Disassociation IS association!

One of the most fruitful parts of my modeling work involves unpacking aspects of NLP that most of us NLPers don’t question.

Take disassociation, for example. In your NLP training you might have learned that disassociated = not associated.


When my research buddy Jan “yon” Saeger and I started investigating disassociation, Jan quickly realized that, strictly speaking, disassociation doesn’t exist.

That’s because…

When you disassociate out of one point of view… you do it by associating into another point of view!

For instance, think of a pleasant memory. When you associate into a memory, you experience it from within, reliving at least part of it.

When you disassociate from that same memory, notice that you now observe it from somewhere. You have a perspective, a point of view. The memory is in some spatial relationship to where “you” now are. In your new location, you hear and see from where “you” are. And when you feel strong emotions while observing a memory from outside, that requires kinesthetics.

You see, your brain doesn’t have any way to make a coherent representation from no point of view. To make a visual image, it has to represent the image as being somewhere and viewed from somewhere. When constructing or remembering a sound, that sound has a location… and so do the ears hearing it. A feeling requires something to feel with, which again has location. Thus…

The difference between associated and disassociated is which parts of your experience you associate into

When you “associate” into a memory, you disassociate from your present-time body and awareness, and from Observer position.

When you observe a memory from a “disassociated” point of view, you associate into Observer position, and out of your real-time sensory experience.

When you associate into real-time sensory experience, you disassociate from your memories and your compelling internal representations.

You can also associate and disassociate from various sensory aspects of your experience. As I write this, I’m strongly associated into my constructed visual, auditory, and proprioceptive representations, and also into my emotions about the article. I’m also disassociated from my visual and auditory awareness of the room around me, and from real-time sensory body awareness outside my typing hands. This allowed me to forget my aching knee until I wrote this paragraph.

People have habitual patterns of sensory association and disassociation. While working with athletes, my research buddy Michael Harris discovered that top gymnasts stay associated into kinesthetics that track body position, movement, and balance. They stay disassociated from their emotions so they don’t get upset by yelling coaches or making mistakes. You might know worriers who automatically associate into their emotions and constructed representations of what could go wrong — while disassociating from soothing representations and sensory experiences that would reassure or calm them.

Often a problem recurs because someone habitually disassociates from key information (such as the gut feeling warning them not do something), or associates into problematic representations (such as those worriers). A little tweaking of association and disassociation can sometimes make a big difference.

Use association cues to disassociate your clients

Since disassociation works by associating you into something else… you can use association techniques to disassociate people. Simply make sure the association cues you provide associate them into a different point of view or sensory experience — one you choose. In other words, associate the client into a “disassociated” point of view.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to specify submodalities in multiple representation systems — including several types of kinesthetics, such as tactile feelings, balance, and emotions. This forces people to build specific, associated representations — and that gets them associated right where you want them.



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