Trapped In A Web Of Anxiety

Anxiety Strikes

web of anxietyThe other day, I was chatting with a friend who was feeling anxiety. She runs her own business and was growing anxious about finances with not a lot of future business on the books.

“I feel like I could cry,” she said, as she did she made a spinning motion with her hands. I made the same spinning motion back and ask her for more details on that feeling. “What’s that feel like?”

As she went deeper into the feeling it got stronger and became almost a feeling of panic. I asked her to describe more about the feeling. She said, “It’s like a web in my chest, white.”

Changing The Metaphor

That was her metaphor–that the feeling was like a web in her chest.

I asked her to pop that web outside of her body where she could look at it and as she did, it turned black. I asked her to ask the black web what it was trying to do for her, she got the answer, “safety.” I asked her what it sounded like and she said, “Like the phone ringing.”

I asked to flip the image over and it spontaneously changed it to a different color–yellow. At that point she felt and intense relief from her panicky feelings. We popped the new configuration back in to her body and she felt even greater relief. I added a bit of language about it being better able to function now to help her find safety. The entire process took about five minutes.

The Results

I talked to her a couple of weeks later and she said she’s continued to feel comfortable when thinking about her business and finances. She said, “I can’t look at it the same way or feel the same way about it as I used to.” And even better news, she’s taking care of business efficiently–without the anxious feelings.

How Do You Do It?

I don’t know what exactly to call this style of work. But here’s how to do it…

You use the metaphor the unconscious gives you when it represents the problem. Essentially, you mess with the metaphor until it functions better. Typically that also means the client feels better.

You can change any aspect of the metaphor’s submodalities; color, direction of spin (if it has spin), orientation (flip it around or upside down), shape, size, speed (if it moves), temperature, tonality, volume, location.

Guidelines

  • Keep in mind that if the metaphor is something like a spinning wheel, if you spin it faster, it’s liable to feel more intense. If it’s red and you make it a brighter red, it’s liable to feel worse. It’s a good strategy to change things in a way you think will lessen the negative feelings instead.
  • I like to move negative feelings out of the body and have the client look at them. The dissociation tends to give a bit of relief and it helps them get a new perspective on the situation.
  • Asking the metaphor what it wants for the client is an old ericksonian process. It helps get rapport with the metaphor and separate behavior from intention.

We’re Not Going For Insight And The Devil Didn’t Make Us Do It

One of the things I like about this style of work is that it’s relatively free of any theoretical background and psychological or religious/spiritual interpretation. You can put that kind interpretation on this technique but it’s not necessary and it just complicates the process. I know some of you will take this and try to make it about entity possession or alien abduction, but that is not only unnecessary, it’s harmful to the client.

And although insight and understanding can come from doing things this way, that’s not the point of this approach. The point (to me) is to help someone feel and function better.

Fast

One of the reasons this kind of work can be so fast is that it’s mostly content free. We don’t know how the problem got started. We don’t know what the problem was about specifically, beyond business and finances. And if you think about it, you’ll realize we could have worked without even that bit of content. She could have come to me and said, “I feel bad. It’s like a web in my chest” and we could have done the same thing. Not having to get all of that content saves a ton of time.

The disadvantage is that we might not know enough to do a good ecology check. It’s possible that a client could want to go in to business as a hired assassin and be feeling some anxiety. That might be detrimental to other areas of her life 🙂

In other words, it’s a good idea to get enough content to know what the client is up to.

Enjoy,
Keith

About the author:
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....

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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  1. Keith,

    Awesome article. SUPER awesome actually.

    Geoff Ronning

    P.S. What happens if my client does not have a web? j/k

    1. Thanks Geoff,
      I was only shooting for awesome–I’m glad I overshot.

      Keith

      PS: I have a question on my intake form that asks if the client has their own web of anxiety. If not, I make sure they get one.

      j/k

  2. Y’know, I’ve always wondered about that list of “problems” on your intake form (which I have been using intact for almost ten years…Thank you very much!) Not so much what’s on the list, but how it is that whenever I attempt to edit the list to more closely match the things *I* would like to install in clients I would like to see again (say, for example, Demonic Possession), that the document formatting is utterly mangled. How do you do THAT?

    I managed to change the header all by myself. Which is one of those moments of triumph that I celebrate daily.

    And I know I *could* re-type it in any form I want. But I am familiar with it. I find strange comfort in it as it is. I want to change it in one way, and one way only. And that doesn’t work. So I am stuck. It feels like Demonic Possession, now that I think about it…

    1. As background, many years ago, I provided Bob with an intake form as a template for him to use in his practice. Apparently, he finds it difficult to amend, especially when he tries to alter it in specific ways. He’s half-joking. The challenge is in knowing which half.

      Bob,
      You crack me up. Too bad it’s an inside joke. Most people (myself included), don’t believe we’re handicapping our clients with our belief systems. After all, my belief systems are right! Bob can’t be talking about me.

      Keith

      PS: I would like it if you would write more. It would make for a better world.

  3. Right on, brother! You can always be trusted to show method & technique in a clear, easy to understand way. It’s beautiful! I always work this way. IMHO, therapy should always be client-driven. Hearing about the problem and how it started and how it’s triggered just sets puts me into “judgement” mode, and no-o-o-obody needs that. Also, talk therapy often just re-traumatizes the client, which (again IMHO) is why it takes so long and is of so little help to the client. It’s helpful to the therapist who needs a clear and detailed understanding of the problem in order to direct the theraputic conversation but we’re so lucky that we don’t need to to do all that. Our client gets immediate, lasting relief without harmful side-effects and we don’t have to play Sigmund. (Who, by the way, was very dissatisfied with his theories and methods. Too bad he didn’t access to your blog!)

  4. Look out, world.

    I actually do believe that much of what I am called to work on as a therapist has been carelessly installed by other practicioners. Mostly those inside the canon, but almost any white coat can do it. (I am very careful around butchers, for example. (joke)) The internalization of medical and psychiatric terms, especially nouns — names of diseases or syndromes — is common. We talk in about placebo as curative; I think we can also find plenty to talk about in the realm of “bad” placebo as well. In many situations, a provider’s compensation is dependent on the finding of a diagnosis with a particular diagnostic code. While these typically have yet to be tested, treated or resolved, the recipient (client or patient) is often urgently in search of a cause or explanation for their distress. This is precisely a time to be very careful with our words; they can lead to real trouble. In the world of hypnosis, we also occasionally find sloppy work: leading clients toward past lives, repressed memories, etc. We MUST be careful to avoid implanting ideas that are symptomatic or delimiting of the clients available choices. I know you agree about this.

    You, Keith, are pretty much the last person on Earth I might expect to do that. There are times when I (and maybe you) suggest that a frame we can work with (that is, one with a few ADDED choices) might fit a client’s picture. It’s up to them to try it on and reject it or suggest an even better one. It is still their picture. Like recently I had a client who was describing his situation with pretty bold gestures with only his left hand. Without thinking too much about it, after each of these statements, I began to look at his right hand expectantly. By doing this, I was obviously (but maybe not to him) indicating an “on the other hand” argument, which, when present, gives us a whole arsenal of ideas using “parts” or ego states to work with. There was an obvious conflict going on; I was just opening an opportunity to explore the conflict. It wasn’t my idea that he had one. ( In fact, he quit using the left hand, changed his angle of approach altogether, and we had a very productive session.)

    I think most people who fill out that intake form are relieved when they get to leave a bunch of the 30 boxes unchecked, “Thank goodness, I don’t have THAT to worry about.” Plus is gives us quite a few things to talk about before we dive into the real deal.

    And to be honest, I have no interest in working with Demonic Possession. Really. It’s my half-joking way of unloading a very real fear (and worse feeling) that many clients have that there is something desperately wrong with them when they are in an internal conflict situation. And even if it’s just pea soup, I don’t want it sprayed all over my dining room.

    Thanks for your kind words Keith. And the other words, too. You are adding value and raising the level of discourse on these topics that I know we all greatly appreciate! Please keep up the fine work. And the other work, too. (joke) B^)

  5. This seems like a simple, and as you say, fast solution to a common problem. I appreciate your caution to make sure that you have enough context so that you are not encouraging destructive behavior. Is this a technique that you believe could be adapted for self-hypnosis? Or do you recommend getting the help of an outside party for issues of this nature?

    1. Hi Dan,
      I look at it this way…
      It’s not really a solution to common problem. It’s a solution to that particular person’s problem. But taken at a process level, it can be a solution to all problems. In other words, nobody else will have a white/black web inside their chest. But we all have some metaphor we use to represent a problem and we can work with that metaphor.

      Personally, whenever I’m smart, I explore the internal metaphors and representations of whatever problem I’m experiencing. At a metaphor level, they’re much easier to deal with than at the excuse level. For instance, I could argue with changing a feeling of anxiety about money. “Hey the economy sucks.” It’s more difficult to argue with spinning a purple starfish the opposite direction. “Let’s see how it feels.”
      Keith

  6. awesome awesome awesome I would never not read a email from you these tips are always right on time

  7. To echo your previous commenters, this is clear, understandable, and awesome. Like you, my first thought is to change the qualities of the problem metaphor towards the client feeling better. Do you find any value in showing them first that they can make it more intense–that they are in control of the intensity?

    To me, showing them that they can make it better is more direct and effective, but I know some people work the other way at least some of the time.

  8. please help i have a fobba of driving i get anxity when i get behind the wheel like people are watching me and judging me please help

  9. Love it Keith,some clients can be difficult to get much-needed information to work with this technique doesn’t need much content.

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