Compulsions: Overcoming Them With NLP

CompulsionsA compulsion can be described and the feeling of having to do something. Many people with bad habits feel like they don’t have control; that something is making them smoke the cigarette, bite their nails, take the drug, or eat the unhealthy food. If you do NLP and/or hypnosis, or work with habits or addictions, knowing how to work with compulsions is key.

A Word Of Warning

During the process of working with a compulsion, you will trigger the compulsion, deliberately. Some drug addictions are life threatening. If you trigger the desire for the drug, and don’t successfully complete the compulsion blowout, it could have serious consequences.

Also, in order to work with certain addictions, you may be legally required to have specific training and credentials in alcohol and drug addiction, or work under the supervision, referral or prescription of someone who does. Those regulations will depend on where you’re practicing.

The pattern I’m about to go over, doesn’t take secondary gain/ecology into account. Sometimes you need to account for that, or  change to another pattern that includes those aspects. In other words, it’s a tool for a specific job.

Modalities & Submodalities

The NLP Compulsion blowout is a submodality intervention for compulsions (duh). We think with our senses (modalities). We make mental images, we hear sounds in our ‘mind’s ear’ and we can remember or create smells and tastes in our minds. Those “thoughts” lead to feelings — including feelings of compulsion, sometimes.

Submodalities are the qualities of those thoughts. An image or movie can have brightness, be in color or black and white etc. A sound can be loud or quiet, tinny or mellow in tambre. Sounds, images and feelings can all have different locations for us. Location is another submodality.

Submodalities are how we know how to feel about the things we think. It’s the coding system of the brain.

How The Brain Creates Compulsions

For compulsions, the brain has to code thoughts in a very appealing way. If someone feels a compulsion to eat donuts, for example, they’re probably imagining them as well-lit, glossy donuts. They’re probably making big, colorful images of them, right in front of their face, and talking about those donuts in a seductive internal voice (MMMMMMM, those look sooooo good!). It’s a little different for each person though, so we have to figure out how that particular person codes a feeling of compulsion.

One submodality in each sense usually drives the feeling of compulsion. For images, the most common drivers are brightness, location, closeness or image size. Once we find out what submodality drives the feeling, we can blow out the compulsion.

How To Blow Out A Compulsion

When we re-code the thoughts (change the submodalities) in a permanent way, the client will no longer feel compelled. How do we do that?

Surprisingly, we rapidly increase the submodality that makes the person want the behavior, until it “pops”. We make them want it more and then exaggerate the feeling of compulsion beyond normal limits. Do you know the expression, “jump the shark“? It means to go too far — into the realm of ridiculous. When you drive the ‘desire’ submodality too far, too fast, it jumps the shark. It pops the balloon of desire (much like that balloon metaphor was too much).

Jumping The Shark

With submodalities related to compulsions, jumping the shark involves ramping the driver submodality (the difference that makes a difference), beyond what the kinesthetic (in this case, emotion) can handle. Once that happens, the connection that created the compulsion is fried. In the case of a compulsion for a diet soft drink that I blew out the other day, the client reported that she could have one but she didn’t feel she had to. She now had a choice (one of the NLP presuppositions is that choice is better than no choice).

Here’s one way to do it.

  1. Get the representation that drives the compulsion. An easy way to do it is to ask the client to remember a time when they felt compelled to take the action and what the thought was, right before that. If you’ve got the right thought, thinking it will make them feel compelled.
  2. Play with various submodalities until you find one that strongly affects the level of compulsion. If it’s an image, make it bigger or brighter etc. For a sound, change the volume, tone etc. Keep going until you find the submodality that changes the feeling a lot.
  3. Take that submodality and increase it rapidly, several times, until the client shifts and the feeling seems ridiculous. Always start with the ‘compelling’ thought and move to exaggerate it. Don’t go back-and-forth. You might have to exaggerate the image size (for example), to be 12 feet tall, 75 feet, as big as the planet…
  4. Test — have them think of the thing that compelled them. It should no longer feel compelling. If it does, you’re not done.


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Keith Livingston

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997. Read More....

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