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As NLPers we know that the old phrase “stick’s and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt them” is wildly inaccurate. Indeed words – can cause people to kill and we see on the news every day, words can cause people to go to war and words can certainly “hurt you” .. as I am sure you have known first hand.

Or can they? Language is a very interesting thing. Most people who don’t study linguistics and indeed NLP will spend their entire life completely unaware of how trapped and restricted words can limit us from really communicating what is going on.

Words by themselves do not hurt you, nor do they cause wars, nor do they cause people to kill.

It is important that we correctly identify (as best as possible, or at least practical) what is going on when words SEEM to cause a specific response.

For example last year, there was a report on the news of a British woman (I believe) who was facing years in prison and possibly even death for ‘letting school children in the Abu Dhabi (U.A.E) to name their teddy’s Mohammed’. To many this seemed completely natural and right, to others it seemed to be a world gone mad. But was it really than any of our own “triggered responses?”

My view on it was, it was a very good case of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people forgetting that a word is NOT the thing it represents. It was an example of a major semantic re-action on a mass scale, with potentially grave consequences for the teacher involved.

Semantics in linguistic terms refers to the study of meaning, and semantic reaction is the expression used to describe when someone has a strong reaction to a word. There are many everyday examples that people “react” to. For example “FREE offer”, “Huge Discount”, “Sex” “Love” and so on and so forth. These are examples of typically ‘positive’ emotional responses that the majority of people will have a response to.

Of course their are others that many people have a strong ‘negative’ reaction to, such as ‘fuck’, ‘whore’, ‘x racial slur’, “Terminal”, “Your Completely Wrong”, “Fat”, “Sex”, “Love”, etc.

Sex and Love are in both example lists as these, like every other word, could be on either side of the ‘positive’/’negative’ equation – as I have seen with clients many time.

Why us this? Because it is the perceiver’s mind-body map that activates the meaning a person feels. Some people will have no strong emotional reaction to the word whore but could feed very strongly negative about the Love. As you begin to track and test this out for yourself you can see similar examples everywhere.

One of the things that NLP (IMHO) is most about is creating freedom and giving people more choice to enhance their lives. But often times by the time you have come to learn NLP you have had years and years of unhelpful conditioning and “semantic responses” installed that many people forget and in most cases seem to be completely blind to the fact that they are ‘wired’ to respond to words that don’t serve them. Are you?

Every human being I’ve ever meet has “hot buttons” or words that they will (or can) be made to respond to. If you are like most people you have your own words that “trigger a hot response” in you, and to you, your response to those phrases when you hear them is JUST as natural and RIGHT as to the people in the middle east who took grave offense to a schoolkid naming their Teddy Mohammed.

Yet one of the most FREEING things you can do and experience is when you truly get that NO word can have any ‘negative’ power over you (if you so want it), and you realise that the words you hear are NOT the things they represent.

When I help assist someone who has been stuck with a strong ‘negative’ semantic response that they HAD to respond to so that they now are no longer effected by it, they often tell me it is just like “a complete weight has come off my back and I am feel like I am free or can breath again’.

Making It Practical:

Test this out for yourself. Identify what are the top two “trigger words” that instantaneously “get you hot under the collar” and then use any one of the three NLP techniques below to break the bonds that you feel don’t serve you.

You can:

  • Collapse the negative anchor with a more powerful one and build a new belief system up that supports the new way of responding.
  • Get playful and challenge yourself to reframe 100 ways of how it could mean something else and help your brain realise you can choose any of a hundred OTHER ways to respond. Then condition that in by using the swish pattern and have someone deliberately try to “trigger your button”
  • Use the Meta-Model to challenge your internal dialogue around this phrase or word so that you re-map a new more enhancing meaning.

Whatever your choice, get leverage with yourself and then you can find very quickly and easily you can transform something that was a very limiting and unresourceful response.

One Response to “Breaking The Semantic Chains That Bind Us”

  1. felipe Says:

    How right you are! Probably 90 percent of us live in a world of miscommuniction: and bexcause of that we have to be very careful of the way we talk to one another.
    Jesus said that words coming out of the mouth are more damaging than dirty food going into the body because the body would do the job of purifing it before it came out of itself. Tanks for your great info. Felipe

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