“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” – 2 Tim. 3:13
When I first heard about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), it sounded like pseudo-science nonsense to me (it is). There seems to be a resurgence in the use of it as of late. There is even an NLP For Dummies book. NLP is one of many self-help programs that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s. NLP may be seen as a competitor with Landmark Forum, and legions of other enterprises promising to teach the masses the key to success, power, health, and happiness. NLP is widely known in the New Age and was popularized by the highly successful and well-known self-help guru, Tony Robbins (who once used the name Anthony Robbins). Recently, Robbins got divorced, was accused of sexual harassment, and berating survivors of rape and domestic violence during workshops.
NLP is heavily used in self-help programs, sales training, and personal coaching. It has been picked up by some hypnotherapists and also by companies that run seminars marketed as leadership training to businesses and government agencies. It is viewed as pseudo-science by scientists for its claims to fix all your problems, give you success, due to its unscientific basis (which attempts to appear scientific by using lots of technical terms). Proponents claim that, often in a single session, NLP can treat problems such as phobias, depression, tic disorders, psychosomatic illnesses, nearsightedness, allergy, the common cold, and learning disorders. NLP has even been promoted with claims it can be used to treat a variety of diseases including Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and cancer.
A lot of Health Coaches, Life Coaches, Spiritual Coaches, Job Coaches, and Coaches of every type imaginable are proliferating (both non-Christian and Christian) NLP. Be aware that some coaches (perhaps a majority) use NLP. This includes Christian Coaches. There are actual “Christian” websites defending it as merely a communication technique, and even several Christian sites defending it as something free of unbiblical concepts or practices, and even play a role in “renewing” your mind. They are wrong (more about this later).
So what exactly is NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming)?
It’s kind of difficult to get an exact description of NLP because the people who founded it, and those who practice it, use such vague, ambiguous, inscrutable, mumbo jumbo language that it means different things to different people. It is essentially the art of using language, observation, and certain hypnotherapy techniques to “read” you and plant suggestions in your mind to get you to be open to something. In short, it is a method of manipulation and a form of hypnosis.
There is also the claim that NLP helps people to change habits/behaviors by teaching them how to re-program their brains. One person can pick up a snake and cuddle it like a pet cat, while another recoils in absolute terror. NLP is supposedly able to “reprogram” your brain by getting to the root of this fear and helping you to think in a whole new way about snakes.
NLP proponents claim, according to one site,
we were given brains, we are told, but no instruction manual. NLP offers you a user-manual for the brain. The brain-manual seems to be a metaphor for NLP training, which is sometimes referred to as ‘software for the brain.’
Another site explains it in the following way:
Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a variable system of procedures purported to enable people to communicate more effectively and influence others. It is said to involve modifying the patterns or “programming” created by interactions among the brain (neuro), language (linguistic), and the body that produce both effective and ineffective behavior. Proponents claim that NLP has cured phobias, allergies, and other problems in one or a few brief sessions. Its core postulates are: (a) people are most influenced by messages that reflect how they internally represent whatever they are doing; and (b) this representation is reflected by eye-gaze patterns, posture, tone of voice, and language patterns. The internal representation can be visual (picturing what they are involved with), auditory (hearing it sounded out), or can involve other senses. Proponents claim, for example, that a someone experiencing a mental image might use the words “I see,” whereas someone in an auditory mode might say “that sounds right to me. Scientific studies have demonstrated no correlation between eye movements and visual imagery, reported thoughts, or language choices. A National Research Council committee has found no significant evidence that NLP’s theories are sound or that its practices are effective.
The following quote from a site explains several ways it’s done:
Rapport is the mental and physiological state that a human enters when they let their social guard down, and it is generally achieved when a person comes to the conclusion that the person they’re talking to is just like them. See how that works, broadly? An NLP person essentially carefully fakes the social cues that cause a person to drop their guard and enter a state of openness and suggestibility.
Once rapport is achieved, the NLPer will then begin subtly leading the interaction. Having mirrored the other person, they can now make subtle changes to actually influence the other person’s behavior. Combined with subtle language patterns, leading questions and a whole slew of other techniques, a skilled NLPer can at this point steer the other person wherever they like, as long as the other person isn’t aware of what’s happening and thinks everything is arising organically, or has given consent. That means it’s actually fairly hard to use NLP to get people to act out-of-character, but it can be used for engineering responses within a person’s normal range of behavior—like donating to a cause, making a decision they were putting off, or going home with you for the night if they might have considered it anyway.
A Christian site explains it in a clearer way:
….neuro-linguistic programming is a form of vocal and gestural hypnotism that is used by some public speakers—politicians, for example. In such a context, neuro-linguistic programming is used to psychologically manipulate the listener without his or her knowledge. Most likely, some form of neuro-linguistic programming has been used on people throughout history. Neuro-linguistic programming leverages factors such as tone of voice, vocal modulation, pacing, leading, and anchoring to implant a suggestion directly into the subconscious, bypassing the critical thinking factors of the conscious mind. Some speakers use a teleprompter rather than written notes or memorization, because such technology can help cue the user’s speech patterns, timing, hand gestures, etc., in addition to the content.
The “effectiveness” and “success” of neuro-linguistic programming comes from the practitioner’s ability to implant suggestions directly into the recipient’s subconscious mind. The subconscious does not make value or truth-claim judgments on its own; it relies upon the critical and logical thought of the conscious mind to reject false or inappropriate ideas or suggestions. A person will believe the ideas thus passed into the subconscious so strongly that he or she will experience cognitive dissonance if the ideas are questioned, causing anger, fear, or even violence.
You may have had NLP
Hopefully this will not stir up any level of paranoia, but you may have had NLP done on you unknowingly if you have been in a situation where you are making a big purchase because some sales people learn NLP. Also, if you have attended any type of self-help seminar, or seminar on how to succeed it may have been done on you. Unless you have studied NLP, you will not know it was happening.
I would be very cautious when pressured for certain decisions at work, attending sales or business seminars, or in a sales situation. It seems many work seminars now are saturated with New Thought/New Age self-help teachings. NLP lurks everywhere in this consumer-oriented and power-loving society. I advise against using a life, health, job or other coach (Christian or not) because such coaches may be involved in New Thought, NLP, New Age, bad theology, and/or the idol of success.
If you are lead to make a big-quick decision I would leave myself from the situation, and pray about it. As mentioned earlier, sales people are equipped with NLP techniques to elicit impulse buys. It would also be wise to be wary of vague language used. One of the primary techniques that NLP took from Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist and psychologist, is the use of vague language to purportedly induce hypnotic trance. Erickson supposedly found that the more vague language is, the more it leads people into trance, because there is less that a person is liable to disagree with or react to.
Other ways to know it is being done on you: they will copy your body language; they will notice your eye movements to assess you; they might tap you on the shoulder to anchor you; they will tell you to relax; and use language with hidden or layer meanings.
How NLP came about?
NLP was developed in the 1970s at the University of California at Santa Cruz by a linguist named John Grinder, and a mathematician named Richard Bandler. The two men investigated how people of the same background could have such different life outcomes, with some being enormously successful and others not so much. They were curious about what made some people become high performers and decided to make a kind of “model” out of them by studying how they communicated – verbally, body language, eye movement, etc. Once they did this, the two claimed to be able to make out patterns of thinking that helped these people achieve success and theorized that the brain could be taught to learn these healthy patterns and behaviors. This is how NLP came about.
The co-founder of NLP charged with murder
I have emphasized if you want a good indicator if a “new thing” is of God then scrutinize the originator of it. If the root is bad then so likely is the tree. What kind of man was Richard Bandler, the co-founder? The Independent has described Bandler as “a sort of Messiah” while also being accused of brainwashing and cult leader-like behavior. He was also charged with the murder of a woman! Sadly, he got off:
In the morning Corine Christensen last snorted cocaine, she found herself, straw in hand, looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum revolver. When the gun exploded, momentarily piercing the autumn stillness, it sent a single bullet on a diagonal path through her left nostril and into her brain.
Christensen slumped over her round oak dining table, bleeding onto its glass top, a loose-leaf notebook, and a slip of yellow memo paper on which she had scrawled, in red ink, DON’T KILL US ALL. Choking, she spit blood onto a wine goblet, a tequila bottle, and the shirt of the man who would be accused of her murder, then slid sideways off the chair and fell on her back. Within minutes she lay still.
As Christensen lay dying, two men left her rented town house in a working-class section of Santa Cruz, California. One was her former boyfriend, James Marino, an admitted cocaine dealer and convicted burglar. The other, Richard Bandler, was known internationally as the cofounder of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a controversial approach to psychology and communication. About 12 hours later, on the evening of November 3, 1986, Richard Bandler was arrested and charged with the murder.
Bandler’s defense was, simply, that Marino had killed Christensen, not him. Many at the time alleged he used NLP techniques on the stand to escape conviction. Yet Bandler was also alleged to actually use a gun in NLP sessions in order to produce dramatic psychological changes in clients—a technique that was later mirrored by Hollywood in the movie Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt’s character pulls a gun on a gas station attendant and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t pursue his dreams in life. That was, many said, Bandler’s MO.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Bandler was indeed let off, and the story was quickly buried—I’ve never spoken to a student of NLP who’s ever heard of the murder case, I’ll note, and I’ve spoken to a lot.
Many at the time alleged he used NLP techniques on the stand to elude conviction. It seems like the Character of Bandler is like the base nature of NLP – a manipulative method that is basically a form of hypnosis or mind conditioning.
Does science support it?
NLP masquerades as science. Hence, the term pseudo-science given to NLP is fitting. One of the reasons why NLP has so little support in the scientific community is because these theories have never been proven scientifically. As this article in Medical News Today reports,
A paper published in 2009 concluded that after three decades, the theories behind NLP were still not credible, and evidence for its effectiveness was only anecdotal.
Also, according to the Medical News Today report, a 2010 review found that of 33 studies, only 18 percent supported NLP’s underlying theories.
So, even though NLP has been around for over 4 decades, neither the effectiveness of it nor the validity of the theories have been clearly demonstrated by solid research, Medical News Today reports:
The broad ideas that NLP is built upon, and the lack of a formal body to monitor its use, mean that the methods and quality of practice can vary considerably. In any case, clear and impartial evidence to support its effectiveness has yet to emerge.
One medical doctor gave their opinions about NLP:
“…the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behavior and emotions can be ‘programmed’ by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk.” –Steven Novella, M.D.
Stephen Barrett, longtime critic of questionable alternative medicine practices, has written:
Scientific studies have demonstrated no correlation between eye movements and visual imagery, reported thoughts, or language choices. A National Research Council committee has found no significant evidence that NLP’s theories are sound or that its practices are effective.
Although NLP teachers and supporters offer an alleged scientific basis for NLP, such a claim seems to be without merit. However, the hypnotic effect of NLP and its ties to hypnotherapy are real.
Because NLP is surprisingly popular among New Age followers, people should be warned that practitioners may be involved in other New Age activities, which can really raise red flags. Interestingly, even some Sociologists and anthropologists—amongst others—have categorized NLP as a quasi-religion belonging to the New Age and/or Human Potential Movements. One professor of sociology, Stephen John Hunt, draws a comparison between the concern with lineage from an NLP guru—which is evident amongst some NLP proponents—and the concern with guru lineage in some Eastern religions.
The creators, Bandler and Grinder were (and continue to be) influenced by the shamanism described in the books of Carlos Castaneda. Several ideas and techniques have been borrowed from Castaneda and incorporated into NLP including so-called double induction and the notion of “stopping the world”which is central to NLP modeling.
That should make one wonder if NLP came directly from satan’s kingdom.
More examples of NLPs’ bad fruits is that it has been linked to notable allegations of abuse:
Nancy Salzman, the president of the “sex cult” NXIVM, reportedly studied NLP under a Bandler protege. Keith Raniere, the group’s leader, “saw the value” in Salzman’s NLP expertise, as his ex-girlfriend told New York Magazine. “Keith saw what [Salzman] could do to quickly engage a group of people, and her ability to hypnotize them,” she said. NXIVM proved to be an alleged cult masquerading as a self-help organization and Raniere has been charged with sex trafficking, conspiracy, and racketeering.
From what I read about several Christian sites supporting NLP is that they are not using biblical principles in their thinking and/or they don’t understand the Bible enough to be discerning about NLP. For example, one site for “Christian Coaching” states:
If I am modeling Buddhist Meditations techniques, obviously what I am doing is not Christian. On the other hand, if I am modeling the Leadership, Healing Patterns, or the Metaphors of Jesus then yes, NLP is Christian! If I am modeling out of the Bible how to “Renew the Mind”, then it is Christian.
What biblical basic is there for modeling “leadership” or “healing patterns” of Jesus? The Lord did not come 2,000 years ago to teach leadership skills. Nor did Jesus have “healing patterns.” Jesus healed by the power of God due to His deity – He is the Son of God. Most certainly NLP is not needed for a Christian’s mind to be renewed. The Christian’s mind is renewed through reading God’s word as one trusts and submits to God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit as the Christian yields to Him.
Biblical prohibition of NLP
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25)
Why is it wrong to use NLP? Because it uses methods of manipulation to get what one covets or envies. It should really go without saying that followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are not to be involved with manipulation or take advantage of others in any way. Just as important, we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated (Gal. 3:1). Jesus Christ is the standard of how we ought to act (Eph. 5:1), and Jesus never manipulated anyone. In fact, manipulation is a core trait of the devil (Jn. 8:44; Rev. 20:8). One of the chief traits of the Jezebel spirit, a demonic spirit I have come across when praying for deliverance for people, is to manipulate others.
Why would any born-again Christian resort to hypnosis or any kind of pseudo-scientific behavioral modifications when there is the living God who can change our behavior as we yield to His Word and the Holy Spirit? Christians also ought to carefully compare the things we hear and see with the truth of God’s Word. For the Christian, changing behavior is not about reprogramming, reconditioning our neurology via language, by calling upon the power (or god) within, or their own infinite human potential. That is a contradiction of the Biblical view. We ought to rely on Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Scripturally speaking, we can do everything through Christ and the strength He provides (Phil. 4:13). The Bible says man is a sinner and is saved by God’s grace alone through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
Can it open a person to demonization?
Since most of the posts on this blog is related to demonization, the question that probably popped into one’s head is can NLP lead to demonization? I can’t confirm nor deny it. I have no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, it opens one up to demonization. However, I will say that a person who contacted me who was demonized got involved in it but also got involved in other practices of the New Age which is known to open a person to demonization, and thus it was difficult to ascertain if NLP really did open doors. But I would stay clear away from it regardless as it is associated with the New Age and is unbiblical.
If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you can receive Him into your heart, and He can deliver you from darkness and sin and have your name written in His Book of Life.
If you are sincere you can say this simple prayer to the Father (it doesn’t have to be word- for-word):
“God, I recognize that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. Please forgive me of all of my sins just as I forgive others. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your only begotten Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross, I believe in my heart Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the Lord and GOD Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.”