Sunday, September 29, 2013

Manage pain with NLP: Simple, powerful, reliable

Pain is scary. It occupies so much of our attention that it begins to feel like nothing is possible beyond it. It makes it hard to connect with our best selves, our best help, and our best goals.

The best strategy for managing pain is to look beyond it, to know what you want more than you want to pay attention to the pain. This is true of emotional pain and of physical pain. Purpose trumps pain.

It's a big leap for most people from wanting the pain to stop to wanting to actually accomplish something satisfying. If you would like to help someone to manage pain, try 5 reliable steps:

1) Connect with their intention to be healthy and engaged. If they really don't want to heal, they won't connect. If they do connect, make sure your presupposition is that they do want to heal and to look beyond the pain to a more satisfying experience of themselves and the world.

2) Distract them from the pain. Pain only hurts while we it engages our attention, so the first step in teaching someone to manage pain is to introduce a surprise. They can't surprise themselves (on purpose). Surprise interrupts attention and opens up possibility.

3) Be curious about the strengths that will allow this person to manage their pain. Curiosity is contagious and very hard to resist. That makes it a great motivation for this person to be curious with you and to search their experience for the strengths they need now.

4) Stabilize strengths as you become aware of them. When you see signs that curiosity has led to a discovery, use your attention and your language to draw attention to the strength. Remember that this is a strength that was out of awareness and your role is to pull it fully into awareness so that it stays operational and can be applied to managing the pain.

5) Encourage a vision of a future where pain is not the point. You can't promise that someone will be pain-free (that might not even be a good thing) but you can help them focus on what they want and what they can accomplish.

Milton Erickson, the famous psychiatrist, was one of the models on whom the practices of NLP were based.  Erickson spent much of his life engaged in managing the pain caused by two bouts of polio. His pain did not stop him from becoming a happy and engaged husband, father and grandfather and the inspiration or several different models of changework.  Pain happens. It doesn't have to dominate.

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