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How does NLP interact with the basic emotions?

Basic emotions

Does NLP interact in any way with the basic emotions? 

Students seem to cycle through the 6 basic emotions during NLP training. Heck, on some days, I feel I cycle through all of them in quick succession, especially during a pandemic crisis. For some people, Christmas dinner or a visit to the in-laws already sets all of them off. There is not enough NLP or meditation in the world sometimes to bail a person out of these kinds of things.

Since NLP training is all about transition, learning, and transformation, it is not surprising that my students feel all these emotions. NLP techniques profoundly affect the way we think, feel, and believe. The way we have programmed or conditioned our brain to interact with the past, present, and future in relation to both positive and negative life events.

NLP training is without a roller emotional rollercoaster, and learning in itself is an emotional process. Meaningful learning is the kind that we can apply in the real world, rather than an academic exercise, or momentarily retain to pass a test of some sort. This is why I love immersion-style classes; not only does it mimic learning a foreign language and culture in the country of origin, rather than from a book. It is almost like being stranded on a deserted island with a bunch of strangers from all over the world. Where people put their hopes and dreams in the balance to change the way they work and live forever.

What are the 6 basic emotions?

There are different emotion theories, the most known one is created by Dr. Paul Eckman. He studied universal human emotions, meaning across all cultures, religions, age groups, ethnicities, etc.

The emotions he identified were:

As an NLP Trainer, I always found it fascinating that the basic human emotions are primarily negative. At least in the 1970s, when this model was created.

He later expanded the list with:

This is where NLP starts to come in and mostly relates to Kinesthetic sub modalities. This means detecting “how” you feel this emotion in the body and how it affects your breathing, muscle tension, temperature, and other sensations.

You can then also map this to detecting emotions in others which display through their:

– Facial expressions

– Tone of voice

– Body language

– Words

What is the difference between a feeling and an emotion?

Most people, including those who have taken NLP training, never once considered that there actually is a difference. I made a video about this a while back.

Now you know something that 99% of the NLP trainers never learned or even thought about.

What about combined emotions?

My dad was in the world of fashion. I remember he would sit at the kitchen table with different colors, combining them to make something new. Even more impressive, he could walk into any home and detect 7 shades of white with ease. So he could tell me that the white in my living room, was 1 shade darker than in the apartment I had lived in before. To me, they were the same. Even today, you don’t want to make me the boss of the fashion department.

Emotions work exactly like a color palette, where we combine emotions to make another one. And with practice and talent, you can interpret what mix of emotions are there and how they display in the body.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik put forth a “wheel of emotions” that worked something like my dad’s color wheel. He discovered that emotions are more like building blocks. Sometimes more complex. Research in this ever-evolving though, as he said that joy and trust equals the feeling of love. Where later research may focus on feelings of connection with many positive emotions. That can then build on top of each other and increase through the synergy of 2 parties.

What about NLP?

Well, we take 11 million bits per second from the environment through our 5 senses, this causes us to have an emotion. This emotion is interpreted through our past experiences, culture, beliefs, personality, meta-programs, etc. We turn that into a thought process, which creates the feeling.

In NLP, we look at thoughts as an “internal behavior.” And when we experience an emotion, a thought and a feeling we also display “external behavior.” And external behavior can be observed by others as well.

NLP & external Behavior

We can observe others by paying attention to:
The language and words they use.
Tonality, volume, body language.
Observing eye movement is taught in NLP practitioner and tells us how someone uses their brain.

Internal behavior & the way we code information

For example the different perceptions we use: self, other, observer, group, “god-view.”
Or the way we relate to our past, present, and future. Our thoughts.

NLP Techniques

In essence, you can consider falling in 4 categories:

  1. Part of an NLP Practitioner program toolset and for all emotions.
  2. Part of an NLP Practitioner program toolset and for some emotions.
  3. Part of an NLP Practitioner program toolset for 1 emotion.
  4. Any of the above but designed by a well an NLP Master Practitioner who has been taught how to design their own techniques (very few programs dedicate proper time to this, unfortunately,)

What is key in personal development & acquiring emotional intelligence

This is by considering a two-step approach

1. Know what you are feeling, cultivating emotional self-awareness.

2. Who or what is causing this emotion?

3. How specifically is it created and processed in the brain?

4. Is there an underlying strategy or step-by-step process at play?

This is why I feel the world of NLP can not be separated from science, particularly the science of emotions.

Resources: How does NLP interact with the basic emotions


Emotions Revealed, Second Edition: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – Paul Ekman, Ph.D

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