Who you think you are!
Identification can be as funny as it can be a tragic, and is also a superior way to learn. In the first article of this series of three, we explored the phenomenon of identification with the aid of the social panorama model. We found that identification results from two personifications being located on the same spot.
Problematic identification often coincides with a weak self concept. A person, whose self image is too small in comparison to how he sees others in his social panorama, is vulnerable to being invaded with other personifications. This same mechanism is all decisive when it comes to the confrontation with authority.
NLP in secrecy
Yesterday I had a client who was troubled by the image of his angry father. Because of that, he had taken several NLP courses in secrecy, as he feared his dad would get mad if he knew. `Yes,' he said very certain, `My father would kill me for that, because NLP is vague, unmanly and even occultism.'
I was very surprised to hear such a story from a man age 28, who had his own apartment and was providing for himself for a long time.
However, since I have been stacking experience with the social panorama for a decade or so, I also could be very certain about this case: Here I had to do with a so called `dominant personification'.
It was fairly easy to check my assumption. I only had to invite my client to imagine his father being angry, and feel the feeling that belonged to that, and than ask him: `Where do you experience you father? And what is his size?'
The answer came quick. The image of his angry father was located at 20 centimetres straight before him and measured 30 centimetres above him. So here I met a man who lived his life with an angry giant as his closest companion; a giant blocking his view on everything including pretty women.
But this was not the whole picture, since dominant personifications are only dominant in relation to somebody's self image. So I asked my client to locate his self image too. It was at 5 metres in front of him and pretty small. Again I saw the familiar pattern: dominating others is projected closer and higher and in a more prominent way than the self image of the person. When experienced this way, the self experience is overpowered by the experience of the other.
Identification and dominance
In the first article of this series of three, I discussed `identification'. There I stated that identification stems from two personifications being experienced on the same location. Like when a mother-personification is experienced inside the body by her child.
In this article we will explore phenomena that are related to identification, but in which the troubling personifications are located outside of body. Like in the example above, a so called `dominant personification' is close and large. While the personifications of authorities tend to be also large but projected much further away.
Although both types of personifications are projected outside of the body boundaries, they may however `come to visit' the persons body, or the person may `pay visits' to them. Identification with these huge personifications results in the experience of being `overwhelmed' by them. Than there is a moment of blending between the self experience and these prominent personifications.
When such identification with a dominating personification becomes permanent, the victim changes into somebody else. All the known dramatic examples of radical and permanent identity change are probably of this nature. Most examples are found in psychiatric case studies and in reports of sudden religious conversions and the like. Many cases of `fugue', `satanic possession' and `werewolves' are probably related to the replacement of an already weak self by an in comparison dominant other personification.
All exotic cases do have a certain amount of irreversibility in common: the self is replaced for days, weeks or years on end. And the self may even never return at all.
Common problems with authority
In this article we will focus on a more prosaic version of the same mechanism. A great number of people complain of loosing themselves as a result of confrontations with authorities. The behavioural consequence hereof is characterized as `acute submission'.
Acute submission is strongly related to identification, however the person will not really believe he or she is someone else; although they may forget for a while who they are. The experience of acute submission typically comes with the person feeling shyness, the person loosing self determination, the person starting to obey against their intentions and all the behavioural signs that belong to a prologued second perceptual position.
The state of acute submission is generally feared. Many people are familiar with it, but quite often it is just taken for granted; it is accepted; it just happens. Although acute submission is a widespread phenomenon it seems not to be universal, some individuals have never experienced it. And the people who don't know it seem insensitive to authority. It is tempting to believe that the submissive response must be learned somewhere and that it have some very basic lessons as its roots.
From a psycho-biological point of view, acute submission appears to be a consequence of the psychological mechanisms that govern defences in status, as these are found among most species including our own. In the moment of acute submission status differences become very manifest and social power is felt with full force. Wolves drop their tail, elephants back off, etc. Animal and human authorities can motivate others to submit and obey thanks to these processes. They are part of the deep structure of society.
`Acute submission' is regarded such a `natural' phenomenon, that only few social psychologist did study it. And when we do, the mayor question is, how can person X act as if person Y is more important?
A social psychological law
Observing many cases of people being overwhelmed by the social power of an other-personification resulted in the formulation of the so called `law of the dominant personification'. This law states, that whenever a personification X is represented more prominent (in its sub modalities) than the self-personification, identification with personification X is imminent. Only by placing personification X at some distance, or by increasing the size of the self image, the loss of self can be prevented. If not, an often mild kind of identification will take place and will be maintained until attention can be shifted towards something else than personification X.
The sudden shift to the second perceptual position in acute submission makes sure that the person will focus on the needs, values and demands of the dominant personification. And this person will also be concerned with the way he or she is perceived by personification X; in other words, he or she will create a second position self image. `What does the authority think of me?! What does he need from me? What can I do to please him?'
A person, who is overwhelmed by social power, will attribute this to the qualities of the authority and generally not to his own social constructions. Such person may believe that, `It is all caused by the might and sovereignty of the leader. He is a man with a great authoritive impact. I am just the victim of his status.'
Problems with authority only exist because of this crucial mis-attribution; because he puts the locus of control with the authority, the submissive person himself will not start to change the social images on his own initiative. Power structures in society will stay intact because of the fact that one stays unaware of ones own contribution in creating them. Social cognition is near to entirely unconscious; so we don't know that we ourselves did prepare us to become submissive, by placing the other on a high and central location in our social panorama.
A therapist may stimulate to correct this, by guiding the client toward the awareness, that he is only the victim of his own social constructions, and to show him, that these constructions are easy to change and that this is entirely within his control.
Authorities who loose their power demonstrate how quick a dominating personification can be transformed into something of minor influence. When a president looses face, is not re-elected or impeached and removed from office, people tend to immediately correct their images in an instance. What happened to the image of Al Gore after he lost the presidential elections with no more than a hand full of votes?
But some people don't need a therapist to recognize their own role in the creation of authority, and they may point out: `I know, it is me who made this authority much more important than myself. I am the victim of my own admiration, idolization and fear.'
When we look for the social panorama locations of authorities, we find them quite often stashed in far away places, be it at significantly high elevations. They tend to be stored at distance, but one has still to look up to them. By keeping the distance, people prevent themselves from identifying. Keeping distance protects against domination. Since the mental distance one has to travel to a personification is decisive for the ease by which identification can take place. Influence increases with a personification comes closer.
However, far away authorities in high places are still in power. The high level of their eyes shows their potential authority. This potential will have its full impact when the real flesh and blood authority triggers it.
When a person has a sudden close encounter with a real flesh and blood authority, who is represented far away but high up, acute submission can take place in an instant. These are often the meanest cases of acute submission. People complain that they are `struck by the authority of the other'; like when the queen, totally unannounced, appears at your doorstep to pay you a visit. The experience is similar to a confrontation with someone with whom you have been madly in love, without ever mentioning it to this person. Than one day this person shows up and says: There's a party in my home town tonight. Do you like to join me? You can also stay for the night if you want to.'
The widespread occurrence and universal nature of these types of `startle phenomena' suggest some very basic social cognitive mechanisms at work. To understand these, we need some more insight in the role of the self experience.
The self image in action
The social panorama model confronts us with the way people structure their knowledge about who they are. Following NLP and other psychological traditions we may call this part their `identity'. In the phenomenon of acute submission, we see discontinuity of identity. People are no longer who they were before; their identity is changed into another identity. From self confident they may turn in dependent, from expressive they may change in very shy. And if the authority shouts at them: `Who the hell do you think you are!' they might not know this anymore.
So the structure of identity must hold the key to acute submission. This structure appears to be very complex when explored at the level of its content. But as soon as we look at the spatial elements it is composed of, things become much simpler. In fact identity is dominated by two mayor spatial elements: the self feeling and the self image. A kinaesthetic and a visual component. Both can be located on different spots in mental space, at times however they may be joined at the same spot. The connection between the self feeling and the self image is called the `self link'. Without such a link `a self image' is just `an image of me'. To operate well, a self image must be linked to the kinaesthetic part of the self and preferably seen straight in front.
In most people the self feeling is found within the body, very often in the chest or the belly. The distance from self feeling to self image can vary widely, and this distance is very meaningful for the experience of self. When feeling and image are far apart, the self experience is weak and it is difficult too maintain one's own position in a conversation.
Besides this distance between the self feeling and the self image, it is the size and shininess of the self image that has a great influence on self confidence and self strength in general.
The self image pictures the person in the same way as he or she sees others; from the outside and from a distance. Only in that manner the self image can fulfil its task: to inform a person about whom he or she is among the others. The self image makes one able to compare oneself with the others, and to draw conclusions about ones role and position in social life.
As a consequence, any unclarity in the self image results in a reduction of self awareness. When the self image is dim, the person will be dim to and will show little self strength.
Authorities blur the self image
So what we find on a systematic base when a person suffers from authority figures is that they represent the authorities more prominent than they represent themselves in their social panoramas. This will lead up to experiences of self loss and submissive behaviour. In any case, the person will report being occupied with the demands, emotions, values and beliefs of the authority figure. And also, they most often exchange their first perceptual position self image
For a second perceptual position self image: they look at themselves in a way that they think the authority figure sees them. As a result they start to play the role they believe the authority wants them to play.
People who are not capable of going into the second perceptual position, and who cannot identify, are not apt to be overwhelmed by somebody else's power. It is only a minority of the population who are incapacitated in this way; and most of them are men. Such males who are not able to shift into the second perceptual position are often mistaken for being very strong leaders. They are able to stay with themselves independent of the social status of others. To biological psychologists this may explain why autism is reproduced within the human population: a certain measure of autism operates as determined leadership. It also may give a clue why men are generally dominant over women in the world. Females seem to fell victim of their own superior social skills. Being able to go into the second perceptual position can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
The personification dynamics involved in dominance and submission are strikingly systematic. An NLP-er who learns to handle them will be enriched with a great tool to empower people. When everybody starts to do this on a broader scale this will however disrupt the familiar power structures in society. Will we end up in anarchy? Or will this be a great liberation? Who can tell?