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Interview with Martyn
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Relationship Diagnosis: Conflicts
Sequential and Simultaneous Conflicts Martyn Carruthers

Online Life Coaching, Counseling & Systemic Therapy


Many people fail, not for lack of ability, intelligence or courage,
but because they do not organize their energy towards their goals.

How to KNOW what People want?

We created effective formats for labeling relationship and emotional problems that is useful for assessing goals, emotions and relationship consequences.

Our Relationship Diagnosis helps us assess relationship habits, transferences and fixations, the probable causes of emotional issues and their consequences. It helps us explore how and why people create and share emotions and relationships.

Our Goal Diagnosis helps us assess emotional problems and personal histories. Using it, we can better respond appropriately to nonverbal communication. This provides us with information for predicting individual, couple, family and team behavior.

WFO not UFO: Goal Diagnosis

WFO means Well-Formed Outcome. Although any form of coaching or planning ideally starts with 'well formed' goal statements (outcomes), few people can specify their goals in detail. Our goal diagnosis recognizes many weird and wonderful goal statements ... here are a few examples:

  1. Childish goals (e.g. I want everything, now)
  2. Abstract goals (e.g. I only want to be happy)
  3. Wishy-washy goals (e.g. I want more time off)
  4. Goals lacking times for completion (no deadlines)
  5. Conflicts and multiple goals (including double binds)
  6. Word salad  (chaotic grammar and sentence structures)
  7. Philosophy (e.g. I should have already achieved goal X)
  8. Goal statements with negative grammar (e.g. I don't want a divorce)
  9. Metaphors (e.g. I feel like I'm lost in a jungle and I can't find a path out)
  10. Goals with incongruent signals (I want X (while shaking the head "No"))

The next step includes ways to respond appropriately to goals. See Question 1 of our Systemic Exam.

While we may hope for clear goals, if we ask, "What do you want?", we don't really expect them. Goal questions often require decisions, conflict resolution, belief changes and planning. Nobody wants to appear stupid, and many people seem scared of asking for too little ... or too much.

We first tried the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) meta model and found it inadequate for this task and likely to irritate people. Keith Blanchard's theory of SMART goals can help you recognize a well-formed outcome, if by some miracle a person can state a SMART goal without conflicts. The acronym SMART has a few variations for goal setting. Some are:

S: specific, significant
M: measurable, meaningful
A: attainable, achievable
R: realistic, relevant, reasonable
T: time-based, timely, tangible

Double Binds & Double Wishes

Double Binds are paradoxical interpersonal communications - statements that contain internal contradictions. People who cannot withdraw from the communications may be unable to decide which messages are true. Children faced with double binds may develop pathologies. Adults are more likely to respond with irritation.

Double binds may be explicit (e.g. a teacher communicates to students "I will punish you to improve your education!") or implicit (e.g. a manager says to an employee "I know that even you can complete this task!" while curling his upper lip). If the addressed person cannot recognize and resolve such double binds, especially from parents and authorities, the results include relationship chaos and limiting beliefs.

Some goals have a similar structure to double-binds: for example a goal may have two or more objects and one verb, (Consider, "I want to be married and happy ..."). If such wishes are perceived as incompatible, attempts to plan or fulfill a double-wish will fail.

By Double Wishes I refer to poorly defined goals that contain internal contradictions. If a person does not believe that a goal is possible, the person may object to their own goals. They may be disappointed that they cannot fulfill their own goals, and miss opportunities for success.

When I evaluate goals I notice whether any incongruence indicates a simultaneous conflict or a sequential conflict, and whether a person displays signs of conflict. Although a client may state a physical goal - the underlying goals are often at a values or identity levels, e.g. "What is important to me?" or "What sort of person am I?"

Many people avoid inner conflict by making abstract goals (e.g. "I want to be happy") ... I often say that an abstract goal is, 'the skin of a goal stuffed with conflict".

A client may want two or more conflicting goals. A well-formed outcome becomes possible if a goal can incorporate the values of all sides or parts of the conflict. Often, an internal change of reference is needed to reject unwanted influences. (We often find that such influences are relationship bonds.)

People trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) may be tempted to use a visual squash. This seems to be an unhealthy choice. This technique uses hypnotic language to double bind the issues in conflict. The consequences of a visual squash often includes the re-emergence of the conflict within three months, or the re-manifestation of the unsolved conflict as unpleasant emotions and/or psychosomatic symptoms.

Sequential Conflicts

Sequential conflicts can be fascinating ... and irritating. Some people never seem to make up their minds, and if they do make decisions, they may either participate half-heartedly - or for a short time.

I check the time between polarity changes of a sequential conflict ... for me, the cycle length is useful information for anticipating a person's change of heart. If I can plan for it ... I can plan my response.

We often help people resolve deep conflicts ... see Transcript: Complex Conflict.

NLP & Conflict Resolution

I (Martyn) attended a number of NLP trainer trainings: with Marilyn Atkinson's Erickson Institute, with Tad James' Advanced Neurodynamics, with Wyatt Woodsmall's Advanced Behavioral Modeling and with Steve and Connirae Andreas' NLP Comprehensive. The most common technique taught for dissolving conflicts was a hypnotic integration of two visualized parts ... often called Visual Squash.

Visual Squash

The NLP technique visual squash is often used to attempt to resolve internal conflict. A person is encouraged to evaluate two parts (also called ego-states, complexes, partial personalities or entities) which communicate simultaneously or sequentially about a proposed goal.

If more than two parts involved in a conflict, we call it a complex conflict. We noticed that the NLP visual squash used with a complex conflict may lead to withdrawal, unpleasant emotions and psychosomatic symptoms. A sequential conflict swings between goals, and may indicate a conflict of values or identity, which seem to have three, five or seven parts with two or three levels of abstraction. We find that about 20% of both Americans and Europeans (assessed on our private sessions and public trainings) present this complex pattern of sequential incongruence.

If a person identifying with one polarity is amnesic of decisions or actions made when identifying with the other polarity - this may indicate multiple personality syndrome (dissociative identity disorder) and we refer such people to clinicians. More commonly, a person identifying with one polarity may remember but deny decisions or break promises that were made while that person was identified with the other polarity.

A client's presenting issue may be an inability to make decisions, in which multiple goals are incompatible with each other. (See: Eating Disorders)

While coaching people after a NLP visual squash, we observed that many people re-created their conflicts within a few weeks, when the squashed conflicting motivations erupted as conflicting obsessions. Also, some people consequently seem to suffer physical symptoms or emotional problems that sabotage them from attaining their incongruent goals.

We found better ways. See NLP Ecology Redefined and NLP Strategy Techniques

Whenever you choose a goal or solution,
you also choose the consequences of that goal or solution.

Online Coaching, Relationship Counseling & Systemic Therapy

Although I qualified as a NLP trainer many times, I stepped out of NLP when I realized that I could not fulfill the claims made by NLP trainers using the material taught during NLP trainings. I have since researched and developed much that I lacked then, particularly goalwork, relationship ecology, systemic diagnosis and relationship counseling, and I abandoned techniques that can hurt people and/or damage their relationships. Martyn Carruthers

I thought you were just another therapist - but you were not just. Not even. Not only.

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright Martyn Carruthers 2002-2017 All rights reserved.


If you like our work, please link to us. If you know someone who might benefit,
please mention www.SystemicPsychology.com or www.EmotionsRelationships.com

For online help, email us at: europecoach@gmail.com

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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright Martyn Carruthers 1996-2017 All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email europecoach@gmail.com