The Myth of “making” other people feel upset, happy or anything else

Emotional States – What They Are and How to Manage Them

A stare is the set of specific values in a person’s physiology, neurology and biochemistry that gives rise to their behavioural expression and their subjective experience of themselves and the world in any given moment. Some states recur in each culture with sufficient frequency to have acquired labels in the appropriate language. Examples include joy, depression, happiness, angst, and joie de vivre. Naming states implies a commonality of experience, which is not necessarily the case. Naming states does not describe the differences in individual subjective experience which actually exist within any particular named state: I.e. one person’s generation and experience of elation, misery or anxiety will be different from someone else’s and two people deliberately generating the same conditions within their bodies may call the resulting state by different names (See NLP glossary definition here)

State is a subject beset by cultural myth. This begins in childhood, when a child is told; “Don’t do (or say) that, you will upset ____”. Fill in the blank with a friend, acquaintance or relative of your choice. The point is that we learned early on that we would be held responsible for other people’s responses, emotions and states. We learned not to make personal remarks and to curb our comments for fear of offending others. In short, we learned to treat other people as if they were fragile and could be destabilised by a comment or question, all in the name of politeness.

As a result, we learned to believe that we ‘make’ other people upset, angry, or happy by our presence and actions. Equally, we learned to believe that others can make us feel emotions. For most people, these beliefs have become deeply held unconscious presuppositions. The evidence for this proposal is found in language and law. People say things like; ‘You make me so happy/angry/disappointed’, or even; ‘You made me spill my coffee’, when you are on the other side of the room.

Can You Have Control Over Other People’s States?

In recent times in the west, this presupposition about agency over other people’s emotions has been taken to extremes. The dictates about appropriate behaviour and comments both in the home and in the workplace are now subject to legal constraint, yet not subject to the normal rules of evidence. A person is deemed to have been harassed solely on the basis of their word. This used to be enough to have the matter investigated, not simply accepted. Now complainants are not required to offer a sensory description of the perpetrator’s exact comments, voice tones, posture, gestures, facial expression and points of contact if touched. While it is common for alleged offenders to deny intent to harass, the lack of requirement for proof still places all of us at risk of accusation.

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP you can get a copy of  our latest Kindle book ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

The myth of agency over other people’s states is closely related to another prevalent western cultural myth about state: that decent people do not have agency over their own states. In other words, states happen to us. Many people suspect those who can and do choose their states of being shifty, dishonest, shallow and untrustworthy or at worst, psychopathic. It is well known, for example, that people involved in a crisis that attracts law enforcement or the press get a better reception if their behaviour is demonstrably emotional.

Despite the assumed lack of agency over our states, emotional behaviour in public is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the first half of the 20th century, when people kept a ‘Stiff upper lip’ in times of crisis, it was deemed to be a commendable effort on their part. The underlying assumption was still that they were behaving decently by not showing the emotion that had to be present and that it took some fortitude to do so. Children were expected not to make a fuss when they were upset, though it was expected that they were putting a Brave Face on their emotion. Anyone, adult or child in that situation who genuinely chose and adopted a different state would have been presumed to be morally bankrupt.

Actors have a frame that permits them to learn to embody different states for work without compromising cultural norms. Yet as a profession, in Victorian times they were considered not quite respectable, due to the perceived untrustworthy potential of a person who can act. As a culture, westerners like the idea that what you see is what you get, so long as it is in keeping with the beholder’s eye view of the context.

So the frame for proposing that anyone can learn to choose and change their state at will, is that it is both possible and doable while remaining a novel idea in the context of the culture. It is also extremely useful. The capacity to choose our states enables us to create tailor made states with the most helpful qualities for performing specific tasks. It also enables us to unload pointless, dismal states that have no function other than to indicate that an old pattern is repeating itself.

“The capacity to choose our states enables us to create tailor made states with helpful qualities.”

Learning to manage one’s states is an ongoing process. Initially it feels decidedly clunky while we find out how we put our states together and what we can alter to change them. It is simplest to conduct this exploration in a low stress environment where there is no pressure to succeed. You can learn processes to alter components of your state or simply pick one or more states from your repertoire and re access them to create a custom blend. When you engage your unconscious resources, you can create a custom state and progress quite quickly to choosing resourceful and enjoyable states for specific contexts. To begin with, it is possible to prepare your state ahead of time and then step into it as you enter the context. Later, when your skills are well developed, you can dispense with any ritual and simply ask your unconscious mind to deliver a suitable set of states for a context as you approach it.

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP you can get a copy of  our latest Kindle book ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

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Contrary to popular belief, no-one else can “make” you feel bad – If you know how to do this:

Most people have specific contexts where they would like access to particular attributes, qualities and ways of using their attention. If they are dependent on chance or outside circumstances to provide the state they are in, it may not be the most useful for that context. Common situations where resource states are useful include;

  • Learning
  • Presenting
  • Playing golf
  • Driving
  • Prosecuting or defending court cases
  • Making speeches
  • Selling
  • Performing on stage
  • Taking exams
  • Competitive sports
  • Martial Arts
  • Giving concerts
  • Consulting medical practitioners
  • Difficult social engagements
  • Interviews

Before considering how to choose and change our states, we need to offer a frame in which these skills can operate. The prevailing frame proposes that our states alter spontaneously in response to outside stimuli and bodily comfort or discomfort. Hence the notion that others’ conduct can make us feel a certain way.

You Can Have Choice Over What You Feel

First I would like to distinguish between the world of Newtonian physics and the world of ideas. In Newtonian physics, mechanical laws function, and energy is the capacity to do work. One of its features is that when you hit somebody and give them a bloody nose, energy is transferred from your moving fist to their stationary nose. You hit the other person and make their nose break. You can make someone else move by pushing them physically. If you drive your car into another vehicle, you can damage both vehicles and possibly injure the other driver. If you caused the crash, you are responsible for the damage.

In the world of ideas, you can say something to another person or move in their visual field. If the other person makes meaning of what you say or do, they will respond. Before the other person responds, they will create their internal experience using images, sounds and sensations from their own repertoire. Then they will present observable behaviour and make comments. All their processing is so fast that even the person doing it is usually unconscious of what happens between your act and their response. Yet their response is 100% theirs, not yours. This is what makes it possible for a person to learn to manage their own state, if they are willing. It is also a liberating concept. As you do not “make” another person enter a different state, you need not feel responsible for their state. Equally, you can free yourself from holding anyone else responsible for your states.

“Learning to manage your own state, if you are willing, is also a liberating concept.”

I am sure you can find apparent counter examples to my proposal. There are experiences in life that on the surface, do feel like being forced into a different state. If you think about startle responses, something sudden and unexpected enters your awareness and you jump or drop something. Your sensory acuity for what was unfolding in your environment did not include that possibility. Your internal processing stopped abruptly when your attention shifted suddenly to engage the new stimulus. You may have experienced a kinaesthetic jolt. This is still your response, created by you, in response to something unexpected in the world. If it was an explosion or an earthquake, you might have been subject to the laws of physics at the same time. If a child jumped out of a cupboard shouting ‘Boo’, there is no cause-effect. The child appears and you jump.

Likewise, a telephone call from someone who gives you life-changing news, desirable or otherwise, does not cause your response. You make meaning of the message and you respond, viscerally, unconsciously and then consciously.

The Process of Elicitation

Other people can influence a person’s state and the decisions they make with their behaviour and choice of words. This is a contributing factor that led people to think they could “make” others feel a certain way. Elicitation is the process of guiding someone’s attention in a particular direction to assist them to discover or remember certain information and then behave in a particular manner. It is usually done with words but can use demonstration and gesture. People say and do things to elicit a smile from a child or invite a pet to come to them.

Effective teachers elicit thinking processes and information from their students by asking specific questions and drawing diagrams. You can elicit a handshake from someone by holding out your hand in the handshake gesture. Mimes elicit recognition for the task they are imitating by the accuracy of their movements. As children, when we were accused of ‘making’ someone feel a certain way, we may have been eliciting responses from them, albeit unwittingly.

Elicitation can be deliberate or unconscious. Teachers use it knowingly and with intent to elicit learning. Elicitation is not guaranteed to work. It uses ideas, not physics to promote its outcome. As a form of influence, we can ask, show, demonstrate, guide, provoke, tease, use logic, tell metaphor, instruct, bribe, threaten and even give orders, but compliance remains within the aegis of the other person. We do not know how they will respond until they do.

Conditioning, Linking and Anchoring

We all have states linked to certain sights, sounds, touches, tastes and scents. Some are pleasing and others are not. In behavioural psychology linking a response to a stimulus is called Conditioning. In parallel distributed processing, it is called Linking and in NLP it is called Anchoring. You may have a favourite piece of music which elicits a particular state for you when you hear it. You might feel special when your pet looks at you a certain way. If you feel a lead balloon in your stomach every time you enter your workplace, you might want a new job or perhaps just to break the anchor.

Teasing uses elicitation and anchors to ‘press someone’s buttons’. The victim is often told that if they stopped responding that way, the teasing would stop because it would not work any more. But no-one has taught them how to break anchors so they go on wearing it. This is how bullying starts. While there is now a huge cultural groundswell to try to stop bullies, it is almost impossible to force change on someone who does not want it. The most effective solution is for the victim to learn to change their own state so they are no longer susceptible. Of course, where there is a form of recourse, this may be appropriate as well, but it is no substitute for internal equanimity. Later in this text we shall learn how to choose and adopt resource states and to break unwanted anchors.

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the Emotional Intelligence and NLP you can get a copy of  our latest Kindle book ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

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How using your attention can change the quality of your states (and vice versa)

We can track components of our attention through exploring our states and we can explore our states using attention. We have already discussed state dependent learning in the context of having access to different resources and information in different states. With well integrated, readily accessible states there is overlap between resources and their availability and this includes qualities of attention. In dissociated states, there is limited overlap to resources cached in other states. This is evidenced by lack of access to memories acquired within dissociated states, except when we return to the state in question.

We know the quality of our attention is influenced by our state. We also know that effective learning takes place when we are interested in something and curious to find out more. A state that includes curiosity and interest leads us to attend externally in all senses as we engage with the interesting material we have found.

“We know the quality of our attention is influenced by our state.”

When our attention gravitates effortlessly to the subject matter, we learn thoroughly and willingly. Learning happens seamlessly and we read, listen and attend with pleasure. This applies to anything we find engaging, from formally presented material to informally shared skills and conversations with interesting and fascinating people.

There are many occasions in life when it would be useful to create a state of effortless engagement; when our attention is naturally external and demonstrably with a person or what they are doing and saying. This is the foundation of establishing and maintaining rapport with people as well as the means for learning anything we need to master.

Rapport is the art of engaging and holding the unconscious attention of another person. This is done most effectively by engaging and holding our own attention on that person and what they are discussing. We attend to seeing and hearing them, not running internal movies and soundtracks about the discussion. The same applies to making learning interesting and therefore memorable. When we attend to the presentation in front of us with open eyes and ears, we record the material for future consideration and application. If we are running internal movies and soundtracks or talking to ourselves, we block the input channels and miss much of what is on offer.

“Rapport is the art of engaging and holding the unconscious attention of another person.”

When we create a deliberate state of Being interested by acting ‘as if’ we are interested, natural interest tends to follow. Equally, when we decide to attend externally with eyes an ears and sometimes hands, engagement follows. We take these actions by attending to, or being aware of how we are using our attention and what we are attending to at any given time.


Learning dull or outdated material to be allowed to progress to a qualification you want or need. Setting up useful frames, states and attention.

Create a real, multi-sensory, lifelike representation, ‘as if’ you are there, reaping the benefits of having the qualification or prerequisite you needed. Enjoy the experience of learning what you want to learn or doing the work you want to do. Remember that you would not have been able to do that without obtaining the prerequisite (dull) credential with which you have been struggling. Your attention in this exercise is on the ‘as if’ experience, seeing represented, lifelike surroundings and activities as if you were present. You hear conversation, background sounds and sounds associated with the activities. You feel the clothes on your body, the floor under your feet, whatever is in your hands and the air temperature on your skin. When this experience is complete, return your attention to the present, knowing you can remember your ‘as if’ experience any time you need to encourage and motivate yourself to keep going with the dull stuff.

In the present, how can you frame the dull, outdated or incomprehensible material you have to learn? Your outcome is to make it interesting, fun to learn (this is possible) and memorable, at least for the duration of the program. If you enjoy history, you could frame it as “This is what they used to believe, now”. If it has mathematical elements and you enjoy languages, treat maths as a language. Learn the rules that govern your subject, familiarise yourself with formulae as if they were rules of grammar and then the examples you are offered will make sense. If you enjoy dance, frame your dull studies as choreography. If you are fascinated by patterns, find the patterns that govern your subject and learn examples from the patterns. You can do this by taking three or four examples from the material in your course and determining the common set of information that governs them. This is the frame for bringing learning specific material to life. Your frame should include the function and utility of the learning material.

When you create a frame that appeals to you, it is easier to become interested and possibly even fascinated. When you are interested, you attend in class with open channels (see, hear, feel), take in the material and then retain it. You can contemplate it outside class and develop any further understanding you need. Even your personal nemesis can become possible with suitable framing and attention. A side benefit is that you will have better rapport with your teachers, who will be more willing to give you extra time when you need it. Any time your attention drifts off topic, remember your outcome for learning this material.

Developing Rapport Quickly and Effectively

When people learn to develop rapport formally, their attention is drawn to specific behaviour which is supposed to increase the likelihood of rapport. They are instructed to imitate what someone else is doing, called matching or mirroring for short moments of time, or pacing when matching is engaged over minutes. When rapport is present, we often see people matching each other’s behaviour naturally. Matching and pacing is evidence for the presence of rapport between two or more people, but not necessarily the best method of learning to create rapport.

Matching and pacing require us to use a lot of attention to keep track of someone else’s movements, posture, voice tones, pitch and rhythm. This leaves precious little available to engage with the other person and the quality of these interactions can appear forced.

It is much smoother to act as if fascinated or interested in the other person and their conversation or instruction; just as you do to facilitate your learning. The quality of the conversation will be higher, the result more memorable and rapport will follow. Simply engage with external attention and the intention to be interested. You probably know your intention for engaging with the other person already, so you have a frame for acting ‘as if’ until it becomes real. Again, this is similar to a learning scenario. You have a frame for finding someone or something interesting, a state of being interested and external attention in all senses.

In Conclusion

You can discover how you are using your attention in the moment or by reviewing an event or context. Are you using your senses to attend externally or your representations of memory or imagination? Are you talking to yourself and if so, is it useful? Do you want open input channels or does the context require you to think, using internal processing? Are you engaging your unconscious resources and or conscious attention? Are you distracted by discomfort and if so, can you change it?

When you want to shift your attention, or part of it, you can act on it directly or via your state. When you want to access a resourceful state, you can find it from memory or use your attention to create one. There will be a more detailed and practical discussion on eliciting, accessing, creating and changing state available soon.

Attention Training

Learning how to organise attention to change state and how to use state to modify attention is referred to as “Attention Training” and is an important part of high quality NLP trainings. Attention training is part of syllabus of our postgraduate qualification in NLP – 10970NAT Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

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(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP you can get a copy of  our latest Kindle book ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

Related articles

Learn more about NLP, read our Ultimate NLP Compendium of NLP

If you found this article useful, please share it!,