Article from

First published in Rapport, journal of the Association for NLP (UK), Issue 56, Summer 2002


Emotion and Cognition in Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy

Part 1 of a 5-part paper by Philip Harland

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Let my heart be wise. It is the god's best gift. EURIPIDES

Cartoon: I am, therefore I feel. (I think)

NLP has rarely dealt with emotions. In the 1980's, Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau in The Emotional Hostage developed the concept of the structure of emotion (change a sub-modality and you can change a feeling). Michael Hall's work in the 1990's on Meta-States addressed the modulating of primary emotional states with meta-levels of feeling. Now Philip Harland explores the neuro-linguistic basis of emotional intelligence in a series of articles relating recent scientific research on the structure and inter-relationship of emotion and cognition to David Grove's work in Therapeutic Metaphor, and to Tompkins' and Lawley's development of Symbolic Modelling.

A Greek poet writes of a woman who has waited morethan 20 years for her beloved husband to return home. He embraces her passionately. She is cautious and anxious, unsure of him. He is upset. She is sorrowful. He is angry. She is fearful. So Homer in The Odyssey describes the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus in terms we can readily understand today. In 3,000 years the language of the emotions has hardly changed. It may not have changed much in 4 million years.1


After all these years of human evolution, how far have we come in terms of our emotional development?

The costs of emotional dysfunction - our inability to respond appropriately to our emotions - can be counted many times over in the worst effects of anger, addiction, fear, anxiety, depression, intolerance, fanaticism and sociogenic illness.2

Emotional dysfunction is contagious. Indeed, the word 'pathology', study of disease, comes from the Greek word 'pathologia', study of the emotions. Disease of the emotions can be passed from generation to generation. Doctors calculate that one in five of the children they see has emotional stress-related problems. A particular kind of dysfunction - lack of sympathy for the feelings of others - is readily programmed into their followers by psychopaths who buy or manipulate their way into positions of corporate, religious or political power.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. As relative newcomers (there were 4 thousand million years of life on earth before we arrived) perhaps we are not doing badly. We know that every emotion, however vexatious, has a positive intention. Or may be useful in some situations. Or may be a signpost toa meaningful value. And compassion, joy, altruism and empathy are in plentiful evidence too.

Where do we want to be emotionally? The development of emotional sensibility is a necessary prerequisite for self-growth; for reducing fear, violence, and psychic pain in society; for helping us live and work well with our fellows; for managing change; for using our intuition creatively; for developing the learning potential of the human mind; and for our continued evolution as a species.

Cartoon 2: Do I mean how do we feel we think?

So what has to happen? What further adaptation do we need to make in order to thrive? It has always been easy for us to think we think. But now how do we think we feel?


After all these years of heartache and joy, we could be ready to take a huge evolutionary step in emotional intelligence as we begin to recognize what is generally accepted nowadays among neuro-scientists - that emotions are not independent of the brain. They are functions of the brain.3

They are constructed and represented in that tangled web, and have a direct inter-relationship with its cognitive functions. The mind produces feeling as much as thought. To grasp this fact and to accept its implications is to makea giant stride on the long road to taking responsibility for ourselves.

It may no longer be useful to separate emotion and cognition in the conventional way, because farfrom interfering with rationality, as philosophical speculation has traditionally maintained, a sense of emotionality is increasingly cherished as necessary for reason to operate usefully.


To talk of emotion is to talk of a brain function arising directly from input, and to talk of cognition is to talk of a brain function arising indirectly from input. We shall discuss this in more detail later, but if you want a simple distinction for now, that is it. Disengaging thinking from feeling is like trying to separate light and shade, or the crest and trough of a wave - the difference between the two could hardly be more obvious, yet one cannot exist without the other. They are inseparable. I invite you therefore to make the direct/indirect distinction.

Cartoon 3: Feeling - Thought - Action

You might believe there is such a thing as 'pure' reason, or 'abstract' thinking - the kind mathematicians or philosophers are said to employ. Well, mathematicians are not machines. There has to be an emotional motivation behind - or rather, before - any intellectual activity. A desire to know more, frustration at not knowing, excitement at the challenge, envy of a rival mathematician or philosopher, etc.


Just as we can make linguistic distinctions between emotion and cognition, we can also make them between 'emotion' and'feeling', and 'feeling' and 'sensation'. The differences are largely academic, and authorities vary in their attempts to characterize them. In fact a great deal of ambiguity surrounds all our words about feelings, which is not surprising given our invariably subjective and frequently equivocal experience of what the words represent.

This ambiguity of meaning may relate to the notion that one cannot have any experiential sense, including an emotion, without at the same time interpreting it. And interpretation, willful or not, is a cognitive act. Ergo: the thought about the feeling is the feeling. This is one of those academic distinctions! Meanwhile for the sake of a shared sensibility here are my working definitions, culled and filleted from an assortment of sources.


A broad term applied to those mental activities related to thinking, conceiving, reasoning, etc, where the underlying characteristics involve symbolizing, imagery, memory, belief, intentionality, insight, judgment, problem-solving, etc.


Subjectively experienced moving, stirring or agitated mental state or feeling. Sometimes limited to to the strongly felt 'basic' emotions ('sad', 'glad', 'mad','bad'), and often used interchangeably with:


A consciousness of, or belief about, something in the mind/body. Can be distinguished from, and is also used interchangeably with:


An experience, or awareness, of conditions within or outside the body, produced by the stimulation of a sensory receptor or receptor system.


A relatively short-term state of the feelings.


A condition or situation of somebody or something. In NLP, the term given to a combination of any or all the above at a given moment.


One of the expectations on me as a therapist is to be able to acknowledge and facilitate the thoughts, beliefs, judgments, emotions, feelings, sensations and moods (the 'states') of my clients without complicating them with my own! In order to have the remotest chance of achieving this, I have had to become familiar with my own beliefs and feelings. I have had to recognize, name and manage them. And I have especially needed to understand my emotions in relation to my cognitions, with which I have generally been more familiar. This paper is a further stage of that personal journey. It has been fascinating, and at times difficult. In my childhood the theatre of the emotions was a desolate place. Feelings hovered in ghostly silence inthe wings, or erupted in frightening, inexplicable explosions backstage. The whole thing was a mystery. As Matthew Arnold said:

And we are here as a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

One of the reasons people go into psychotherapy - as therapists or clients - is because they think (or feel) that their feeling and thinking are somehow opposed. Passion and intelligence are ignorant armies in a a permanent state of attrition.

This paper is a preamble to the negotiations the parties must enter before peace can prevail. It is organized into 5 parts, a metaphor for the 5-stage feeling-thinking process itself.


Stage 1

Cartoon 4.1

Instigating stimuli.
How the emotional process gets going. What sets it off.

Stage 2

Cartoon 4.2

Physiological correlates.
What emotions etc actually are. How we know we have them.

Stage 3

Cartoon 4.3

Physical systemic coherence.
How emotions are created in the body/brain. How they inter-relate with cognitions.

Stage 4

Cartoon 4.4

Cognitive evaluation.
How we consider and communicate our emotions/cognitions. How we may track them in others.

Stage 5

Cartoon 4.5

Motivational impulse.
The urge to act. What happens as a result of arousal, sensation, construction and appraisal.

An example of the 5-stage process in action: recently I realized I was seeing a number of clients who were angry, and others who were phobic (1: AROUSAL). This stimulated a complex of physiological activity in my body and brain (2: SENSATION). Which I characterised as a gap in my knowledge of anger, fear and emotions in general, and felt frustrated, anxious and incompetent as a result (3: CONSTRUCTION). Thinking about this I became curious and excited at the prospect of learning more as I realized I could neutralise the feelings I didn't want and enhance those I did (4: APPRAISAL). I went off researching and training to extend my understanding, and through communicating that to feel useful and fulfilled (5: VOLITION).

These 5 stages can be loosely mapped on to Dilts' 'Logical Levels' of human experience:4


= internal/external events at the level of



= receptor system stimulus at the level of



= creation of feeling at the level of



= consideration of feeling at the level of



= impulse to act at the level of


In this article I shall concentrate on the first stage and summarise the other four, which will be the subject of later articles.


We have hearts within.
Warm, live, improvident, indecent hearts.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Cartoon 4.1: Arousal

What arouses feeling? It used to be thought that emotions, like surplus food, were the privilege of the rich, and that essentially they came from nowhere. Modern theories of emotion recognize that they're neither a luxury nor a metaphysical event. As soon as we have any experience we become emotionally aroused to a greater or lesser extent. The 'instigating stimuli' are either exogenous (events in the world), or endogenous (internal thoughts and sensations). An example of exogenous stimuli: when I saw the pictures of the terrorist attacks on New York I felt shocked and anxious. Endogenous: when I imagined the suffering of the victims I felt wretched and angry.5

We human beings are sentient biological entities in a repeatedly reconstructed state of constant flux, with no choice but to take in and process every moment of our waking lives a near-infinite number of bits of information from ourselves and the rest of the world. These stimuli have an emotional and physiological effect beyond our immediate control.

When you came to this article you were in that most basic form of consciousness, a feeling state of one kind or another, whether you were conscious of it or not. As you read now, your brain is changing. It is making many millions of unconscious neural connections, associating your present seeing and hearing to what you have already seen and heard in your life. As this is happening you will be aware, in varying degress, of your environment, your body, and the world at large. And you will now be in a different emotional state to the one you were in a few moments ago. Slightly different or entirely different. We are always in a state of feeling something. What are you feeling now? I'm feeling excited, curious, uncertain, and ready for a cup of tea.


I ask myself how I come to be exploring emotion and cognition at this time. What were the stimuli that set off the emotional chain of events that result in this cognitive activity?

I was working with several clients who seemed to have something in common (exogenous arousal) ... these experiences stimulated a process of pattern-spotting in me about emotions (endogenous arousal) ... which activated some underlying physiology (sensation) ... resulting in a half-conscious awareness of frustration and anxiety at my ignorance (emotional construction) ... followed by conscious excitement and curiosity at the prospect of learning more (emotional appraisal) ... leading to the impulse to act (volition) by researching and writing (action).6

Somewhere around appraisal came two principal cognitions, which also had an influence (ie they fed back to become a part of the endogenous arousal process). Firstly, that emotional intelligence is arguably the most important of our multiple intelligences - verbal, spatial, kinesthetic etc. Being able to track our own and others' emotional life; to understand the multiple causes of feelings; to recognize the distinction between feeling and action; and to be able to nurture the emotional growth of others, particularly the young, is of enormous developmental benefit and evolutionary advantage.

Secondly, that if the human condition has been one of underlying fear, frustration or anxiety for the past 4 or more million years, as some evolutionary psychologists believe, it's about time we did something about it. Plato said that passions and fears made it impossible for him to think.7 2,400 years later I have no difficulty imagining how he felt. We have inherited more ways of being angry and fearful than we need for survival in the 21st century.


Most of us believe that when we think, we think logically; that is, we use reason in an orderly, 'unemotional' way. One thing I expect to show in these articles is that THE BRAIN CANNOT DISTINGUISH BETWEEN FEELING AND THINKING. This is a logical assertion (ie it is perfectly rational), but not everyone will assess it as credible. Indeed, you may have an inner certainty that it's perfect tosh."Of course I know the difference," you may say, "between my thoughts and my feelings."

While most of us allow that our feelings are subjective, we claim to be entirely capable of thinking objectively. In fact if the complexity of body-brain events that we interpret as 'feeling' and 'thinking' occur largely unconsciously, as neuro-scientists have shown, we can have no idea how, when or whether we have crossed any hypothetical divide between them because the direct (feeling) function of the brain and its indirect (thinking) function have no physical threshold. You cannot step from one and be unequivocally in the other. 'Feeling' and 'thinking' are elaborate neural activities with inextricably complex connections that make them to all intents and purposes indistinguishable. (We shall attempt to distinguish the processes which give rise to our conceptualisation of them in Part 3.)

The importance of recent work on emotion and cognition by Damasio (1994), Goleman (1996), LeDoux (1998), Greenfield (2001) and others is, I believe, this: if none of us is truly capable of distinguishing our emotions from our cognitions, how can we help but fall victime to what LeDoux calls 'the Associative Tendency'?

In therapists and counsellors this finds its expression in the employment of unconscious personal associations and conscious personal fancies in the interpretation of client meaning, resulting in the employment of therapist-led, rather than client information-led, interventions, and thus the likely, indeed inevitable, contamination of 8 the client's emotional, conceptual and metaphorical processes by the therapist's own.

Cartoon: Member of the Associative Tendency.

What associations did you make to the characters in the drawing? Which did you think was the therapist and which the client? What inferences did you make about their relationship? What kind of people did think they were?

If we can make all this up in an instant about a drawing, think what we get up to with real people! Our brains have no choice but to construct these unconscious models, but as therapists we can make conscious choices about what we do about them.

  • We can allow our associations - without at the same time allowing them to pervert our intentions or shape our behaviour towards the client.
  • We can acknowledge our associations - bringing the unacknowledged into consciousness and admitting it as a highly inaccurate metaphor for the client's model of the world.
  • We can redirect our associations - so that they relate directly to, and are constantly updated by, the specifics of client information, rather than to our subjective, speculative beliefs and judgments about the information.

And we can do all this while still being able to track emotion and cognition in clients and facilitating them to get the changes they want. How? In a later article I shall argue the case - again, without apology - for the assumption-uncontaminated methodology of David Grove's Clean Language. 9


For now, an exercise in arousal. In getting going. Knowing more about your own emotions is essential for developing intelligence. Consider your emotional history:

  1. What are the first strong feelings you remember?
  2. Was it encouraged, tolerated or unacceptable to express feelings openly in your family?
  3. If encouraged, how did you learn to manage themusefully? If unacceptable, how did you learn to deal with them?
  4. How would you characterise your prime carers emotionally?
  5. What would you say were your prime carers' core/basic/underlying emotional states, the ones they generally reverted to when no particular mood was dominant?
  6. And what are yours?


Seeing's believing, but feeling's the truth.
Thomas Fuller

Cartoon 4.2 Sensation:

Feelings are ever-present. In Part 2 we will consider what they are. Information signals? Bodily responses? Powerful manifestations of evolutionary drives? Things we all know about until asked to define? Or are feelings, as LeDoux claims, just another kind of cognition? What all sensations have in common is that when we describe them, we almost without exception speak in metaphor. I have a gut feeling. My heart is broken. Happy as a lark. Blind with rage. Beside myself with joy. Expressions like these are not arbitrarily chosen. What has to be true for a client to unconsciously encode their description of a sensation in a particular symbolic way rather than any other? And what happens if a therapist assumes that the client's metaphors and their own correspond or are comparable?


That seething morass of brain circuitry
configured by personal experiences
and constantly updated
as we live out each moment.
Susan Greenfield

Cartoon 4.3: Construction

How does the brain feel? Many people believe emotions just happen. In Part 3 we will track the remarkable sequence of events in the mind-body as the dual pathways of emotion and cognition are constructed.10 A graphic representation of the physical sequence of events will help us assess possible places for therapeutic intervention: the more aware we are of unconscious processes, the more we can calibrate their effects in consciousness. And an analysis of the symbolic construction of feeling will reveal clues about the way emotional problems and their solutions are coded in the unconscious.


I wish thar was winders to my sole, sed I,
so that you could see some of my feelins.
Artemus Ward

Cartoon 4.4: Appraisal

Emotions are notoriously difficult to verbalize. In Part 4 we will consider the appraisal process, one of the most advanced, and often misleading, functions of the human brain. We will review the choices we make about expressing or suppressing its results, and consider how as therapists we may track these events before we intervene. We will particularly evaluate nonverbal appraisal: the (generally) obvious - where the client marks out aspects of their unconscious construction of anemotional landscape by gesture and posture as they speak; and the (generally) subtle - those tiny twitches of the musculature which signal the appearance of an emotional reaction in the fraction of a second before cognition intervenes. What happens in the micro-moment just after a question, and just before the brain can appraise it?


Emotions by their very natured to an impulse to act.lead to an impulse to act.
Joseph LeDoux

Cartoon 4.5: Volition

Volition is normally defined as the act of using our will to control, decide or choose what to do. In Part 5 we will note that if emotions lead to, or are, the impulse to act, they are the motivators, not prescribers, of action. They do not control what we do. The brain can be trained to reappraise. We shall consider the phenomenon of unconscious volition, and how the body-brain's innate capacity for healing may be energized to allow the client more feeling choices, more cognitive choices and more action choices.


Cognition is not as logical as it was once thought
and emotions are not always so illogical.

Joseph LeDoux

Many of us will share Greenfield's and Damasio's view that a cognitive understanding of the neuro-biological mechanisms behind emotions is perfectly compatible with a sentimental view of their value to us as human beings. Plato, however, was wrong in this particular: passions do not make it impossible to think. Emotions are as cognitive as any other mental function, and they are ours to use and enjoy.

With conscious access to the way our brains construct the functions of emotion and cognition we can make better use of their interdependence. We are one system. Just as we can choose (if not always easily) what to think, we can choose (if not always readily) what to feel, and with the two in creative combination we can choose how to act. As we learn to maintain a healthy relationship between our emotions and cognitions we will solve problems more easily, reduce pain, increase pleasure, and generally further the human condition.

I hope you have experienced some Arousal. For more Sensation, see Part 2.

© 2002 Philip Harland

Thanks to Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Carol Thompson for their comments and suggestions.


1 Or 6 million if a direct evolutionary line to the first 'bipedal hominid' (discovered in Kenya in 2000) is confirmed.

2 Genuine symptoms induced by fear and anxiety. Three weeks after the World Trade Center attacks, 35 people suffered nausea, headache and sore throat after a man sprayed what turned out to be window cleaner into a Maryland subway station. [Source: The Guardian]

3 In its association with the body. More on this in Part 2 and Part 3.

4 Acknowledgment to James Lawley for making this connection.

5 From a strictly constructivist viewpoint all 'exogenous' events are of course constructed 'endogenously': 'external events' are 'perturbations of the system'.

6 In Michael Hall's domain of 'Meta-States' my meta-level of excitement and curiosity would be about my primary emotions of frustration and anxiety.

7 It is not recorded whether Plato thought or felt that this was an emotional or a rational observation.

8 You might prefer 'influence on', but read on.

9 More information meanwhile from the website, or James Lawley and Penny Tompkins book, Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling.

10 Sex is also a construct of the brain. In Part 3 we will deconstruct the neural connections of sexual pleasure and suggest ways in which you can improve them.

References - see part 5.

First published in Rapport, journal of the Assocition for NLP (UK), Issue 57, Autumn 2002
Emotion and Cognition in Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy
Part 2 of a 5-part paper by Philip Harland
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Let my heart be wise. It is the god's best gift. EURIPIDES

Cartoon: I am, therefore we feel.


Time after time as I listen to people talk about feelings I am struck by the wholly subjective and frequently overwhelming nature of their experience. As a therapist I have seen too many clients at the mercy of their emotions, believing they had no choice but to give in to them. As a trainer I have seen too many trainees who were emotionally just not ready to learn because their employers had only the foggiest awareness of their emotional needs.

Yet emotion is a kind of cognition as knowable as any other construct of the human mind.

This 5-part paper mimics the 5-stage structure of emotion. In Part 1 ('Arousal', Rapport 56) I wrote about what happens before a feeling is felt, and invited the reader to begin to deconstruct this sequence of near-simultaneous events:

1. AROUSAL [external or internal input]
leading to
2. SENSATION [unconscious physiological response and representation]
leading to
3. CONSTRUCTION [unconscious connection to other body/brain events: associative memory, past experience, present needs and values, etc]
leading to
4. APPRAISAL [(un)conscious cognitive assessment of events 1 - 3]
leading to
5. VOLITION [(un)conscious impulse to act]

Five events that happen in an instant. Emotions are notoriously quick to move us.1 It's no wonder that many people confuse their experience of one part with their experience of the whole, and this gets them into all sorts of trouble. Part 2 of this paper is about distinguishing the initial physiological events [sensation ] from the mind-body associations [construction ] and cognitions [appraisal ] that follow, in order to better understand and deal with the whole schemozzle.


Why might we want to do this? Some people believe that feelings are best left felt rather than analysed, and this makes for a richer experience of life. If however you believe that knowledge activates intelligence, and emotional intelligence is vital not just for survival but for the continued evolution of the species, please read on.

I invite you first to distinguish between sensation and feeling. Sensation can be defined as our mental representation of our physiological signalling systems, and feeling as our mental cognizance, or processing, of the experience.2

If I stray from this sensation~feeling distinction it's because like many people I tend to use feeling words interchangeably. There's not a lot of choice. Our feeling-related experiences far outnumber our vocabulary for them, and this means that our capacity for deconstructing emotional experience in order to better enjoy and employ it (one definition of 'emotional intelligence' ) is, shall we say, unpractised. We are still learning the language. 3


Emotions or feelings have been variously described as:

bio-regulatory responses
carriers of multiple messages
pointers to a judgment
remembered associations
a powerful manifestation of drives and instincts
positive or negative preferences
beliefs not based on reason
a core component of our capacity for rational thought
pleasurable or painful consciousness

Recognizing and describing our emotions helps shape the brain. Not recognizing and describing them, I believe, stunts the brain. Many of us find it very difficult to describe how we feel. We experience a confusion of internal events: sensations, associations and evaluations jumbled up. Or we experience a mix of emotions -- a medley of feelings -- at the same time. Separating out and naming these is an essential skill in the building of identity. Parents who talk about feelings help their children learn who they are. Anger consultant Mike Fisher says, "To know who I am, I need to know what I feel. When I know what I feel, I know who I am."

Unfortunately our brains have the greatest difficulty separating what we feel from how we feel. The evidence for this comes from the last half-century of neuropsychological research, which has produced a large number of scientific models describing how:

  • We misremember events with an emotional component, yet because our 'memories' have produced specific pictures or sounds we are certain these events happened exactly that way.
  • We imagine stimuli that are not present, yet because our emotion-influenced beliefs are based on them, we employ 'reason' to argue that they are present.
  • We focus our attention on a limited number of stimuli, yet like to believe we have considered the whole event.
  • We make decisions on the basis of incomplete information, yet readily assert that they are 'correct'.
  • We make wild rushes to judgment about the motivation and behaviour of others, only to find later that we were - sometimes tragically - wrong.


As I'm not particularly emotionally articulate I asked my emotionally highly articulate partner to distinguish, locate, name and describe some of the strong sensations she feels. Here is her verbatim account ('C'), along with descriptions of similar feelings by others ('K', 'Q' and 'S'). The exercise is in two parts. You are invited to:

  1. Compare your experience of these emotions with the subjects' descriptions.
  2. Try to separate the original sensations and their location from the associations and interpretations the subjects make around them.



A tightening in my solar plexus. Fire. Power that needs to lash out. If it doesn't lash out it boils away or knots. My jaw gets a restricting kind of feeling, constriction of the muscles before the lash out, tension that grabs in my stomach and jaw, even in my eyes, I can feel them grow, they're not relaxed. And it's very basic, primitive, it's got to do with protection, you're under threat, your ideas are being sabotaged, your will is undermined, there's an obstacle in your way and you have to sort that out, and if you don't it has to be sublimated and just festers.


My voice gets louder, harder, sharper. My jaw becomes more fixed. Clenching. My internal organs are being squeezed. A sense of wanting to attack.


I feel neanderthal. I feel like my forehead and neck get smaller and shorter. My face gets rigid. I inflate my chest and don't let it go.

'Excitement' or 'Joy'


('Excitement') A bubbling feeling in the solar plexus, a fast feeling. It's got energy, it's dynamic, it moves so I want to take action, to be involved. It's a whole body thing. A sacral, sexual, faster, lighter feeling that includes all of myself, and I can feel my pulse get faster, and my heart beats faster. I breathe faster. There's a lifting up of my eyebrows and my mouth. I'm ready to engage. And I want to move my whole body with excitement.


('Excitement') Constant waves, it's an all over thing. Almost a colour - yellow or red. A warm, rosy glow.


('Joy') Being able to breathe very clearly. A sort of tingling on the outside of my body. My muscles feel ready -- I could spring up in the air. A sense inside like a gentle bubbling, and as the bubbles rise and break -- ting -- I want to skip.



Is in my chest. Like a restricting. You breathe in and hold your breath. It's a suspension. When I'm afraid I stop, I don't breathe, in order to gauge the action I should take. This is survival stuff. You reduce your movement, reduce your sound. I can feel my eyes getting bigger to see the threat. I can feel my pupils getting bigger in order to assess it, and I'm ready to take action.


A tightening like a muscular tensing in my ribcage. I start to breathe higher in my chest, I have a sense of being stuck in the moment, and as my attention comes into my head I start thinking, "Oh god, what shall I do?" and I freeze and wait.


My fear is of not being listened to and taken seriously, of not being valued. I feel it in my eyes. It's an observation of others' reactions. A thoughtfulness that distracts me from being confident. A sense of sinking in my chest. Breathlessness. Heaviness.


There are similarities in this sample. Although subjects were asked to identify the sensations they experienced, they found it a challenge to distinguish these from the constructions and appraisals they related to their sensations (eg "This is survival stuff" ). All identified the chest as the seat of 'Fear', and the whole body as the location of 'Joy'. Other similarities highlight anomalies: a 'tightening' sensation, and 'faster' or 'higher' breathing, were linked to both 'Joy' and 'Fear', two quite different emotions. And although K's 'clench' may sound much the same as C's 'grab', it's apparent that the words represented quite different experiences of the 'Anger' both felt.

I asked subjects to identify the emotions they experienced commonly, and I presupposed that a collective list of six or seven would emerge. I had to change my mind when the first set of people I interviewed came up with varying lists of between five and twelve, and between them identified twenty-six different, diverse and distinguishable feelings:

'Acceptance', 'Annoyance', 'Anger', 'Appreciation', 'Compassion', 'Confidence', 'Contentment', 'Creativity', 'Curiosity', 'Depression', 'Excitement', 'Fear', 'Frustration', 'Gratitude', 'Guilt', 'Happiness', 'Helplessness', 'Interest', 'Jealousy', 'Joy', 'Love', 'OK-ness', 'Pleasure', 'Resentment', 'Sadness', 'Shame'.

I'm sure you'll be able to add your own to the list. You can argue the toss about which of these may be 'basic' emotions, and which may be variants or compounds, but it's clear to me now that however you separate out your feelings, it doesn't matter a jot what you call them or how many you have. The important thing is that they are uniquely yours. As you identify them, so they identify you.


Since Darwin ('The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals', 1872) first propounded a theory of universal emotions finding their expression in overt behaviour, academic researchers have attempted to generalize this area of subjective experience and reduce it to universal patterns.

Tompkins (1962) and Izard (1977) proposed 8 basic emotions, or 'innate patterned responses controlled by hardwired brain systems'. These were Suprise, Interest, Joy, Rage, Fear, Disgust, Shame, Anguish. Izard described anxiety as the combination of fear with any two from guilt, interest, shame, anger and distress.

Plutchik (1980) came up with a different 8: Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Anticipation, Joy, Acceptance, Fear, Surprise, which he arranged in eighths of a circle, proposing that further 'non-basic, psychosocially derived, cognitively constructed, uniquely human' emotions would derive from a mix of adjacent eighths (eg joy + acceptance = friendliness or love, fear + surprise = alarm).

Panksepp (1982) used the behavioural consequences of the electrical stimulation of areas of rat brain to identify 4 basic emotions or 'response patterns': Panic, Rage, Fear, Expectancy . Expectancy is an interesting one, although in laboratory animals anticipating another application of electricity that had previously produced Panic, Rage and Fear it's much as you might expect.

Damasio (1994) proposed three varieties of feeling: 5 universal emotions (Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust) , which he called our 'combined perception of certain bodily states with whatever thoughts they are juxtaposed to'; a number of variations fine-tuned by our individual experience of these 5, which are 'subtler shades of cognitive states connected to subtler variations of emotional body states' (eg Euphoria and Ecstasy as variations on Happiness ); and minimal background feelings originating in the body alone - eg the feeling of life , or a sense of just being - states neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

Of course there can be advantage in an ability to extrapolate the general from the specific, as these researchers have done. Once upon a time it helped us avoid any large creature with sharp teeth that was making its way towards us. But when it comes to individuals, generalizing has its limitations. From a therapeutic point of view, it is the idiosyncrasy of the clients' subjective experience that defines them uniquely, and is the key to them changing their subjective experience.

Figure 3 compares the findings of the 5 researchers above with the subjective experience of 4 volunteers.

Identifying Emotions table

One thing my (limited) research confirms is the point about identity: the sum of our emotions is a summary of ourselves. You can check this by compiling your own list. To what extent does it mirror who you are?

If emotions are person-specific, and no-one agrees a collective list, what most modern theories have in common is agreement on the underlying structure of emotion, and this forms the core of this paper: instigating stimuli (AROUSAL); physiological correlates (SENSATION); physical coherence (CONSTRUCTION); cognitive evaluation (APPRAISAL); and motivational impulse (VOLITION).


  1. What sensations are you aware of at the moment? Try not to interpret what you are experiencing. Locate and label the direct physiological stimuli you sense, and do your best to describe them in sensory-specific language. What is your body awareness?
  2. Consider what associations you have to these sensations.
  3. What do these sensations and their associations 'mean' to you?

I can, with some difficulty, distinguish these three levels of internal event. 4

(1) Physical sensations. A sense of the weight of my body in the chair, of my hands moving as I type, some kind of slight gnawing in my stomach, a crick in one side of the neck, and an unsettled sense, difficult to locate and describe, that's probably in my head, heart and gut. (Not all in sensory-specific language, you will note, but I'm doing my best.)

(2) Body-mind associations and constructions. I'm convinced that the 'gnawing' is the onset of 'hunger', a familiar association. The 'crick' I link to poor posture. The 'unsettled' to some kind of feeling of restlessness and uncertainty.

(3) Mind evaluations and appraisals. The idea of hunger induces 'anxiety': when am I going to eat? The idea of poor posture brings further anxiety, this time about fitness, so I experience the crick as an 'ache'. I evaluate restlessness and uncertainty in terms of the 'curiosity' and 'excitement' I feel about what I am writing about. And also to what I recognize as 'annoyance' at the noises other people around me are making as they prepare to go out. This prompts feelings of 'guilt', followed by 'love' and 'appreciation' as I am reminded of the needs of those making the noises (my wife and son), and of the benefits that accrue to me from my relationships with them.

Even in my relatively neutral emotional state it is evident there is a lot going on in there. No wonder it can feel like a confusion of internal events when things are really shaken or stirred.


My anxiety, curiosity and guilt are thoughts as much as feelings. We shall say more about how the mind does construction and appraisal in Parts 3 and 4. Meanwhile how can I be certain that my feelings are constructs of the mind? Even my neck-ache? Isn't pain a purely physical phenomenon?

If I compare the ache in my neck with a similar ache in my legs after a long walk, I am aware of an entirely different experience. I evaluate one as 'unhealthy', because I associate it with poor posture, and the other as 'healthy', because I associate it with good exercise. So I experience the unhealthy sensation in my neck as 'painful' (prompting an emotion of 'anxiety'), and the healthy sensation in my legs as 'pleasurable' (prompting an emotion of 'happiness').

If similar sensations can engender emotions as radically dissimilar as 'anxiety' and 'happiness', it can only be because my associations with and appraisals of the sensations - my unconscious and conscious thoughts about them - have become the sensations themselves. 'Anxiety' is - characterizes - is indelibly associated with - my aching neck; 'happiness' with my aching legs. Emotions, after all, are "just another form of cognition".5

In the examples earlier you may have noticed something about the language subjects used to describe their sensations. Similes, analogies and figures of speech cropped up/popped up/came crawling out of the woodwork everywhere. In describing my own body awareness I tried to keep to neutral language, but couldn't help using words like gnawing, crick, unsettled . Metaphors like these - and the bubbling, boils, waves and knots of other people's descriptions - are signposts to the larger landscape of unconscious experience. Less obvious but just as metaphorical were C's restricting; an obstacle in your way; it moves so I want to take action . We have even seen that the simple words we use for emotions themselves - 'Sadness', 'Anger', 'Joy' - are not simple at all, but 'omnibus' concepts that carry a variety of individual experience.

"I was literally beside myself with joy."
Cartoon 3.
Emotion as Metaphor

Metaphor (Greek meta = beyond + phora = carrier) is a higher order container with the capacity for holding a great deal more emotional experience than an impartial description of their related sensations. Indeed it may be impossible to talk about feelings in any depth without moving into metaphor. As we sort through the internal confusion of body-mind events it's as if our minds have to ask themselves, what in my unconscious is this experience like?

Kruger and Merlevede describe emotion as "unspeakable deep level structure." 6 Given that we have many more emotional experiences than descriptions for them, we have little choice but to fish around in the depths of our unconscious for recognizable, speakable, isomorphic [alike-structure] constructs that already exist. Thus metaphor becomes the first language of feeling. A carrier of multiple messages from the otherwise unspeakably deep levels of our subjective experience.

Happy as a lark. Scared stiff. Down in the dumps . Expressions like these are not chosen arbitrarily. "We not only describe our feelings in metaphor," say Lawley and Tompkins in Metaphors in Mind , "we think and make sense of them through metaphor, and we behave in ways that are consistent with our metaphors."

A feeling of 'depression' may be very difficult for a client to discuss analytically or abstractly with a therapist. What happens if the therapist questions the client in a different kind of way?

And whereabouts is 'depression'?

Behind my forehead and about an inch in.

And 'depression' behind your forehead and about an inch in is like what?

It's like a great wave of blackness.

What kind of blackness?

The sort from a night sky at sea without stars. If I could find one star it would be less intense.

And can you find one star?

When I do I'll see light at the end of the tunnel.

What kind of light?

And so on. 7 Every feeling has a unique construct. It will have a location in the metaphor landscape that exists within and around each of us. It will be 'like' something. And both 'like' and location will be ways into communicating with it.

Even if we talk in shared metaphor, we are never walking in the same landscape. 'Light at the end of the tunnel' is a phrase I've heard countless clients use at one time or other, yet every client's 'tunnel', their every 'light', their every 'end', their every way of perceiving their tunnel/light/end, their every sense of time in their tunnel, and its size, configuration and location in space, were different to every other client's.

This particularity of subjective experience has clear inferences for the way we as therapists orchestrate the therapeutic relationship as a whole. If we can minimize our contagion of the client's experience with our personal associations, interpretations and instructions, I believe we can maximize the client's capacities for self-directed healing and growth.


I'm feeling down in the dumps.

And you are feeling down in the dumps. And when you are feeling down in the dumps, what kind of dumps is that dumps you are down in?

It's like a hole full of rubbish.

And a hole full of rubbish. And when a hole full of rubbish, where could that rubbish come from?

Other people throwing it in.

And other people throwing it in. And when other people throwing it in, what kind of other people?

People I'm scared of, and I let them dump their rubbish on me.

And people you're scared of, and you let them dump their rubbish on you. And when you let people you're scared of dump their rubbish on you, what happens next?

I know they're only dumping it on me because I just happen to be in the dump, so I realize I have to climb out.

And can you (etc) ...?

The Clean Language of the therapist does not address the client directly. It addresses client information as coded in the metaphor. This information will be released as the client begins to make sense of their construction of a unique and otherwise unspeakable feeling; and to find a (metaphorical and experiential) way out. 8


  1. Identify a number of your key emotions. Name them what you will.
  2. Separate as far as you can the original sensations from your subsequent constructions and appraisals.
  3. What other associations can you make to these same sensations?
  4. Imagine having the sensations without the associations. What would it be like to think, 'Oh, that's a heaviness in the gut, or a lightness in the heart...full stop'?

A blueprint for the Construction of Emotion will be drawn up in Part 3.

© 2002 Philip Harland

Thanks to those who talked about their feelings, and to Penny Tompkins and James Lawley who thought about them.


1 'Emotion' comes from the Latin emovere : to move, excite, stir up, agitate.

2 A feeling could also be defined as the 'emergent property' of the 5 inter-related parts of the structure working together.

3 A fuller lexicon of the principal terms - cognition, emotion, feeling , sensation, mood, state - is in Part 1. There is currently no consensus among neuro-scientists and philosophers about what emotions 'are'. Antonio Damasio (see References ) describes emotions as ' basic bio-regulatory reactions', a collection of chemical and neural responses that play a regulatory role in our neuro-physiology and constitute a substrate, or base, for feelings, which are our mental experience of the changes ensuing in body and brain. This may be a useful distinction for academics studying the phenomena at cellular or microcircuit level to make, but here the terms emotion and feeling are used in their colloquial sense - interchangeably.

4 See also Michael Hall on 'Meta-states', or states about states, where (1) is the sensation, (2) the feeling/cognition about the sensation, and (3) the feeling/cognition about the feeling/cognition.

5 Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error. For a detailed appraisal of evolutionarily determined 'emotional processing' compared to 'cognitive processing' or 'mere thoughts' see Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. (References at end).

6 Framing Emotional Intelligence, Rapport 54, Winter 2001

7 More about Clean Language questioning in articles by Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Philip Harland in previous editions of Rapport, or at, or in Lawley and Tompkins' Metaphors in Mind.

8 Part 2 of Resolving Problem Patterns (Rapport 50 Winter 2000, or, has an analysis of what happens - reassignment/ rearrangement/translation/transformation - when information in the metaphor is released.

References - see part 5.

First published in Rapport, journal of the Association for NLP (UK), Issue 58, Winter 2002
Emotion and Cognition in Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy
Part 3 of a 5-part paper by Philip Harland

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

I think, therefore I am.
We are, and then we think.
DAMASIO (1994)

Muriel & George Cartoon

Emotions Don't Just Happen

If I were to ask you to spend a few moments thinking of, say, your lover ... your mortgage ... a swarm of killer bees ... and Wolverhampton Wanderers football club ... it is likely you would undergo a range of imperceptible but nonetheless measurable physiological changes to your breathing,heart rate and galvanic skin response related to a variety of emotions from joy to indifference, and all within a very short space of time. This is remarkable, because I only invited you to think about these things, not to have any feelings about them. What then is the sameness of feeling and thinking, emotion and cognition, and what are the differences between them?
Head & Heart Cartoon





The answers lie in the way our brains construct experience, and this is what this article is about. Emotions, cognitions, beliefs and imaginings don't just happen. Nor do they originate in consciousness, as many people suppose. The more we can learn about the organization of these largely unconscious events the better we can understand, enjoy and adjust our emotional responses, enhance our emotional intelligence, and facilitate our clients to enhance theirs (if they so wish).

Emotional Conditioning

The brain is the body's captive audience. Antonio Damasio

Children who experience repeated reminders of their worth tend to grow up feeling secure in themselves. Reiteration changes the brain, as those who rehearse NLP anchoring for state control will know. And the intensity of the experience reinforces the change. People who undergo repeated physical, sexual or mental abuse as children may suffer a similar kind of brain damage to victims of accidents or the trauma of war. If the pre-frontal lobes associated with motivation, judgment and impulse control have developed abnormally through traumatic experience, even minor events can trigger massive reactions of violence, anger or phobia. The trauma does not have to be direct or even discernible.

In brains already programmed for prejudice the circuits can be strengthened further by every massacre, every conflict over housing or land, [every] mass media promotion of stereotypes ... whole political systems are constructed to shape the most primitive emotional reactions in the brains of their constituents. Ian Robertson

I anticipate a time when it is everyone's social responsibility to understand how these kinds of psychological and political conditioning can happen. Conditioned responses are not only a consequence of our need to adapt to severe circumstance, they are a fact of everyday life. You could say that all our emotionsare conditioned -- by evolution, observation and social interaction. It's just that some of them give us more trouble than others.

This article has three sections applicable to the construction of every kind of feeling:

Novel and Conditioned
Direct and Indirect
Felt and Interpreted

Novel and Conditioned

The sensory inputs we receive every moment of our lives include 'novel stimuli' from external events -- what Goleman calls 'raw physical signals' - and 'conditioned stimuli' (learned triggers) from internal events. 1 When Pavlov's dog first heard the bell the stimulus was novel and unconditioned. As the dog learned to associate the bell with the appearance of food, the sound created a conditioned stimulus that itself could prompt the salivating response.


Stage 1


neural pathways


Input from external 'novel stimuli' and internal 'conditioned stimuli' ...

Somatosensory reception by Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (external & internal), Olfactory and Gustatory receptor systems ...

Sensory receptors translate this input into the language of the brain and transmit their signals to a complex two-lobe inner structure of the brain called the thalamus (Greek 'inner chamber'):

Stage 2


neural pathways


Signals from
sensory receptors ...
feed direct to
'relay centre'


So far, so straightforward. Now comes the remarkable part.

Direct and Indirect

Our knowledge of what happens next has been revolutionized by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux's research, which has considerable implications for psychotherapy, and in particular for experiential constructivist methodologies. LeDoux was the first to reveal the means by which the thalamus, acting as a kind of relay centre, releases two sets of sensory projections:

Stage 3


neural pathways


Two sets of signals
released thalamus
on two separate routes ...


The first set takes a fast track from the thalamus direct to the amygdala (Greek 'almond'), the brain's 'emotional processor', where the signals will arrive before the rest find their way to the neo-cortex, or 'thinking brain'. The working of this almond-shaped mass of neurons in the temporal lobes, more properly known as the amygdaloid complex (there is one amygdala in each hemisphere), means that emotional responses begin to manifest before the higher brain centres involved in thinking, reasoning and consciousness are engaged.

Although each step on the neural pathway is represented in this diagram as having a linear connection to the next, remember this is a systemic, recursive process. The various parts of the brain are not just involved once, but are re-involved throughout.

Stage 3a


neural pathways


Direct rudimentary signals to amygala for 'emotional processing'...


prompting autonomic physiological responses -- hormonal, cardiovascular, motor, gastro-enteric ...


which send 'preparedness' signals ('edginess', increased heart-rate, raised blood pressure, muscle tension, etc) ...

To put it another way, we feel before we think. 2 The amygdala has been called the storehouse of 'old brain'/archetypal/innate memory, and its early warning system prepares the body to respond via a rudimentary representation of the incoming stimuli before we fully know what we are responding to. It pre-empts the need for thinking what to do when any time saved can make the difference between life and death.

Under the coarse logic of evolutionary survival, danger should not have to be constantly relearned. Once bitten, twice shy. Ian Robertson

It takes about 7 milliseconds for these elementary signals to transmit to the thalamus, and a few milliseconds more for the thalamus to relay them to the amygdala. Only a few thousandths of a seconds -- less than a blink -- for our bodies to begin to react to that noise in the forest as if it were a bear. Or to that elbow in the ribs on the playing field as if it were a real threat to survival.

Every millisecond of our lives our physical and mental state is in flux as we adapt to the world. We relax or tense. Our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, perspiration response and a dozen other physiological measures change - activity that mirrors fleeting shifts in the balance of alerting and quietening neurotransmitters in the brain. Only the more extreme of these instinctive responses will normally be noticeable, but many of the subtler 'micro-emotions' that flit across the face or are expressed by the involuntary twitch of a muscle in a finger or a foot can be tracked by a trained therapist in the split second immediately after a question has been asked (often before the question has been completed), and just before it has been fully appraised by the client.

The movements of expression...reveal the thoughts and intentions of others more truly than do words. Charles Darwin

Though you may have to look carefully. Social psychologist Paul Ekman (1980) videoed Japanese subjects watching an emotionally arousing film in the knowledge that they were being recorded, and their expressions hardly varied. Slow-motion analysis of the videotape showed their smiles and polite expressions superimposed on fleeting, prior-occurring facial movements, which, according to Ekman, were their basic emotions 'leaking through'. 3

As basic fast-track signals are relayed to the amygdala, a more complete set is being transmitted to the sensory cortices and the neo-cortex ('new-brain'/explicit memory) for cerebral processing.

Stage 3b


neural pathways


Indirect fuller signals relayed from thalamus to create neural codings of the stimuli in the sensory cortices

[this is the 'machine code' of NLP's VAKOG pictures, sounds, feelings etc that we represent in metaphor on our internal 'screens']

Thalamic signals processed in 'memory': are the signals familiar? what do they relate to / link to / prompt?

Releasing 'significance hypothesis' signals -- could be this, could be that ...

Every neural circuit adds time. It takes this cortical set of signals significantly longer -- perhaps milliseconds -- to find its way through the cerebral cortex to prompt the higher level reasoning which reminds us that the bear in the woods could equally be a squirrel. Or the elbow from the opposing full back understandable over-enthusiasm.

By a trick of perception -- spot the milliseconds difference -- the shorter emotional trip and the longer cognitive trip will seem to be synchronized. We wake already tense, heart thumping, at that bump in the night before we know what caused it, yet the conviction that the cat fell off the mantelpiece may already be present as we wake -- whether or not we have a cat.

Conditioned fears produce conditioned responses. Repeated life events produce conditioned responses. Indeed, conditioned learning can occur after a single unconditioned stimulus/response pairing if the pairing is strong enough. Robertson describes experiments in which photographs of faces were presented to volunteers at the same time as an unpleasant noise. Later the faces were re-presented in silence subliminally (so quickly they could not be seen consciously), and brain-scan imaging indicated activity in the amygdala every time. The inescapable conclusion was that the emotional centres of the subjects' brains were reacting to unpleasant associations from the past of which their conscious minds remained unaware. Scientific confirmation of a phenomenon that psychotherapists see at work every week.

Robertson's subliminal experiments involved subjects who had access to a very recent explicit memory which would have been relatively 'clean'. We may need to remind ourselves that recollection can be severely and innocently corrupted from a lifetime of linking contemporary goals, beliefs and needs to past behaviours, emotions and associations. With the best will in the world a client may come up with a highly inaccurate or even fictitious scene from the past (cf. 'false memory syndrome'). Memory is always a (re)construction, never a replay. One of David Grove's great contributions to the practice of psychotherapy has been teaching us how to work with symbolic rather than cognitive recollection: to treat all client information as a metaphor for what is really going on in the unconscious. Metaphor, as Grove has said, mediates the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind. 4

During the appraisal stage cerebral 'significance' signals are assessed in combination with physiological 'preparedness' signals.

Stage 4




and cognitive
evaluated for
their relative
potential ...

What emerges is neither an emotion nor a cognition, but both in combination -- a product of the continuous monitoring of the body during the cognitive process incorporated into the continuous monitoring of the brain during the emotional process. An 'emo~cognition' 5 or a 'feeling~thought', perhaps. So much for our romantic myths of 'abstract' thought and 'pure' feeling. Damasio describes the organism interacting with the environment as an ensemble, and the interaction being neither of the body alone nor the brain alone. 'Mind and body operate as one system' has always been a key NLP presupposition. Now we have the scientific proof: the mind is embodied as much as the body is embrained. 6

Felt and Interpreted

Volition -- the impulse to act on our emotions -- comes from the resulting 'felt preferences' (pleasant or unpleasant) and 'action preferences' (towards or away from) combining with and influencing each other. Faintly or noticeably -- but without exception very rapidly -- our bodies react to events with an orienting or defensive reflex, and with 'lighter' or 'heavier' sensations.

Stage 5




Body-mind preferences formed: pleasant or unpleasant; towards or away from ...




The feeling-thought is 'felt' ...

These volitional signals (which may have only small differences between them at this stage -- the felt tendency is already producing micro-actions of muscle contraction, blood flow, etc) feed back to the sensory cortices proprioceptively to become further input for the organism as it primes itself to take action. Only a moment later will we interpret and label the experience as a whole, stages 1 to 5, as 'joy','fear', 'anger' and so on.

Stage 6




The feeling-thought expressed, interpreted, labelled ...

In the instant after volition and before action, the structure provides a moment of choice. This moment may not always be well-defined, but does exist. We will consider how to make more of it, and other moments both conscious and pre-conscious, in a later article.


Amygdala and cerebral cortex are interactive parts of the same neurological system, yet it is a physical reality of the brain that there are many more connections from the amygdala to the cortex than the other way round. No single fact about our neurophysiology, says Robertson, is more relevant to explaining war, conflict or environmental recklessness in the human race. While it is certainly possible for our higher-brain centres to influence the wilder excesses of our feelings, it often takes a heck of an effort to keep reason afloat.

LeDoux suggests that this asymmetry between amygdala and cortex means that the process of psychoanalysis will always be a prolonged one, because the aim of psychoanalysis is for the cortex to gain control over the amygdala. I believe the same applies to all psychotherapies that depend on a client's cognitive understanding of their unconscious emotional processes for change to take effect. At the mental health charity Mind I worked with several cognitively unsophisticated clients who had been turned down for psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural therapy because they had been assessed as having limited insight into themselves. Yet they were able to respond to outcome-oriented Clean Language counselling because this works at whatever level of emo-cognitive constructs a client is able, or chooses, to access.

56-year old Janet's first words to me were: "I feel worn out since my mother died and I don't want to die before my 57th birthday". In order to feel better she needed "someone to talk to, a tidier house and being able to dance again". To dance again her "feet needed to feel better".

[In the following transcript the full Clean Language syntax is condensed.]

And what kind of feet are those feet that need to feel better?

They're worried feet.

And what kind of feet were those feet before they were worried?

They used to dance a lot.

And where could feet that used to dance a lot come from?

I must have got them from my mother and father, they liked dancing and walking.

And where could a mother and father who liked dancing and walking come from?

We used to go on holidays at the Holiday Fellowship.

And where could Holiday Fellowship come from?

From God.

What kind of God?

A caring God.

And that's a caring God like what?

Like my cat.

And what kind of cat is my cat?

[Visibly softens] Very nice. Very relaxed. I love it.

And would very nice very relaxed I love it cat be interested in going to worried feet?

[Smiles] Maybe. [One foot starts to rub against the other]

And what happens when very nice cat goes to worried feet?

It massages it.

And when it massages it then what happens?

I'm doing it to myself.

And then what happens?

My feet feel better.


Clean Language helped this client self-model her feelings, thoughts, beliefs as symbolic constructs ('worried feet', 'caring God like my cat', etc), which allowed her to access and explore them at the levels of unconscious Sensation and Construction without the need for cognitive Appraisal.

In Part 4 we shall move to the appraisal stage of emotion~cognition and inquire further into the workings of what we have no choice but to use for the purpose: our unique and original, tangled and extravagant, ingenious and amazing brains.

© 2002 Philip Harland


1 I use 'external' and 'internal' here in the sense of our perception of events as originating outside or inside the body. Our representation of events, whatever their origin, is by this definition'internal'. For the system as a whole, of course, space is neither 'external' nor 'internal'.

2 The direct route requires the signals to cross only a single synapse [Goleman reporting LeDoux's research], which may well be why these signals alone cannot support fine distinctions -- first glimpse of a twisted shape on the ground may prompt physiological reactions to 'snake', but a second later, having scrolled through the cortical options, we can see 'dead twig'. Signals from the olfactory receptors ('smell') are a special case. Their survival role in determining what was edible or toxic, allowing food which had led to sickness to be avoided next time, gives them a direct route to the cerebral cortex.

3 In NLP the perception of subtle physiological distinctions is called 'sensory acuity', though the phrase is often used loosely and may have lost some of its original sharpness. 'Calibration' is noticing patterns to these distinctions over time in a particular individual. The study of unconscious micro-emotions is a current research project. Are there precise timings of the progress of signals through each stage of the emo-cognitive process? Is it possible for amygdala-biased signals to reach and prime the cerebral cortex before it receives its neutral thalamic set? If so, this would put notions of the purity of 'rational thought' even further into question.

4 See References for more on Therapeutic Metaphor and Symbolic Modelling.

5 'Cogmotion' would be a mechanistic alternative.

6 Susan Greenfield in The Private Life of the Brain argues that it is this iteration between body and brain -- their function in concert -- that generates (is) consciousness itself.


James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, Carol Thompson for their creativity and attention to detail.

Let my heart be wise. It is the gods' best gift.
References - see part 5.

Published in Suppose, journal of the Canadian Association of NLP July 2004.
An earlier version first published in Rapport, journal of the UK Association of NLP (UK), Issue 59, Spring 2003
Emotion and Cognition in Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy
Part 4 of a 5-part paper by Philip Harland

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Muriel & George Cartoon
Love is ... an emo~cognition.

A woman drops her purse in the High Street, and stoops to pick it up. Following behind her is a young man. He stops. Not to help her, not to steal the purse, but to slap her bottom. It is an impulsive act. He is immediately contrite. For most people the thought of slapping the woman's bottom, had it occurred at all, would have been a passing fragment of an idea among the hundreds which go through the brain every moment. There would have been little chance of the idea being put into action because the feeling that prompted it would have been appraised, and any desire to act on it suppressed, in a fraction of a second. But a few months ago the young man was the passenger in a car driven by a drunken friend, and there was an impact accident in which the frontal lobes of his brain were damaged.

There have been countless studies of victims of this kind of injury which show it leading to radical personality change: typically from thoughtful and mature to impulsive and erratic. When the frontal lobe networks responsible for judgment and impulse control are disrupted, it is the appraisal stage of emo~cognitive processing that is most affected. This article has three sections:

This article has three sections:

  • Feelings Tell Us How We Are Doing. A note on conscious and unconscious appraisal. The more understanding we have of the unconscious part, the better we'll be able to manage the conscious part.
  • Reason Is Nowhere Pure. An analysis of the crucial components of appraisal - the involvement and make-up of memory, and the importance of individual belief systems.
  • Fear Has The Largest Eyes Of All. How appraisal fits into the brain's construction of the core emotion in psychopathology, fear.
"Feelings tell us how we are doing." Joseph Schwartz

Give Bandler and Grinder their due. They were thirty years ahead of their time in saying that experience is constructed unconsciously. Science is beginning to prove the point, but we're still having to remind each other.

Appraisal is the fourth of the five stages in the construction of emo~cognition, and one of the most sophisticated, convoluted and potentially misleading functions of the human brain. Most of us would like to think of appraisal as a rational activity -- we experience an emotion one way, and may then look at it objectively in another -- but 'pure intellect' and 'pure emotion' are what Alfred Korzybski called structural fictions: they do not exist. They are inextricably mixed in the crucible of the unconscious. In this article I shall generally refer to the unconscious, or pre-conscious, parts of the process as Appraisal, and to the conscious parts as Re-appraisal. When both are in accord, all is well. When they contradict, as they often do, there is likely to be conflict.

Paul Griffiths 1 describes two 'levels' of appraisal:

"low-level evaluation of perceptual inputs driven only by simple features of the situation detected early in perceptual processing and relative to an urgent interpretation of the situation" I take this to be Damasio's 'low road' of sensory signalling, referred to in Part 3 of this paper as the 'direct' amygdala path. And

"higher level later evaluation that is relative to the non-urgent multiple concerns of the organism" (Damasio's 'high road', or what I call the 'indirect' cortical path).

'Higher level later' evaluation takes place both consciously and pre-consciously -- that is, out of awareness but available to consciousness on reflection. This would give each appraisal event three inter-related phases [Figure 1].

Phases of Appraisal

Brain systems are anything but linear, of course. The phases do not simply start at the top of the diagram and stop at the bottom. There is direct emotional input into the re-appraisal phase that prevents it going on forever [see the 'To Be or Not To Be' panel below], while some of the results of re-appraisal feed back to influence the earlier phases, and in turn become further input. It is a systemic, recursive loop. The process is always the same, but input and output are always different.

I want to concentrate here on the non-conscious phases of appraisal, as the brain receives the body's proprioceptive (internally produced and received) 'physiological readiness' signals -- the direct path ... assesses them in combination with the mind's cerebrally processed 'significance' signals that add idiosyncratic 'meaning' to feeling -- the indirect path ... to produce a mix of 'felt' and 'action' tendencies that make up our sense of volition, the impulse to act.

This is a byzantine journey, as we saw in Part 3. In a split-second the brain may receive billions of these signals activating many millions of neurons generating millions of firing patterns over a huge number of circuits across a variety of brain regions in a multi-associative process predisposed by genes and conditioned by life. No wonder we generalize, delete and distort so much as we process this (and so often get it wrong).

To be or not to be: Hamlet and the Recursivity Syndrome

Re-appraisal is the conscious evaluation of what might be the outcome of acting on our emo-cognitions. The nightmare of the 'rational' mind is attempting to evaluate the outcome of the outcome of the outcome in endless regress. Only an emotion can limit the limitless range of plausible consequences that would otherwise precede any decision to act. Even allowing the throw of a die to decide would depend on the emotion-influenced options we assigned to the numbers and the emotion-inspired will to act on the result. What finally motivated Hamlet out of analysis into action was his desire for revenge (resulting in murder and mayhem, unfortunately). Emotion and motivation have the same Latin root: movere, to move. Emotions move us, leading inevitably to the impulse to act, but also to the opportunity for re-appraisal. These final stages in the construction of emo-cognition will be considered in Part 5.

Feelings get us into appraisal. We can now see that feelings get us out of appraisal. Indeed, feelings depend on appraisal.[Figure 2]

The interval between actual events and our awareness of them may be as little as one-fifth of a second -- nowhere near long enough for us to separate our awareness of the structural stages (AROUSAL --> SENSATION --> CONSTRUCTION --> APPRAISAL) of a feeling without rigorous training and practice. Whether you experience a roller-coaster ride as joyful or dreadful depends on how you evaluate your expectations of the ride with your feelings about who is accompanying you, your need for control, and your judgment of the serious discrepancies between your experience of balance and bodily support on the ground, and balance and bodily support in the air. Love it or hate it? Only after your feelings have been through five stages of construction, including three phases of appraisal, will you know! 2

"Reason is nowhere pure." Antonio Damasio

Our brains have evolved to create an endless succession of (re)constructions of past events, pre-existing associations and conditioned responses in combination with present-day ('remembered present') beliefs, values, attitudes, needs and goals. It is this mix, this kettle of fish, this wild inextricable maze we call 'memory'. It is in no one place in the brain, but distributed throughout in what Damasio calls 'dispositional representations' or 'dormant firing potentialities'.

Memory is not a recording of things that happened, but a live event happening now. We put it to work riding roller-coasters as much as in taking exams or baking Yorkshire pudding, anything may prompt it, and it is intrinsic to the appraisal process. Belief and value systems have a pivotal importance in memory, and thus an incalculable influence on appraisal.

The philosopher A.C. Grayling suggests that almost all our emotions involve beliefs and values, or what some researchers call 'value structures' -- the memory's cluster of norms, goals, values and preferences. If I feel shame, says Grayling, it is because I believe I have done something that deserves contempt. If I feel compassion, it is because I believe that the object of my sympathy is suffering in a way that merits my concern.

Appraise comes from the Old French prisier: to price.

Evaluate comes from the Old French value: worth.

When we appraise or evaluate the constructs we make of our sensations we are simply pricing their worth to us. It isn't too difficult appraising the worth of a pleasant feeling. But where is the value in a painful feeling? [Figure 3]

Appraising Values

A client with a problem around forgiveness, say, may invest the value of compassion in a role model while denying it in themselves. The value is actually held by the client in the painful feeling that attends its denial.

"Fear has the largest eyes of all." Boris Pasternak

Those who suffer 'high anxiety', 'phobia', 'obsessive-compulsive disorder', 'panic attacks' or 'post-traumatic stress' -- or any one of a host of other conditions involving the fear response -- are honouring the value of survival of the organism in the face of perceived threat.

Those single inverted commas mark the neuro-linguistic trap that lies in wait for all facilitators and health professionals -- that of inadvertently contaminating the client's metaphors (unique description of symptoms) with our own (second-hand labels).

'Phobia', 'panic attack' etc may be handy containers for sorting the enormous miscellany of subjective emo~cognitive states that have their common origin in fear, but applying a generic label to an individual client, even once, may affect the client's beliefs about themselves and their mental state for evermore.

Manifestations of the fear response will usually have a pattern to their context, or their cause, or their construction, but the particulars of the pattern will be unique to each sufferer. LeDoux suggests a theory of panic attacks based on internal signals of heightened bodily arousal prompting the memory-inspired belief that a panic attack is occurring.

This belief is likely to be reinforced by a further belief in 'panic' as an abnormal state beyond one's control, and a belief in 'attack' as an unwarranted event of external origin. All contributing to an unconscious appraisal that what is occurring or about to occur is unsolicited, inevitable and unmanageable.

Interestingly, the word panic derives from Pan, the otherwise benign Greek god of the woods, whose sudden appearances were said to cause irrational fear. The sight of a snake or a spider, the feeling of an enclosed space with no escape route, a sudden loud noise -- almost anything provided it has been linked to a traumatic or life-threatening episode in the ancestral or biographical past -- may trigger reactions that overpower reasoned re-appraisal of the actual threat.

How then is the fear response constructed, and what clues may it contain to help us in assessing places for intervention, or in facilitating the client to self-model? [Figure 4] 3

Neuro-Physiology of Fear

Each stage of this construction (AROUSAL -- SENSATION -- CONSTRUCTION -- APPRAISAL -- VOLITION -- ACTION) is difficult to distinguish from the rest in the normal run of events, but is accessible in therapeutic process. The example that follows is from the Symbolic Modelling of a client using Clean Language. Clare is in her late 20's and for twelve years has been suffering from what she calls panic attacks. Her general practitioner has prescribed anti-depressants, which lighten her mood but haven't stalled the 'attacks' or improved her self-confidence.

I can't understand what's happening, because my mind is telling me I'm perfectly ok.
And when you can't understand what's happening, and your mind is telling you you're perfectly ok, what would you like to have happen?
I want to sort my head out, I want to feel normal.
[We spend some time developing this outcome: What kind of 'sort'? Is there anything else about 'normal'? etc]
And what happens just before you want to sort your head out?
I feel fearful, my heart is pounding, I can't catch my breath, I want desperately to get away and I can't move.
And just before you feel fearful [etc] ...?
Everything's fine, or at least, well no, it's not.

Clare is accessing the AROUSAL and SENSATION stages of the feeling. As she learns to 'slow time down' around the rapid onset of the attacks, she begins to get a sense of sequence and gradually a pattern takes shape: the panic response appears in every situation that she finds herself feeling~thinking:

This is supposed to be ok, but isn't.
And when this is supposed to be ok, but isn't, that's like what?
Like a frantic hamster in a cage who's trying to escape but can't.  

"The logic of the emotional mind is associative," says Daniel Goleman. "It takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality. That is why similes, metaphors and images speak directly to the emotional mind."4 The client is modelling her CONSTRUCTION of the feeling ('frantic hamster in a cage') through metaphor. She goes on to define the location of the metaphor's constituent symbols in space, to assign them a coding in time, and to discover their relationship to other symbols and to herself as perceiver:

4More about Clean Language, Metaphor and Symbolic Modelling in the References. David Grove's Clean Language is applicable to any facilitative situation but was specifically developed to support a client's modelling of self-generated metaphor. The Clean Language questions are in bold. The full syntax of the exchange is condensed here.

And where is frantic hamster in a cage?
Just there [points a metre in front of her].
And is there anything else about just there?
I'm in the kitchen with the hamster and the garden's just outside.
And how old could 'I' be in the kitchen and the garden's just outside?
Um, four or five.
And when um four or five in the kitchen what happens next?
[Pauses, then younger voice tone] I want to get away into the garden even though they'll be really angry!

Over the next sessions Clare explores the complete metaphor landscape of her anxiety, then suddenly shifts into cognitive APPRAISAL as she is reminded of an incident in childhood when she had been abused by a carer who was a friend of the family.

I felt helpless. I was trapped. I wanted desperately to escape, but I was supposed to stay.

She relates the child's helplessness to her panic responses as an adult. The feelings are the same: a pattern coded in the bind she has made for herself, that of wanting to escape but unable to.

However Clare now goes on to develop a symbolic resource -- she calls it "gold liquid" -- which she uses to convert the structure of her metaphor from fixed wheel in a cage to a flow-chart involving eddies of water and spirals of light. Not untypical of a self-generated resource -- idiosyncratic, imaginative, and somehow it works, in a way only its owner understands. This resource continues to develop and a few sessions later Clare reports:

"A week ago I had this weird epiphany thing. I could imagine these droplets of gold liquid going through my head. There used to be no movement, now I imagine this cycle thing going [hand makes circular repeating gesture] and I think, Ah, that's it! That's what it's like when my mind's working properly! I wrote and drew in my diary little gold droplets going round it like some sort of chemical. Now if I feel I'm about to panic and nothing's moving, I can think it and make it move."

Transforming a wheel going nowhere into a cycle lubricated by droplets of gold has gone hand in hand with transforming the quality of her experience from helplessness and depression to control and self-assurance. It was no accident that her original outcome, "To sort my head out", found its resolution in the symbolic mapping of events in her own brain. And gold liquid is a resource no therapist could have 'given' her. It was one she had to generate, appraise and evolve for herself.

The systems involved in emotional appraisal are directly involved in the control of emotional responses. In Part 5, the final article in this series, we will look at their part in enhancing emotional intelligence.

"Voici mon secret. Il est très simple. On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur."
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

© 2002, 2004 Philip Harland

1 Paul E Griffiths, Basic Emotions, Complex Emotions and Machiavellian Emotions, Conference Paper Kings College London 2002

2 If a client's metaphor for life were "a roller-coaster ride" or "a constant uphill struggle" and their outcome were to transform it into "a level playing field" or "a stroll in the park", the change in their metaphor landscape would be a significant measure of their re-appraisal of themselves.

3 Figure 4 develops The Construction of Emotion diagrams in Part 3. More about client self-modelling, and therapist prototype-modelling of the client's model, in James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, A Model of Musing, Rapport 57 Autumn 2002 and

Acknowledgments: James Lawley

References - see part 5.

Part 5 added May 2007

Emotion and Cognition in Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy
Part 5 of a 5-part paper by Philip Harland


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

What first motivated my research into emotion and cognition was a profound dissatisfaction at my knowledge of how people do feelings.  How do our brains construct these fundamental features of existence, and how do they relate structurally to thoughts? I know now that emotions are essential for reason to operate with depth and intelligence, and suggest that the process as a whole should really be called the construction of 'emo~cognition', in that the end result of these interlinked functions of the brain is their inseparable combination.  We can have no emotion without the mind pre-consciously appraising and labelling it (a cognitive process), and we can have no cognition without the body's prior involvement and influence (an emotional event).  Indeed, the brain is embodied as much as the body is embrained.

The fifth and final part of this paper considers Volition - what happens as a result of the four prior stages of emo~cognitive processing - and discusses ways in which facilitators can utilize their awareness of volition in working with clients.
Volition derives from the Latin volo: I wish, I will, and is usually (loosely) defined as the act of freely willing or resolving.  This is a little different to the meaning I ascribe to it here, which is the impulse to act - the last moment before action itself.

The article is in three parts:

 is free will ever voluntary?
somatic markers – micro-emotions - metaphor
deconditioning – reprogramming – transforming



and concludes with a note on emotional intelligence and the future.


Is free will ever voluntary?

“Most of our ‘thinking’ is ‘wishful’.”   Alfred Korzybski

We call the wave of energy transmitted from neuron to neuron in the brain an ‘electrical impulse’.  This relates neuro-linguistically to two everyday meanings of impulse: spontaneous inclination or desire (“a sudden impulse”); and considered inspiration or drive (“the creative impulse”).  Thus volition as the impulse to act may be involuntary or voluntary [Figure 1].


The mind is an amalgam of sensation and appraisal, with volition the result.  Volition has intention or inclination, and the outcome will be a conditioned response (reacting with apparently spontaneous anger to a perceived threat to survival, say); or a selected response (assessing the reality of the threat and controlling the reaction).  Selected responses are more than emotion-influenced, they are emotion-directed, even emotion-controlled.  The dotted lines in Figure 1 represent the out-of-awareness priming of voluntary process by prior involuntary events, rather like a root system conditions the growth and shape of a tree.

Because of this unconscious priming it is possible to say with some certainty that we can never make purely ‘rational’ choices, because this would mean rationalizing every possible outcome of an action, an impossible feat.  Only a feeling can limit the potentially infinite regress of reason.  And feelings, as we saw in Part 3, are products of the unconscious.

If the voluntary impulse of reason derives from every involuntary emotional process that precedes it, can ‘free will’ ever be freely arrived at?  To put it another way, do we make up our minds, or do our minds make themselves up?  None of our representations of self, control or intention originate in consciousness, so a self that experiences freedom of choice must be party to an elaborate self-deception.

Neuroscientists Halligan and Oakley1 state that in many respects the conscious self operates only as a monitor or recorder (or, I might add, reviewer) of events that occur in the unconscious.  They stress that consciousness happens too late in our neurophysiology to affect the outcomes of the unconscious mental processes that produce all our thoughts and feelings, and further, that everything experienced in consciousness has already been formed in the unconscious.


Somatic Markers   Micro-Emotions   Metaphor


“Basic emotions help manage actions in a rational way.”  Antonio Damasio

Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis calls upon the body’s entire system of somatic and visceral feedback as a relevance testing or biasing device to reduce the need for sifting through endless possibilities.  He describes it as a mechanism for arriving at the solution of a problem without reasoning toward it.  A kind of gut~brain feeling, or rational~intuition.

How do we form our personal intuitions?  I start from a presupposition that the organism seeks relative constancy and coherence in the face of changing external conditions (homeostasis), and is biased to avoid pain and seek pleasure.  According to Damasio, where the choice of a certain option leads to a certain outcome, and that outcome is followed by a pleasurable or painful body state, the brain acquires the hidden memory (or ‘dispositional representation’) of the experience: a non-inherited, subjective, involuntary association [Figure 2]. 

cartoon once upon a time

Re-exposure of the organism to the same option, or thinking about the same outcome, re-enacts the pleasurable or painful body state by re-activating the association, which serves as an involuntary (‘intuitive’) reminder of the outcome and heralds its likely – if by no means certain - reappearance [Figure 3]. 

Detecting somatic markers is not an infallible means of making ‘correct’, ‘appropriate’ or even ‘adaptive’ decisions, but a method of monitoring or assisting our subjective decision-making, a reminder that the responsibility we take for decisions is a deeply personal one, and an internal physiological check we can make to avoid the nightmare of not making decisions at all.  Provisos that apply to the facilitator at least as much as to the client.  A facilitator’s gut~brain feeling may prompt a decision about the next intervention, but only by keeping the intervention ‘clean’ can a facilitator be confident of not contaminating  the client’s response.  There is more about working with Clean Language later. 


“It comes through my body.”  Client

Emotional reactions show up in the musculature within a few thousandths of a second of the event that triggers them.  They arrive in the form of unconsciously-derived neuronal impulses to any muscle of the body as the body primes itself – just in case - to fight, flee or freeze. These  involuntary ‘micro-emotions’ are a special sub-set of the nonverbal cues (gesture, posture, breathing, lines of sight,2 etc.) that can be utilized by a facilitator to encourage the emergence of new information for the client. Reading them is an integral part of a facilitator’s attending and reflecting skills.

The exchange that follows is taken from a Clean Language Practise Group exercise.3 Note the lightning speed with which movements of this kind can manifest.  The client’s body may react to a word from the facilitator well before the question is completed or the client’s mind has consciously appraised it. 

In this extract the full Clean Language syntax has been condensed.  Non-verbal events [noted in brackets] happen concurrently with speech.

 Facilitator  And what would you like to have [client flinches almost imperceptibly] happen?
 I’m not sure.
 Facilitator  And what kind of [subtly mirrors flinch] I’m not sure could that be?
 Hm.  It comes through my body.
 Facilitator  And hm it comes through your body like [client: same micro-movement] what?
 Like a tornado.
 Facilitator  And when [subtly mirrors movement] like a tornado, what kind of tornado?
 [Blinks] It’s quite striking.
Indeed.   Tiny movements can be pointers to great events.  They can be easily missed, or dismissed, because they look no different to the succession of turns and twitches we make every moment we’re alive.  Some of them last no longer than one-twentieth of a second.  A facilitator waiting only for a
client’s verbal response, or thinking ahead to the next question, could well miss a trick or two, because the only time-space in which new information manifests and change shows with any certainty – with no possibility of the client repressing, avoiding or amending it - is this pre-conscious micro-moment.

This client’s ‘tornado’ is, of course, a metaphor of feeling. 


“I was in the grip of my emotions.”  Client

There is a great deal more to discover about feelings than is accessible from a client’s pre-conscious twitches or mindful retrospective thoughts about feelings.  An intuitive description of a need for emotional control, say (“I have to tame..”, “curb”, “battle with”, “I’m in the grip of..”), or a problem with emotional excess (“my feelings run riot”, “they boil over”, “I give myself up to..”), manifest in metaphor and suggest the presence of some kind of force or impulse in their construction.  How can this involuntary impulse be engaged to effect?  If we accept with Daniel Goleman that the logic of the emotional mind is associative – that it takes the representations of the reality it generates to be the same as that reality – then we can allow that the symbols, similes, metaphors and metonyms clients use to describe their feelings are just as they seem.  They may be taken quite literally. 

The use of client imagery in remedial work has a long history.  Ernest Rossi, in The Psychobiology of Mindbody Healing, describes Jung’s approach:

“When Jung’s patients became overwhelmed with emotion, he would sometimes have them draw a picture of their feelings.  Once the feelings were expressed in the form of imagery, the images could be encouraged to speak to one another.  As soon as a dialogue could take place, the patient was well embarked on the process of reconciling different aspects of his dissociated psyche.” 

The exercise below makes use of self-generated imagery as a creative tool in emotional management.4 It is a means of encouraging Jung’s ‘dialogue’ to take place ‘cleanly’, without the risk of contaminating client process through facilitator assumption, suggestion, or interpretation of meaning.


  • Invite Client to identify/select/find/generate a metaphor for when they are [eg] angry and act inappropriately as a result: “That is like what?”
  • Ask basic clean questions of the metaphor and the symbols that make up the metaphor: “What kind of [X] is that [X]?”  “Is there anything else about [X]?” Intention is not to seek change, but for Client to get more information about the metaphor as it is. 
  • Invite Client to map/draw Metaphor 1.

  • Invite Client to get a metaphor for how they would prefer to respond: “That is like what?”  Ask basic clean questions as step 1.  Client maps Metaphor 2.

  • Invite Client to consider Maps 1 & 2 by positioning them anywhere in the space and by placing themselves in relation to the maps.  Ask Client: “In the context of the metaphor, how can Metaphor 1 BECOME Metaphor 2?”  Facilitate with basic clean questions. 

  •  “What is the FIRST thing that needs to happen for Metaphor 1 to become Metaphor 2?”  Then: “What is the LAST thing that needs to happen?” 
  • [If appropriate]  Invite Client to draw a Metaphor that symbolizes the whole process of ‘becoming’.  Or to draw key ‘In-Betweens’; like the intermediate frames of an animated film, that will help Metaphor 1 become Metaphor 2.

  • “How will the information in the metaphor guide your behaviour next time you are in a similar situation?” 
  • “You can start getting used to being like Metaphor 2 by embodying its characteristics NOW.  What is your posture?”  “What do you feel?” “ Where is your focus of attention?”  “What do you say and how?”

Acknowledgments, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

Using Clean Language to facilitate feeling allows the facilitator to honour not only the client’s unconscious impulse, but also their experience of conscious, voluntary volition.


Deconditioning    Reprogramming   Transforming

“Reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended,
is a flame  that burns to its own destruction.”
   Khalil Gibran

How can our emotional intelligence be enhanced voluntarily as a result of understanding how we construct it involuntarily?  First we have to accept that we’re going to have painful or difficult feelings, whether we like it or not.  They come with being alive.  Second, we need to believe that our brains are not ‘hard-wired’ immutably, and may be changed.5 Third, we need to rely less on the cognitive reporting of feelings, because retrospective access to their cause or construction can be at best flimsy, and in any case, as we saw in Parts 3 and 4, the mind has no way of distinguishing technically between ‘feeling’ and ‘thought’ in the brain.

We have several alternatives for dealing with difficult feelings without having to think about them. Doing nothing (going through life on an emotional wing and a prayer) is a common enough option, and pretty much guarantees distress at some time of life. Suppression (sitting on or denying feelings) is generally accepted as being bad for the health. Body therapies (yoga, shiatsu, acupuncture, etc) and ‘Energy’ therapies (crystal twirling, dowsing, reiki, etc), have an integrative intention but leave most of the mind work to the caprice of the client. Spiritual therapies (shamanism, mysticism, animism, etc) take little account of the body and are generally fuzzy in their application.  And so on.

Three processes that utilize the systemic capacities of the body~mind for change to take effect are deconditioning, reprogramming and transforming therapies.

Deconditioning (or ‘extinction’) therapies are mainly employed for manifestations of the fear response – anxiety, phobia, compulsive disorder – and in essence consist of the gradual presentation of the learned trigger or conditioned stimulus without the worst case scenario reaction.  The client gradually gets the idea that things aren’t so bad after all.  They can be tricky to set up and stressful in their early stages, but in many cases with persistence seem to work.  However the unconscious origins of the pattern that prompted the problem remain unexplored, and it seems likely that its neuronal connections stay in place.  This may explain why phobic-like behavioural and emotional reactions can erupt spontaneously long after they have been ‘extinguished’. 

Recent research using brain imaging techniques confirms what neuro-linguistic and trance practitioners have known intuitively for years: that effective reprogramming changes the brain as much as drugs can.  New neuronal firings create new programmes, new programmes prompt the neurons to fire differently - a systemic effect based on the simple if still widely unacknowledged principle of the body~mind loop [Figure 4]:
Neuroscientist Ian Robertson offers a simple test of the body~mind interdependency: “By an act of will or whimsy we can decide to change the state of our brains this moment by choosing to summon some sweet memory into consciousness.” 6 A voluntary volitional act that some NLP practitioners call ‘meta-stating’ – superimposing or ‘layering’ a resource state on the problem state in the expectation that the primary state will take on new qualities or at least waste away.  Bob Bodenhamer invites us to try it out for ourselves in the moment: “If you experience fear, what happens if you become fearful of your fear?  You will become more fearful, maybe even paranoid.  The fear of the original fear multiplies the first state.  But, what if you accepted your fear, what happens?  The fear changes, doesn’t it?  And what happens if you apply faith, courage, compassion, understanding, etc to your fear?” 7

Anyone can conjure up a semblance of a feeling within the brain alone, and it will have much the same effect as a spontaneous body state.  Athletes improve performance through mind ‘rehearsal’.  Intuitive actors feel their way into a character’s thoughts.  Intellectual actors think their way into a character’s feelings.  Brain scans show that ‘thinking’ a body state is neurologically no different to having the state in action.

Change has a transforming effect when involuntary and voluntary knowing combine, when the organism functions, as Korzybski puts it, ‘as-a-whole’.  It is during this moment that vital information imprisoned in the problem pattern is released and the body~mind can be freed of its self-imposed shackles.  Below is an extract from an autogenic metaphor process, Symbolic Modelling, with a client in his 30s who came to therapy with what he described as an “overwhelming spider phobia”.  His case is unique, as all are, but illustrates how any emo~cognitive construct becomes accessible with Clean Language questioning.  The client’s process relates to the five phases of its construction:

    1  Arousal: his reporting of sensory input into his system.
    2  Sensation: his physiological responses to this arousal.
    3  Construction: the unconscious associations to these sensations that he
        makes from past events, present goals, etc.
    4  Appraisal: his internal assessment and labelling of these constructions.
    5  Volition: his impulse to act on this appraisal.
        And finally:
        Action: what he says and/or does as a result.

Of course clients are not in the habit of communicating their constructs in this convenient order.  A client’s awareness and communication of events (normally the facilitator’s first point of entry) will always lags behind the events themselves.  If you were to map this sequence across to a particular client, you would see that every statement or gesture they make is a report of these five events happening over and over again.  Every one of their feelings has gone through the initial three phases of arousal, sensation and construction.  Every metaphor they create is a compact account of the third and fourth phases, construction and appraisal.  Every tiny physiological shift is a signal of the fifth, volition.  And it is all happening in the moment.8

In the following extracts the Clean Language syntax of the facilitator has been condensed. The words of the client are verbatim.

It’s so overwhelming, I can’t be alone in the house with one.  I read somewhere that people on average eat eight spiders in a lifetime, and that wherever you are you’re never  more than three feet away from a spider. [Eyes widen] If I see one in the house I’m terrified.
 Facilitator  And with all that what would you like to have happen?
 To be able to relax.
 Facilitator  And when you are able to relax, then what happens?
 [Shoulders drop slightly] A sense of peace and balance.
 Facilitator  And when a sense of peace and balance, then what happens?
 Feeling honoured and cared for.
 Facilitator  What kind of honoured and cared for?
 [Slight frown] Loved for who you are and as you are.








At the next session the client brings a representation of some part of his construct in the form of a dream:

It was about a window covered in webs, and I was really small compared to the window.
 And how old could ‘I’ be that was really small compared to the window?
 [Younger voice tone]  Six or seven.  The webs were very dirty.
 What kind of dirty?
 Layers. Years of webs. But there was no over-riding panic when the hoover didn’t suck them up. [Pause] I could be quite fond of spiders. An odd thing to say, that.  It would be nice not having to kill them. But if I see one at home ...
 Facilitator And what happens just before you see one at home?
I’m feeling jumpy, scared.
 Facilitator Like what?
Like being lost in the forest.  A big old dark forest.  Like Hansel and Gretel left by their parents, who were upright moral citizens.
 Facilitator And what happens just before upright moral citizen parents left Hansel and Gretel?
[Pause]  They lost all their money, they couldn’t afford their children, but Hansel and Gretel kept finding their way back again ... [Recalls] ... our house being possessed, moving into a caravan, being sent to boarding school paid for by an aunt.  My mother tells me that me and my sister changed at that time. I had bad school reports, they were waved in my face. I was no good at exams.  I only remember one thing from my Latin; ‘puer in silva’, boy in the woods ...

He maps out a thick green forest with a house glimpsed through the trees in the distance.

What are you drawn to?
The house.  It’s light, warm, everyone is there, it’s a party.  I’m not wanted.  I’m scared and lonely. [Slight move back]  I keep my distance, like a lone wolf.
Facilitator What kind of lone wolf?
Client The sort who goes off for a long time and comes back.  [Long pause, then]  I took the boy’s hand, and smiled, and reassured him.




In his third session:

I kind of thought yesterday I don’t really have a problem with spiders and I don’t know what the fuss was about.  I’ve been thinking about whether the fear allows me to feel vulnerable and let other people sort out them out.  Home should be a place of happiness and sociability but my home wasn’t.  It was there I was fearful of spiders.
And what would you like to have happen now?
To go into the garden and get a spider and bring it into the house.

We go into the garden.  He allows a small spider to run over his hand.

I have never ever done that before.


He coaxes the spider into an empty jam jar and we return to the consulting room.  He keeps spider and jar close for the rest of the session.


Two weeks later, in what turns out to be his final session:

I’ve thought a lot about the phobia being some sort of displacement for needing other people.  I depended on my parents and I lost that when I was sent to boarding school.  Now I’m linking spiders to a need in me to be less alone, less alien.  I acknowledge spiders rather than avoid them.  I’m getting to know them more.  I’ve stopped thinking of spiders as alien.

And recently (two years after this work), he reports:

“I’ve been in contact with many small spiders in the last two years and I’m little bothered by them.  Instead of killing them or having someone dispose of them I generally leave them alone, though sometimes I speak to them.  A couple of  times I have needed to pick up a big house spider in a glass and put it outside.  Not a pleasant task, but possible.”

Somehow in his own special way the client has brought feeling and thought, involuntary and voluntary impulse, pre-conscious and conscious knowing together to create a different volition.  His “overwhelming fear” has transformed into “little bothered” without a single suggestion from the facilitator, and has generated a range of behavioural, emotional and cognitive choices.

CONCLUDING - for the time being

”You are not thinking, you are merely being logical.”
Niels Bohr to Albert Einstein

Emotional intelligence is simply learning to use emotion intelligently, and this happens when amygdala and cortex [see Parts 3 & 4] communicate well as one circuit.  At this stage of our evolution there are many more connections from the brain’s ‘emotional centre’ to its ‘rational centre’ than the other way round.  But we are not fixed entities.  Susan Greenfield suggests that as human emotional intelligence evolves and the pre-frontal cortex becomes more active, neuronal connectivity from the cortex to the amygdala will increase and even up the present imbalance. At the same time, the continuing survival value of the emotions as they cope with anything the world might throw at us will keep us from retreating into over-introspection: more grounded in the here and now, with greater self-awareness, healthier self-control, increased empathy with others, improved social skills and enhanced personal influence.

It is time to update the sentiment of the Greek poet who wrote, “Let my heart be wise, it is the gods’ best gift.” This is the kind of gift facilitators can help people give themselves.  Not only in the cause of self-fulfilment, but for the continued evolution of the brain and the continuing march of human destiny. 

© 2004 Philip Harland

Thanks for their helpful comments Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Carol Thompson


1 Peter Halligan and David Oakley, 'What do you mean when you talk about "yourself"?' New Scientist, 18 Nov 2000. Evidence of this impulse to act is always available, even if no action ensues. Only sensory acuity is needed to detect it.2 Grovian 'lines of sight'; have a symbolic, content-rich significance that distinguishes them from the systemic, content-free patterns of NLP 'eye accessing cues', see Lawley and Tompkins, Metaphors in Mind, p. 294.3 The facilitator was Caitlin Walker, the ‘client’ Clive Bach. See for more information on Clean Language.4 Exercise designed by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, adapted with permission for British Association of Anger Management trainings.5 There is a wealth of neurological research to support this. See LeDoux and Greenfield et al on the natural fluidity of the brain.6 Ian Robertson, Mind Sculpture. See References.7 From Bob Bodenhamer’s book review of Peter Young’s 'Understanding NLP', Rapport 54 Winter 2001. has more on ‘meta-state’ theory and practice.8 More on the momentary appearance and utilization of client information in Philip Harland, 'A Moment in Metaphor', Rapport 51 Spring 2001, and

References and Further Reading

  • Peter Afford, The Neuroscience of Therapy, The Psychotherapist Spring 2002.
  • Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau, The Emotional Hostage, Real People Press 1986.

    Antonio R Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Putnam's 1994; The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, Heineman 1999. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury 1996.

    Susan Greenfield, The Private Life of the Brain, Penguin 2001; (ed.) The Human Mind Explained, Cassell 1996.

    Richard L Gregory (ed.), The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Oxford University Press 1987.

    David Grove, Clean Language and Therapeutic Metaphor trainings, research, publications.

    L. Michael Hall, Meta-States, E.T. Publications 1995-2000.

    Bryony Lavery, Frozen, National Theatre 2002.

    James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling trainings, research, publications; Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, The Developing Company Press 2000;

    Joseph LeDoux, The Emotional Brain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998.

    Ian Robertson, Mind Sculpture: Unleashing Your Brain's Potential, Bantam 1999.

  • And the following papers presented at Emotion, Evolution and Rationality, an interdisciplinary conference hosted by the Philosophy Department, King's College London 2002:

Antonio Damasio, A Neurobiology for Emotion and Feeling

Ray Dolan, William James and Emotion Revisited

Dylan Evans, The Search Hypothesis of Emotions Paul Griffiths, Basic Emotions, Complex Emotions and Machiavellian Emotions Jim Hopkins and Christopher Badcock, Emotion versus Reason as a Genetic Conflict

Chandra Sripada and Stephen Stich, Evolution, Culture and Irrationality of the Emotions



Photo of Philip Harland Philip Harland is a neurolinguistic psychotherapist with a private practice in London, England. He has written many articles on Clean Language for professional journals and the internet. In 2009 Philip published the first book related to David Grove's last innovations, Emergent Knowledge, 'THE POWER OF SIX: A Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge'. You can order a copy from or


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