Author Jonah Berger explains when and why we follow the herd.
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If more people become aware of the tactics used by those who embrace Neuro Linguistic Programming (hereafter referred to as NLP), it may reduce the amount of people affected. Hence, the reason for my blog.
All too often, we hear stories of innocent individuals being manipulated or taken advantage of by individuals with cruel intentions. Usually the innocent individual is perceived as ‘naïve’ or ‘stupid’ for having a good heart and being free from the desire to manipulate others for their own advantage, however the ‘manipulator’ views this individual as ideal prey.
One of the most recent stories I have been told, was from a colleague whose daughter had been out for a night on the town with her friends. The twenty year old already had severe self-esteem issues, and a group of friends who are quite competitive with their personal appearances. The girls had encouraged one another to meet and talk to as many men as possible, in order to increase their social media following.
My colleague’s daughter, who for present purposes I will call Rachel, was not keen to engage in this behaviour and was instead interested in having an honest and friendly conversation with somebody. During the night, Rachel met a young man who left her with a negative impression of men. While she was dancing with her friends, she felt a hand slap her bum cheek, and she turned around to see two young men smiling at her.
‘Why would you do that?’ she asked
‘He’s just drunk, sorry about my friend’ said one, looking at the other, as his smiled faded away. She thought he appeared to be genuine from the sorry look on his face. She had not yet become familiar with what being a ‘wing man’ entailed.
She let it go, and turned back around to continue dancing with her friends, when the young man who had spoken earlier had whispered in her ear ‘you’re beautiful, mind if I talk with you?’
She noticed that her friends were heading to the bar for more drinks, so she decided to sit down nearby with him. He asked her many questions about her own life, acting as though he cared about more than only her appearance and the possibility of having sex with her, and then he spoke at length about how he had reached a stage of maturity and wisdom. He again apologised for the immature act of his friend.
She was captivated, the way customers are captivated by a skilled salesperson. He sold himself well, but he lacked substance, like a shiny vase that breaks at the touch. He is one of many people, men and women included, who act for the sake of their personal gain. Unfortunately, many are chameleons, so it can be difficult to see through their act until it is too late and the damage has been done.
Rachel ended up speaking with this individual for another three weeks until he had made her believe she was something truly special in his life. He sent her texts throughout the day, and during their talks over coffee he would tell her how she was unlike any girl he had ever met. We must not be quick to judge her inability to know his intentions, for they are not observable and people learn in different ways.
After he had slept with her, his attitude changed completely, and he mentioned that he was young and wanted ‘to have fun’. He ceased contact thereafter. Luckily for Rachel, she had not married this person and did not have children with him, so there were fewer pieces to put back together of her shattered self. My colleague was perhaps more devastated, and any parent will know how difficult it is to see their child heartbroken.
I have mentioned this story as it is a recent one that comes to mind, however I have heard stories where the stakes have been far higher and the damage has been much worse.
My colleague had looked at the young man’s social media profile, and noticed that his best friend was following a page about NLP. The men were aged in their mid twenties.
Before I upset any long-term lovers of NLP, I will make it clear that not every person uses NLP for the purpose of manipulating and taking advantage of others. However, the majority do.
One of the things Rachel found intriguing was how the young man could ask her a question and apparently tell her where she had obtained the answer from, by the direction of her eye movement.
‘Okay, so what is your favourite colour?’ he asked her, after a long series of questions.
‘Purple!’ she answered, so intrigued by this individual who presented himself as though he were some sort of alpha male.
‘Wow, you looked to the right and upwards, so you saw a visual image of it… were you imagining the colour?’
Rachel wasn’t even sure if she had, but she found his tricks intriguing, not knowing that they were considered pseudoscience by the scientific community at large. Like all half-baked truths, there are some things taught that are accurate, however they are ideas that an individual can grasp without attending an NLP course.
The whole ‘I can tell what you’re thinking based on your eyes’ thing isn’t just pseudoscience, but plainly inconsistent. What if someone is left-handed or ambidextrous? What if they stare straight ahead as many do? More importantly, world-leading experts on expression and deception do not take this seriously, and nor does the scientific community at large. I hope to write more on this in time.
NLP courses charge a couple of thousand and many men choose to attend these courses to increase their self-esteem, and learn how to ‘get girls’. Many of the teachings are based on the work of Richard Bandler and John Grinder. ‘Frogs into Princes’ was written in 1979 and is based on an early introduction seminar by the two, and is still considered crucial material for lovers of NLP.
Although they are generally considered the forefathers of NLP, much of their work stems from the work of psychologist Milton Erickson. Many believe they have skewed Milton’s teachings to their own benefit. They also draw upon the work of Noam Chomsky, who is a brilliant intellectual, however they have crafted his work for their own purposes. Other ‘self-help’ individuals such as Tony Robbins have also worked with the NLP cult.
In 2010, Stollznow of The Skeptics Society had written in the article ‘Not-so Linguistic Programming’ that “ironically, Bandler and Grinder feuded in the 1980s over trademark and theory disputes. Tellingly, none of their myriad of NLP models, pillars, and principles helped these founders to resolve their personal and professional conflicts.”
It is quite interesting that the forefathers of NLP which purported to be a means for challenging language and thinking, could not resolve their own encounter which resulted in civil action by Bandler against Grinder.
So why do people engage in this type of pop-psychology?
Well, if you take a look at videos such as ‘NLP LECTURE: SPEED ATTRACTION- How To Make Someone Love You In 20 Minutes Or Less’(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui7h8CTSD_8) you will notice that it is quite marketable. Many young men want to know how to attract women. There are even some women who ‘teach’ men tricks for getting girls.
Essentially, there are some elements of truth in what these NLP illusionists teach. However, it is marketed with the agenda to appeal to people who want to manipulate others. The elements of truth that are taught, are already known to psychology and taught to students of psychology, NLP just puts a slant on it. An agenda is plastered on top. A promise.
You can ‘learn this’ or you can ‘learn this to make money/get girls/beat your friends/get popular’
As for most of the course however, it is pseudoscience. NLP does not offer any reliable peer-reviewed experimental evidence.
It does offer men the belief that they are becoming more knowledgeable, and so the belief leads to many acting out as ‘alpha males’. I have spoken to few men who, after completing NLP courses, had come to the conclusion that they themselves had been hypnotised by the marketing and content of the courses.
There are no magical 10 questions that will help you sleep with a woman, nor are there 5 tips which you must follow in order to make friends – any course that asserts to be at the forefront of knowledge wreaks a lot like a cult.
What the course actually does is instill belief that you can ‘get into someone’s head’, and that belief empowers people to act out in such a way.
They no longer see people as fellow human beings, but as potential experimental subjects.
So what did Rachel do? Fortunately, she met with a psychologist to receive some counselling. She was found to have had undiagnosed depression and is receiving CBT, and mentioned that what was lacking in her life was having someone she could talk to openly and without judgement. My colleague (her mother) has a good relationship with her, however we all know that sometimes it is much easier speaking with someone who is not part of the picture for a plethora of reasons.
She has made some beneficial lifestyle changes, and is considering whether some of her existing friendships are detrimental to her overall well-being. That will be a choice she has to make. Luckily, she does have many friends who are positive influences, and she is becoming selective in her circle. Of course, this is not all simply due to her experience with that particular young man, however it was the icing on the cake. It was the storm before the sunshine.
A couple of years ago, I had thought NLP might die down and people would come to see it is a sham. Yet its popularity seems to have increased, and I am constantly hearing of more and more people being affected, so I will be writing on this in more detail if the site receives enough traffic.
Although the story I mentioned related to a female being manipulated, this does not mean that males have not and cannot be the victims of this sort of behaviour. In fact, another instance of NLP being used to manipulate someone I know of recently, happened to a male in his early 30s with a child. The female he had been speaking with was open about having an interest in NLP, but assured him that she would never use anything against somebody in her own favour.
He advised that she was very demanding, and had convinced him that if he did love her, he would buy her expensive jewelry, among other requests. His self esteem and identity were terribly attacked, and he was left in a state feeling inadequate not only as a potential partner but as a father. He has since disassociated from the woman and is investing energy into his own well-being and that of his son.
If you are someone who is well-intended and altruistic, and you have been negatively affected by someone who has manipulated you in some shape or form, please know you are not alone and you should not change who you are for how you have been treated. Also, I am not asserting that NLP is at the basis of all manipulation, just that it is becoming more common, particularly among young people.
I hope to expose NLP today for what it is: nothing more than a self-help tool equipping people with the belief that they will become professional mind-readers or masters of seduction. In actual fact, I believe most of these people to be narcissists, and prone to lying anyway, and I believe they should be dealt with as such.
No matter your gender, age, world view, or belief system, we are all capable of change. In fact, change is inevitable, so let us all strive to make those changes beneficial to ourselves and to the world at large.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson