mindfulness-based therapies too, from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, etc. etc. The Buddha himself used skillful means by giving different techniques to different students based on their context and aptitudes.

    • After being bent up about this anonymous comment for the last hour or so and doing Core Transformation with my reactive feelings, I just in a moment of joy and laughter realized the irony of this comment.

      This commenter is anonymous and using what appears to be a fake email address. The suggestion for dealing with inner critics is to not deal with content but just sit until they fade away. The same technique projected outward on outer critics would be to engage in a way that you can't be reached in return, exactly what this commenter did!

      It's too bad, because my method is to seek mutual understanding in a dialogue, which is what I just did internally and attempted to do externally to no avail.

  17. Geoff says:

    Hi Duff,

    Great post, I really like your idea of being open to/ learning from inner critics. I am a little surprised that you are so enthusiastic about NLP. I had always interpreted NLP as being a little caught up in its own hype, and as something of a ‘quick fix’/ ‘hocus pocus’ set of ideas – i.e., the assumption being that anyone can change anything in an instant, as long they represent the ‘problem’ differently. But the way you are presenting it has a different tone, one that seems both humbler and more realistic about what NLP can accomplish. I’m particularly interested in the connection you are drawing between NLP, CBT, and meditative methods. I wonder if you could comment on this. Is my interpretation the underlying philosophy of NLP off base? Are there perhaps a few different versions of NLP, some more realistic than others?


    • Hi Geoff, thanks for commenting.

      There are many problems with NLP. One of them is that most trainers believe their own hype. Part of the reason for this is that they don't do followups. In particular, Richard Bandler and Tony Robbins (although technically Robbins has his own NLP spinoff called "NAC" to avoid legal issues) care primarily about whether the individual feels different in the moment. I think this is careless and selfish.

      On the other hand, there are a handful of trainers who are more honest with themselves and others and do followups. Steve Andreas, for instance (whom I work for), has been producing a number of NLP client session videos that all include followups. Of course even here there is a kind of selection bias, for the final videos that get produced constitute less than half of the total videos filmed—just the best of the best. In this case, however, Andreas is not portraying himself as getting results 100% of the time, like Bandler and Robbins and others claim. He's just showcasing some specific techniques for brief therapy. I think this aspect of NLP is one of the most useful. With a good technique, one really can make a lot more changes, a lot faster than without. But there are still no guarantees.

      That said, my personal opinion is that the facilitator, coach, or therapist has less than 50% of the total impact in making a change with the client. They should do the absolute best they can with their influence, but numerous other factors outside of one's control are also in play. I suppose that just like in the martial arts, various disciplines of healing arts and communication will endlessly brag about how they are by far the best when in fact they all work about the same. I also recently read a study that showed the most important factor in effective psychotherapy was that the therapist believed in the techniques employed. That makes a lot of sense to me.

    • I’m particularly interested in the connection you are drawing between NLP, CBT, and meditative methods. I wonder if you could comment on this.

      I have a blog post in the works about "mindfulness" that tangentially addresses this. Feel free to ask more questions here or there if I don't cover what you were hoping!

    • One more thing–it's been my experience that sometimes things change quickly, sometimes they change slowly, sometimes they don't seem to change at all. Sometimes things change quickly because of a skillfully applied technique, sometimes they change quickly for seemingly no reason at all. Sometimes skillfully applied ingenius techniques seem to do next to nothing or lead to gradual progress. (This seems to be the case for all the "greats" including Richard Bandler, Milton Erickson, Steve Andreas, etc. etc.)

      Sometimes people make quick changes that last for years and years. Sometimes people make quick changes that go away just as quickly. Sometimes people make slow and steady changes that suddenly relapse for no good reason.

      In other words, people are complex! But we can do the best we can to try and understand how to make changes while maintaining humility about the process of change itself.

  18. Geoff says:


    Thanks for these detailed responses. I think this all makes a lot of sense. As you point out, honesty really seems to be the central issue in all of this. As well as some commitment to testing for longer-term results/ effects. I'm quite curious now about Andreas. Will have to check him out.

    I also like your point about how variation and complexity in people's responses to different techniques. Adding to that, I think it can often be hard (or even impossible) to confidently identify the real causal reason for a particular change in a person — that seems like a critical but neglected issue in thinking about personal change more generally.

    One of the big challenges for me is in trying to sort through all the hype in this general area of self-help, personal transformation, etc. It seems to me that there are sometimes useful ideas buried in layers of hype, and it takes quite a bit of work to sort through it all. And that there are dangers in being too closed-minded as well as too open-minded. It's hard to strike the right balance…

    I appreciate your blog for tackling these issues directly and critically, and am looking forward to the post on mindfulness.

  19. It seems to me that there are sometimes useful ideas buried in layers of hype, and it takes quite a bit of work to sort through it all. And that there are dangers in being too closed-minded as well as too open-minded. It's hard to strike the right balance…

    Well put, Geoff. I think it's perhaps inevitable that each person must sort through these matters as best they can, in dialogue with others but ultimately being their own arbiter.

  20. You have a few useful pointers on this site.

  21. Caite says:

    Doesn't EFT use NLP as it clears different negative states of mind and body? If you haven't done so before, I would be interested in your 'take' on this form (EFT). It seems to have some legitimacy, and Gary Craig's work with PTSD in Veteran's |Administration settings is nothing short of phenomenal from what I've seen. Yet, in some hands the technique seems very manipulative.

    • "Doesn't EFT use NLP as it clears different negative states of mind and body?"

      EFT involves a statement of acceptance and tapping on the body for reducing or eliminating emotional intensity. NLP is a much more broad yet still practical field and applies to many more outcomes than reduction of emotional intensity or working with trauma. If EFT is like a hammer, NLP is like the field of engineering.

      There does seem to be some usefulness for working with PTSD with EFT and related "alphabet soup" techniques like EMDR, EMI, IEMT, BSFF, etc. EMDR is the most-studied of these methods, but in my opinion they all work by the same mechanisms.

      I don't think EFT has any likely manipulative applications, while NLP has many.

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